Monday, April 12, 2010

Indy and the Great Promise by Susan May Warren

This Manuscript Monday Susan May Warren continues her series "Craft Tips and Techniques from Today’s Blockbusters." Welcome back, Susan.

Indy and the Great Promise:
A study of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
by Susan May Warren

...who can argue with the magic of Connery and Ford as father and son...

I’ll never forget the first time I met Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fresh from the Stars, Han Solo—um, er, Indy was exactly my kind of hero—a little bit arrogant, a little bit unassuming, a whole lotta cute, and best of all, he was searching for the ark of the covenant. In an age when most people still knew their Sunday school dogma, it was a quest worth investing in. And the premise, keeping the most holy of artifacts out of the hands of an evil empire—the Nazis—well, right there the franchise became a classic.

But Indy two—remember it? I didn’t think so. Sure, we all went, hoping for a continuation of the fun from Raiders, but in the Temple of Doom, what we got was a dark, mystical, creepy quest in the Far East, where Indy suddenly begins to speak a different language when muscled and sweaty priests try to rip his heart from his chest. I hated it.

Thankfully, the franchise took the clues and ended the trilogy with the formula that worked: Indy going after the relics of our faith in the Last Crusade, my personal favorite (who can argue with the magic of Connery and Ford as father and son?).

Another hit, and it revived the magic of the Indy Chronicles.

Fast forward a couple decades and the old believers still love Indy. Yet, it’s time for a new guard. So, Indy is revived, and still looking good, despite a few years on him, enters the screen the same old arrogant, lip-curling rebel, this time taking on the Russians. (And, as a gal who lived in Russia, I can tell you that the accents are good!)

They bring Indy to the warehouse to find some mummified remains, during which we experience the good old Indy, battling his way out of danger through fast footwork and not a little luck. Better, we even see the ark, a nod to the past for Raiders fans.

We’re off to a great start with Indy teaching at college, quickly followed by a great escapade, where he meets his soon-to-be replacement, Shia LaBeouf, who of course has a map and a mystery. Old fans and new settle back for a great new quest.

Until Indy and Jr. head to South America . . . and the Indiana franchise reverts to the Temple of Doom mode. Veering away from the Judeo-Christian history of unearthing religious artifact, suddenly Indy’s entering the realm of the mystical. Psychic powers and strange magnetic fields and visitors from outer space.

The problem isn’t the subject matter—it’s the promise. See, Indy made us a promise in the first movie that he cared about the roots

And that’s when half the audience begins to go out for popcorn.

of our society—particularly the Judeo-Christian past. He proved that he’d save our beliefs from the clutches of evil. And our forgiving him for the crazy adventure in the Temple of Doom paid off in the Last Crusade.

However, now he’s got us chasing after aliens who suck out brains through our eyeballs, and, well, we’re not sure what to think.

I’m not against brain-sucking aliens, mind you. If it were Mulder and Scully in the X-Files sure, I’m game, because I know what to expect. They’re into visitors and creepy things from other planets. And frankly, I’m a big Smallville fan. But Indy, well, some of us in the old guard walked out of the theater feeling a little betrayed.

Really, Indy, do you believe in crystal-skulled aliens?

I know the producers were probably buying into the alien/psychic–crazed culture, wanting to grab an audience that could fall in love with Shia as Indy Junior. And I dig that . . . in fact here’s my edit: What if Shia was the one who believed . . . and Indy simply played along? Then at least Indy would still be that guy who might just be a little like us, the people who fell in love with him back in the day when church and pot-roast on Sundays were still a way of life. Now, we’re not sure what to think of Indy . . . has he lost his mind, whacked one too many times with his bullwhip? Or did we never really know him?

The point is to remember your audience and the value system of your hero from book to book. Because you made a promise to your readers about what they can expect from your hero, what he believes in, and what he’ll die for. And breaking that promise could cost you your loyal fans.

Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s Blog. See her Web site to learn more about her award-winning fiction.

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