Sunday, 18 August 2013

Chapter 8, Part 2 - Harrison Ford: Indiana Jones is back


Filming on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom began on 18th April 1983 on location in Sri Lanka and in Macao. When the Chinese sequence was safely in the can, the Macao unit joined the crew in Kandy and, with the two crews working side by side, the location work was wrapped in three weeks. From that lush setting, the cast and crew came back to earth with a bump, spending the next twelve weeks toiling through the British summer at EMI’s Elstree Studios at Borehamwood, just outside London. 

Director Spielberg and his two principal actors arrive at
London's Heathrow Airport for the studio shooting 

of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Additional location scenes were filmed in Northern California in the United States, where Hamilton Air Force Base stood in for Shanghai Airport and the Tuolomne River played the part of the Ganges. Principal photography finished on September 8 1983 without incident, barring one mishap, though the special effects work would continue up until March 1984.

Like Raiders before it Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is packed to overflowing with complex and dangerous stunt work. The ‘one mishap’ very nearly shuttered production on the movie when Harrison Ford fell from an elephant and aggravated an old back injury – with a third of the picture still to be completed! Ford was jetted back to Los Angeles to undergo emergency laser surgery and filming was halted while the star recuperated. 

Riding an elephant (and falling from one) are all in a day's
work for the average action movie star.
When he returned to the set, he found the most strenuous stunts – including his battle with the henchmen of Mola Ram and his climactic fight on the rickety rope bridge – were still before him. Fortunately for Ford, his doctors had patched him up perfectly and filming resumed without a hitch. Ford, as usual, was dismissive about the incident.

‘I’m now as fit as a fiddle,’ he said, ‘but I could never have done it without Vic Armstrong. Guys like Vic are invisible. They never get any credit. Nobody ever interviews them.’

Armstrong had worked with Ford several times before, on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner and Return of the Jedi, doubling for Ford when the going got too rough. Armstrong was philosophical about Ford's remarks.

‘We have to be invisible,’ he conceded, ‘if people are going to believe in the film.’

Peas in a pod ... Vic Armstrong (left!) was often mistaken
for Harrison Ford on set
Maybe ‘invisible’ isn’t the right word, for Armstrong bears a striking resemblance to Harrison Ford. While working on the set of Raiders, so many people mistook Armstrong for Ford that it came to be something of a running gag. But there’s more to doubling for an actor than just physical resemblance. Of Ford, Armstrong said, ‘He’s a natural athlete and he wants to do it all. I say to him, “H, we can’t afford to get you smashed up in this scene because we’ve got a whole crew that needs to make a living.” And he says, “Yeah, you’re right,” and does the scene anyway. He could have made a great stunt man himself.’


When Steven Spielberg called ‘Cut!’ for the last time on 8th September 1983, it’s unlikely that he would have realised just how literally that order could be taken. As with Raiders, certain scenes had been cut from the screenplay before and during shooting, obviously with Spielberg’s blessing, but when Temple of Doom was presented to the censors, the word ‘cut’ began to take on sinister overtones.

On the plus side, the scenes that had been excised from Raiders had been modified and incorporated into Temple of Doom.

‘The idea of the plane crash and then jumping out of the door in a life raft had, at one time, been in the original,’ confirmed Huyck.

‘The other thing was the mine car,’ added Katz. ‘George had thought of the mine car race for Raiders. But I don’t know how it was written or what happened to it. He wanted a roller coaster ride.’ And he got one!

Though much of the mine-car roller coaster scene was shot
with miniatures, some of it was filmed full size,
with Harrison Ford and Ke Huy Quan riding the truck.
So there was every reason to believe, then, that scenes cut from Temple of Doom could find their way into some future Indiana Jones movie. Like the scene in which Kate Capshaw, as Willie, was to wrestle a boa constrictor.

‘We had a snake scene that Kate wouldn’t do,’ explained Huyck. ‘They had a boa constrictor and they had trained it. For weeks in advance, she had been trying to psyche herself up for this. She said she touched it and, the first time, it sort of ... undulated. And she thought she was going to die. She started sweating. Then they tried to put it on her shoulders to show her what it would be like, and she just freaked out. Steven (Spielberg) was sort of ashen and said, “That’s all right.”’

‘It was a very funny scene,’ added Katz, ‘because there she is, being strangled by a snake, and Indy is just helplessly standing there!’

‘So they didn’t do it,’ continued Huyck. ‘Kate just couldn’t do it. That’s when Steve said, “Okay, if you’re not going to do this, there’s no way you’re not going to do the bug scene.”’

But Lucas, never one to waste a good idea, did recycle the sequence for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, almost twenty-five years later.

Another cut, involving the child Maharajah, ended up causing the film to be a little less clear than it should have been. It comes as something of a surprise to audiences to discover, late in the film, that the young monarch is under the control of the Thuggees. A couple of explanatory scenes had been written, but had never been filmed. During the banquet sequence, the prime minister Chattar Lal is seen talking to the shadowy figure of Mola Ram in the gardens outside the Palace. Later, Indy is teaching the young Maharajah how to use his whip. When the child comes to try it himself, he gets it wrong and hurts himself. Short Round laughs and a scuffle follows. During the scrap, Short Round sees the Maharajah’s eyes glow red, and understands something weird is going on. Presumably these scenes were taken out, sacrificing clarity for pace, as the dinner sequence was long in itself.

A far different kettle of cuts was the chunk of Temple of Doom hacked out by overzealous censors in their never-ending quest to protect those who share their sensitive dispositions, but not their incorruptibility. The film was given a PG rating for its American release and immediately came under fire from journalists and parents’ associations across the country.

‘The movie,’ said The New York Times, ‘in addition to being endearingly disgusting, is violent in ways that may scare the wits out of some young patrons.’

Parents who had taken their young children to early preview screenings said their offspring were particularly disturbed by the scene in which Mola Ram tears the still-beating heart from the chest of a living sacrifice victim and the victim’s subsequent immersion in boiling lava. The PG rating was called into question in some quarters, and the distributing company, Paramount, added a warning line to the newspaper ads, which read: ‘This film may be too intense for younger children’.

OK, this probably is a bit intense for eight year olds ...
In the UK the British Board of Film Censors took a harder line. Numerous changes were requested from Paramount before the BBFC would grant the picture the desired PG rating. Secretary of the Board, James Ferman, felt that the US version of the movie couldn’t even get a fifteen rating under the British system. To obtain a fifteen, the scene in which ‘the slow burning of a man in absolute agony’ is shown would have to go. Faced with the threat of an eighteen certificate, Paramount decided to make cuts to the British release print. Yet, even in this toned down version, the film drew some flak for its violence. The late Alexander Walker, admittedly not noted for his tolerance towards youth-oriented movies, dismissed the picture as ‘Indiana Jones meets the Marquis de Sade.’

Harrison Ford took such criticisms in his stride. ‘This is a completely moral tale,’ said the actor, ‘and in order to have a moral resolve, evil must be seen to inflict pain. The end of the movie is proof of the viability of goodness.’

... and, of course, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom does
provide the statutory Happy Ending.
Still, in spite of all the fuss, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was yet another in a long line of box office records for George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. No matter what the critics and the censors thought, the cinema-going public gave the movie the best vote of confidence they knew how. Between them, they spent enough ticket money to propel Temple of Doom to the top end of the movie charts for 1984, putting it in the number three slot, just a whisker behind Ghostbusters and Beverley Hills Cop in the battle for the number one slot and raising it to number 88 in the all-time box-office champs list with a take of almost $180 million in the US and $333 million worldwide. In addition, the American Academy nominated the film in the category of Best Score and awarded the movie an Oscar for Best Special Effects. And no one can argue with that kind of success.

And while the critics and the audiences were chewing over Temple of Doom, Ford was moving onto another of his ‘small time’ films, Witness. ‘It’s a calculated departure,’ stated Ford. ‘This movie is the story of an Amish woman and a Philadelphia cop and the intelligence of the script gives me some wonderful cloth to cut.’

And despite their earlier denials, Spielberg announced in the early part of 1984 that he would be directing the third Indiana Jones film, and Ford, too, had been signed for the project. ‘Playing Indy,’ said Ford, ‘is just a fun thing to do!’


Where I go next with this blog is something I have to think about. My original plan was to put the whole of The Harrison Ford Story online. In my day job, I manage websites and in that arena, the conventional wisdom is that no one wants to read extended chunks of text on a screen. We all find it difficult and we all read far slower from a screen than we do from the printed page. And The Harrison Ford Story can be bought in its printed form very inexpensively online from or from any number of online retailers.

So I'm probably doing everyone, myself included, a disservice by continuing down this route. I have no evidence that anyone is reading this, so I think I'll hold off for a while - unless you tell me differently.

Alan McKenzie, Aug 2013

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Chapter 8, Part 1 - Harrison Ford: Indiana Jones is back

From Box Office Draw to Box Office Phenomenon

‘Playing Indy is just a fun thing to do.’ Harrison Ford

Every time a big, successful movie looms over the cinematic horizon, you can bet, sure as sunrise, that the same relentless movie-making machinery will grind into motion.

The first stage of this process is that every bozo with a budget in Film City, USA will think he can reproduce the elements that made the original the success it was. Within months, a flood of dismal, copycat movies will be jostling for space on screens around the world. Then, the makers of the film that started it all will begin work on a sequel – if only to show the rip-off merchants how it should be done.

Which is exactly what happened with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In rapid succession, film-goers were forced to suffer High Road to China (ironically starring George Lucas’ first choice for Indiana Jones, Tom Selleck), Invaders of the Lost Gold (actually just an Italian horror movie Horror Safari opportunistically retitled), Hunters of the Golden Cobra, a kind of spaghetti Raiders starring ex-model David Warbeck and directed by Italian hack-meister Antonio Marghereti, and Treasure of the Four Crowns, another cheesey Italian effort, this time in 3D. Then, in early 1983, the American screen trade paper Variety announced that work had begun on the follow-up to Raiders of the Lost Ark.


‘Steven Spielberg is helming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on location in Sri Lanka (with lensing in Hong Kong and London’s Elstree Studios to follow) for Lucasfilm Ltd and Paramount, with Harrison Ford reprising his title role characterisation first seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Douglas Slocombe back as cinematographer, Kate Capshaw, who had roles in A Little Sex and the current sci-fier Dreamscape is Ford’s new leading lady.’ All of which must have come as something of a surprise to certain American fan magazines which were getting excited about a Raiders sequel called ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death’.

Other than that, information was hard to come by. Not that Ford would have put talking to the press very high on his list of priorities anyway. He had married Melissa Mathison on March 14, 1983, a short time after obtaining his final divorce from Mary and mere weeks before beginning work on Temple of Doom.

What was known was that Lawrence Kasdan, busy with directing his latest film, The Big Chill, had passed on the scripting chores. Lucas had turned to his old friends Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who had worked wonders with Lucas’ original draft of American Graffiti.

George Lucas himself had hinted at the contents of further Indiana Jones films around the time Raiders was released and confessed that Indy was his personal favourite of the characters he had created. ‘If I could be a dream figure, I’d be Indy,’ He told American magazine Rolling Stone. ‘It’s not just that I’m interested in archeology or anthropology; a lot of that got into Star Wars too. It’s just that Indy can do anything. He’s a lot of Thirties heroes put together. He’s this renegade archeologist and adventurer, but he’s also a college professor, and he’s got this Cary Grant side, too. In some stories, we’ll see him in top hat and tails. We don’t want to make him Superman – he’s just open to all possibilities. Raiders will be the most action oriented of the Indiana Jones movies – the others should deal more with the Occult.’

OK, maybe not top hat and tails, but definitely another side to
Indiana Jones ... kind of a "Bogart in Casablanca" look

Lucas had no problems convincing director Steven Spielberg to re-sign on the dotted line. ‘I’d hate to let it slip through my fingers into some one else’s hands,’ said Spielberg. ‘I’ll certainly not be involved in the third or the fourth one, but I really want to do the follow-up, because the story is even more spectacular than Raiders.’

Coincidence? I think not ...
Harrison Ford was also expressing his pleasure at the prospect of appearing in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. ‘Of course I’m doing the second Raiders film,’ he said. ‘With great pleasure. And for the first time, I think, in the history of sequels and good directors, Steven Spielberg is going to direct it. So this is very exciting for me. It was one of the best working relationship experiences of my life working with Steven.’

Pleased as he was, Ford was a little disturbed to hear from Starburst’s Tony Crawley that there were a total of five Indiana Jones films on the Lucasfilm launching pad, in varying stages of development. After completing filming on Return of the Jedi, the actor said, ‘Actually, I’m only committed to one film at the moment. That’s another Indiana Jones film. I had hoped to have a year off between the end of Jedi and the beginning of the next Indy film. Five (Indiana Jones films) is okay with me. I mean I really enjoy working on them. And I really enjoy the character very much. And certainly I couldn’t hope for better company than Lucas and Spielberg. But having done one, I don’t think I’d do four more of anything. They must be talking to Roger Moore ... one at a time for me!’


Though they were newcomers to the Indiana Jones series, script-writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz were no strangers to Lucasfilm Ltd. They had written the screenplay for Lucas’ first big hit, American Graffiti, succeeding in producing a workable script where others, including Lucas, had failed.

Huyck and Katz, a husband and wife team, had met at University in California, worked together at Francis Coppola’s studio where they first encountered Lucas and went on to write Graffiti (1973), Lucky Lady (1975) and French Postcards (1979).

The writers were first contacted about writing Temple of Doom in February, 1982. ‘We flew up to George’s house with Steven Spielberg and spent four days there,’ said Huyck. ‘In the first hour, George told us what he had in mind. Essentially, the story started in Shanghai and had Indy get into a situation in which his plane crashes. Then he’s asked by villagers to recover a sacred stone. That’s the basic outline we were given and we started building from there.’

The events in Temple of Doom take place a year before those in Raiders. Consequently, the new script called for a completely new cast of supporting characters, notably Short Round, Indy’s child companion and ‘bodyguard’ and Willie Scott, a nightclub singer.

‘We sat around trying to come up with names for the new characters,’ explains Huyck, ‘and we said that since George named Indiana Jones after his dog, Steven Spielberg and us should be able to name the characters after our dogs. So Steve named Willie after his dog and we named Short Round after ours. But our dog is named after a Korean child in the Sam Fuller movie The Steel Helmet (1951).’

‘Short Round really came out of the notion that George wanted a child in the movie,’ adds Katz. ‘He wanted a girl, but we didn’t like that idea too much, and Steve didn’t feel comfortable with it, either. So we thought of the idea of Short Round and then of his character. How he participated in the script developed out of the story conferences.’

The script went through three full drafts on its way to completion, with pauses for less major rewrites along the way. The first draft took Huyck and Katz six weeks, ‘because we wanted to get something we could talk about immediately,’ says Huyck. The second draft took another six weeks, with the third draft being completed in a breakneck four weeks of work. From there, the writers were called away to attend to their next project, Best Defense, though throughout the period of shooting on Temple of Doom, they were continually called upon by Steven Spielberg for polishing on the final draft.


With the script out of the way, the production crew could turn their attention to the casting of both the supporting actors and the locations. In the September of 1982, the ‘line’ producer of Temple of Doom, Robert Watts, set off for Asia with the movie’s production designer, Elliot Scott.

‘First we went to Hong Kong,’ said Watts, ‘looking for locations for the Chinese sequence. Hong Kong was too modern and we had to rule it out. From there we went to Macao, which hasn’t been developed as much as Hong Kong, and we found locations that would do for Shanghai. Then we went to India, where the bulk of the movie is supposed to take place, and we found most of the locations we wanted. The only problem was that they were miles apart.

‘Carrying on to Sri Lanka, we found, to our surprise, that we could get almost everything we wanted in the environs of one town, Kandy, with the exception of the Maharajah’s Palace.’

It was decided to base the production location at Kandy with only three days set aside for filming the Palace sequences on mainland India. Then Watts ran into hurdles. The Indian Government has rigid policies concerning the making of movies within its borders. A number of changes to the script were asked for. Too many for Lucasfilms’ liking.

‘George Lucas had very clear ideas on how the film should be,’ said Watts. ‘It is an adventure and the things that happen couldn’t possibly happen in real life. But the film, if it is to work, has to have the look and feel of reality. We were prepared to go so far to meet the Indian Authorities’ demands, but to have gone the whole way would have robbed the film of that element. In the end we decided it wasn’t worth it, least of all for three days shooting, and we closed our Bombay office.’

To get around the problem of being denied the necessary location, the filmmakers decided to build the Palace on the backlot at Elstree Studios and use matte paintings – a special effects technique to incorporate realistic artwork into live action footage – for the long shots.

Watts’ next objective was to take care of casting the actors. ‘The film has a very small cast,’ said Watts, ‘though this is not always apparent because there are always lots of people on the screen. In fact, I would say that it is possibly the smallest and most difficult casting I’ve ever worked on.’

That Harrison Ford would appear as Indy was never in dispute. But finding the right actor to portray Short Round caused all concerned headaches.

‘We had open casting calls in New York, Vancouver, London – anywhere with a substantial Chinese community,’ explained Watts, ‘and out of hundreds of boys there was only one who was really suitable.’

Ke Huy Quan was discovered during casting sessions in Los Angeles. A Vietnamese refugee, his English was good, but not so polished as to sound like a native American.

Ford with supporting cast members Ke Huy Quan and Kate Capshaw.

For the key role of villain Mola Ram, Indian star Amrish Puri was cast. ‘The only trouble was,’ said Watts, ‘that being such a popular actor in India, he was working on eighteen films at once. Scheduling him was a nightmare!’

Top Bollywood star Amrish Puri was cast as as the
dastardly villain Mola Ram.

The casting of Kate Capshaw for the part of Willie Scott was a lot more straightforward. Capshaw had been introduced to the character of Indiana Jones when she was dragged, under protest, to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. ‘I went, very petulent and sulky,’ admitted Capshaw, ‘and stayed that way for about two minutes! When I came out, I would have been a great advertisement for going to see that movie.’

Kate Capshaw got to perform a spectacular cabaret routine
in the opening sequence of
Temple of Doom.

A couple of years later, Kate Capshaw’s agent just happened to be out jogging with one of the casting directors on Temple of Doom ... and the rest is history. ‘Every director has a gut feeling for who a character is, what their special qualities are. They don’t know who has “got it”, but they’ll know it when they see it. Steven felt I had it when he met me.’

With Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom the plan was to set it apart from Raiders, with Indy himself as the only linking factor. This was underlined in the filmmakers’ approach to the character of Willie Scott. Kate Capshaw was at pains to make Willie as different from Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood as she could. Where Marion was tom-boyish, Willie was feminine, Where Marion was tough and capable – up to a point – Willie was nervous and flappable.

‘Willie has led this pampered life,’ explained Capshaw, ‘and feels that’s what’s due to her – to be cared for and looked after. She meets Indiana Jones, a person unlike anyone she has ever been involved with, and ends up going off with him. In the course of their adventures, all of her earlier life is stripped away from her and Willie must fall back on her own resources. She discovers that she is a strong woman and a very gutsy lady.’

The screen writers Huyck and Katz don’t necessarily share Capshaw’s vision of Willie. Their intention was to depict Willie as an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary situations, whose first reaction to the assorted plights she finds herself in is to crack up, not an attribute that Huyck particularly admired; ‘I never really cared for the character very much in the first place,’ he said. ‘But we felt that she was reacting realistically to the kind of things Indiana Jones goes through ... the kind of situations where, since she’s not so tough – as few people would be in those situations – she’d scream.’

Kate Capshaw spent most of the movie squealing and complaining,
which didn't endear the character to fans ...

I thought that this take on the film’s female lead was its biggest liability. Willie did little more than scream throughout the whole picture, and ended up as little more than a typical ‘damsel in distress’, but that kind of talk tends to upset Gloria Katz.

‘People have very mixed feelings about Willie,’ said Katz. ‘I’m a little offended by the idea of a macho woman. I think that’s a woman as conceived by men. I don’t think that’s a woman that necessarily, realistically exists. When you’re covered in insects, your instinct is to scream! So I think Willie represents the audience’s realistic point of view, what they would be like if they were thrown out into the jungle. True, it’s not a brave, strong woman but it’s a different kind of woman and, I think, a more realistic one.’

Next: More Temple of Doom

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Chapter 7, Part 2 - Harrison Ford: Contract Player No More


By January 11 1982, the Return of the Jedi cast and crew were safely ensconced in EMI’s Elstree Studios just outside London, and shooting began. The production was using all nine sound-stages. Sets were put up and torn down with alarming speed as the juggernaut movie careened through its paces. Down came the gate of Jabba’s Palace, up went the Death Star docking bay. Jedi technicians built an impressive redwood forest inside one hangar-like sound stage, then built the Ewok village among the trees.

Studio shooting forged ahead at break-neck speed and was completed in an amazing 78 days. From there, Marquand and his team flew to America and spent the next eight weeks filming the Tatooine scenes in the blazing heat of the Arizona desert. The Endor scenes were shot in the cooler redwood forests of Northern California.

Return of the Jedi was shooting under the fake title of "Blue
Harvest" in the North Californian redwood forests.

In an effort to keep the curious at bay, and the prices of the local shop-keepers down, the Arizona filming was conducted under a cover title of Blue Harvest – ‘Horror Beyond Imagination’ said the crew’s tee-shirts. ‘Is that what the film’s about?’ asked somebody of George Lucas, ‘No,’ he replied wryly, ‘that’s the making of the movie.’

Marquand explained his directing technique to the American magazine Prevue in an interview published just before the release of Jedi. He admitted that he rehearsed the actors, ‘but not in their moves. I like to show them the sets, give them an idea of the action and go through the script with them very carefully. I can’t stand it when an actor walks on the set saying he cannot deliver a line that a writer, a producer and a director spent eight months working on. I won’t have it.’ 

Yet Harrison Ford is well-known in movie circles for the amount of input he likes to have into the script. Marquand was aware of this preference and had no criticism of Ford in this area. If Ford wanted dialogue changes, Marquand was prepared to accommodate him because, ‘he’ll have good reasons and he’ll say it a week before shooting. He’ll explain why, and you’ll either agree, in which case you’ll go to the producer and the other actors and express his points, or you’ll explain why the line is there. If you can explain it to him, he’ll do it because he’s a professional.’

Ford and Fisher clown around on the Endor set, while
Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew take a breather
with their masks off.

Overall, Marquand’s aim was to create ‘real relationships and real action that stem from real emotions.’ He was wary, rightly so, of allowing the dazzling special effects to take control of the film. But if he needed aid or advice, he felt secure in the knowledge that George Lucas would always be on hand to help him out.

‘Having George Lucas as an executive producer on this film is like directing King Lear with Shakespeare in the next room!’ said Marquand.

Lucas himself had sufficient confidence in his Star Wars movies to put his money where his mouth is. Unlike other major movie productions, which borrow money from wherever they can get it, then insure their borrowings like crazy in case the film flops, Lucas was using his personal fortune to finance Jedi.

‘I decided,’ said Lucas, ‘I had the most faith in my own films. I’m using my profits to make more films.’

And Lucas’s secret was to incorporate into his movies something that most contemporary filmmakers forget. ‘One of the most important things is to create an emotion in the audience,’ says Lucas. ‘The movie can be funny, sad or scary, but there has to be an emotion. It has to make you feel good or laugh or jump out of your seat.’ Whether Lucas had injected enough emotion into Jedi would be left to the critics and, more importantly, the audiences to decide.

Carrie Fisher and her stand-in relax between takes on the Tatooine set.

In the meantime, Ford had taken time out between the completion of principle photography on Jedi and the film’s release to go house hunting. Sun Valley, Idaho was considered but abandoned as it was already full of Hollywood ex-pats. Harrison and Melissa then looked at Wyoming and settled on the town of Jackson Hole, where they were shown an 800 acre property. Ford had found his paradise.


It’s unlikely that George Lucas was really worried that Jedi would turn out to be a clunker. The film opened on the traditional date of May 25th, 1983 in America, followed by the British release on June 2nd, 1983. Although the reviews were, in the main, favourable, a few harder-to-please folk managed to find fault with the film.

‘Taken on its own terms,’ ventured Time magazine, ‘Return of the Jedi is a brilliant, imaginative piece of film-making.’ Time then went on to say that Jedi sacrificed the human element for its fascination with dazzling special effects, a familiar complaint of the up-market magazines of the Star Wars films. ‘The other flaw,’ said Time, ‘is the ending: in all three films, Lucas has almost entirely avoided the rank sentimentality to which his story is vulnerable. In the final minutes of Jedi, he succumbs, however, and ends his trilogy with one of the corniest conclusions in recent years.’

I suspect Time magazine was referring to this cheesey insert,
of the smiling dead jedi - the original release had Sebastian
"Humpty-Dumpty" Shaw as the late Anakin Skywalker,
the later re-release had Hayden Christensen

Playboy’s Bruce Williamson thought that Jedi was, ‘another rousing entertainment in George Lucas’s nine-part epic derived from Star Wars ... in its script, Return of the Jedi falls a bit short of its predecessors and director Richard Marquand doesn’t quite have Lucas’s magic touch ... Lucas continues to make movie-going the kind of innocent, awe-struck pleasure it used to be when we were all light-years younger.’

It should be explained that when this review was written, Lucas had intended producing a trilogy of Star Wars films that came after A New Hope, Empire and Jedi as well as the trilogy that later preceded them. Lucas announced those plans as abandoned after Star Wars III, but more recent reports indicate that the last trilogy of Star Wars movies is back on again, with Ford, Fisher and Hamill returning to there roles - presumably older and wiser.

Variety, the trade paper of American show business, seemed to fall into line with the criticisms that Time had made. ‘Lucas and Co have perfected the technical magic where anything and everything – no matter how bizarre – is believable ... the human and dramatic dimensions have been sorely sacrificed ... Harrison Ford, who was such an essential element of the first two outings is present more in body than in spirit this time, given little to do but react to special effects.’

I thought that Return of the Jedi was certainly the least successful of the original three Star Wars movies, artistically. Its worst failing was that it fell into the same trap as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – the filmmakers loaded it to excess with similar elements from its predessessors to the point where the overall effect was one of overkill. While there are some great sequences in the movie – the battle on Jabba’s barge and the chase on the speeder bikes through the forest of Endor – there are elements that simply jar. The Ewoks are probably my least favourite Star Wars characters ever and Jabba the Hutt’s gremlin-like pet Salacious Crumb is excedingly annoying though not, I suspect, in the way the filmmakers intended. It was as though Lucas was trying – none-too-successfully – to cater to the kiddie market.

One thing I could do without in Jedi was this character.
Wasn't wild about the way the Ewoks were handled either.

Audiences either didn’t read the reviews, or didn’t care what they said anyway. The film was safely into profit inside three months and, as the end of 1983 rolled round, Jedi was the number one grossing film of the year and nineteenth of the list of the top US box-office hits of all time earning a staggering $309 million. Worldwide, the gross was an even more impressive $572 million, $40 million more than Empire ...

The Academy nominated Jedi for four awards, in the categories Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Sound, Best Art Direction and Best Score, and awarded a Special Oscar to Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston and Phil Tippet for Achievement in Special Effects.

The Special Oscar for Achievement in Special Effects
was well-deserved.

Harrison Ford was not surprised that George Lucas had been proved right again and that most of the critics were out of touch with what the audiences wanted. ‘People want fairy tales in their lives,’ he told Time magazine. ‘I’m lucky enough to provide them. There is no difference between doing this kind of film and playing King Lear. The actor’s job is exactly the same: dress up and pretend.’


At the time, Return of the Jedi marked the final instalment in the Star Wars saga. It also marked the last screen appearances of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo. Other stories in the epic tale would tell of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire in the first trilogy (filmed as The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith), while the story of the rebuilding of the Galactic Democracy was to be told in the then-abandoned final trio of movies. Harrison Ford was not entirely unhappy that his stint as an interstellar star appeared to be over. ‘The story that Han Solo was part of,’ explained Ford to Starburst’s Tony Crawley, ‘which is “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker”, in my guise of best friend is over. The story completes itself in this third film. I had a great time on Jedi. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I did all three of them. But as well, I’m glad ... I don’t ... have to do any more. After Jedi, the saga goes back in time, so Solo’s not in the next three. There will be nine films in all. Just three for Solo. I assume they will not replace me with another person to play Solo ...’

Now that George Lucas has sold the sequel rights to Disney and the rumour-mill is saying that JJ Abrams will be in charge of the the final three movies of the originally-planned nine part story, it's possible Harrison Ford will return to the role of Solo as a kind of elder statesman of the Star Wars universe. It may even appeal to Ford’s sense of humour to do it.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Chapter 7, Part 1 - Harrison Ford: Contract Player No More

From ‘Get me Harrison Ford’ to ‘Get me a Harrison Ford type!’

‘Harrison Ford is a pure cinema actor, there is nothing theatrical about him – it’s just him. He doesn’t mind if his shirt’s out or his hair’s ruffled or his profile isn’t beautifully lit. What matters is what he’s doing.’ Richard Marquand, director of Return of the Jedi

The close of The Empire Strikes Back left Han Solo (Harrison Ford) sleeping the sleep of the living dead, frozen in a block of carbonite and on his way to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, an alien criminal mastermind, to suffer the penalty for dumping a cargo of illegal spices belonging to Jabba. Some of the more imaginative Star Wars fans put this fact together with the knowledge that Harrison Ford had only signed for one Star Wars picture at a time and began to circulate rumours that neither Ford nor Solo would be appearing in the third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi.

Some speculated that Harrison Ford would be
frozen out of
Revenge of the Jedi.

But shortly after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford went on record in the American magazine Starlog to put paid to such wild speculation. ‘If I hadn’t been able to do some of my other movies I might have felt differently about doing Return of the Jedi. As it stands, I’m delighted to be coming back. Han, Luke and Princess Leia were created to tell this story, so I’m glad to be in on the third act.’

Yet, just how Han Solo would return was a closely guarded secret. Nobody involved with the production would talk without the express permission of Star Wars creator George Lucas. Then Lucas himself broke the silence in a pre-Return interview – though he was giving nothing away. ‘The original (Star Wars) idea kind of got segmented, and the fact that the story is a fairy tale got lost, especially in the beginning, because the science fiction took over. I think that Return for better or worse, is going to put the whole thing in perspective.’

The opening shot of Return of the Jedi - as the cast
is assembled for the final chapter of their adventure.

Originally, George Lucas had intended to tell the story of Luke Skywalker’s struggle against the Empire in just one film. But as he completed the first draft of the tale, he realised that he had far too much story to fit into one two-hour movie. So he simply cut the story in two and continued to work on the first half. Before long it became apparent to Lucas that even two feature films would be too little screen time to tell the story in and three films would be needed.

Though Lucas wrote and directed Star Wars: A New Hope, the tremendous success of the film meant that Lucas’s energies were divided between running Lucasfilm and overseeing the flood of merchandising which followed in the Star-wake, as well as supervising preparations for future Lucasfilm movie projects. In short, there was no way Lucas could write or direct any more Star Wars films ... even if he wanted to.

For The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas had hired Lawrence Kasdan to craft the screenplay and Irvin Kershner to direct. With Return of the Jedi, he resolved to use a new writer/director team.

Yet, well-laid plans, particularly in the movie business, have a habit of going awry. The October 1981 issue of Starlog magazine carried a story under the title of "Kasdan Gets Revenge" (Revenge of the Jedi was the shooting title for Return of the Jedi and Fox even went to the trouble of printing teaser posters bearing that title – I know because I was given one by someone at Fox at the time).

The two versions of the Jedi one-sheet - don't know if the
"Revenge" version is valuable, but it's a nice souvenir
of my
Starburst days.

‘It’s a big surprise to me that I’m writing Revenge of the Jedi,’ said Kasdan. ‘George Lucas called me on the phone and asked me to do the script as a favour to him. I told George that I hadn’t planned on doing any more ‘just writing’ on films.’ He said, “Aw, come on. I’ve done it. Paul Schrader did it for Martin Scorcese. What difference does it make?”

‘I’m doing the script because I feel I owe George a lot. Besides, I like working with him. There’s also a certain satisfaction in finishing the trilogy. Additionally, writing Jedi will be very rewarding financially.

George Lucas had, as with The Empire Strikes Back, roughed out the plot of the movie first, embracing the main story-points and character developments. He was looking to Kasdan to bring pacing and humour to the final script. Kasdan, Lucas and director, Richard Marquand, spent a solid week discussing the thrust of the story and settling any differences of opinion they had as to the direction Return of the Jedi should take. From there on it became Kasdan’s baby.

Revenge of the Jedi’s basic thrust is to wrap up the trilogy’s story,’ Kasdan revealed in the same interview. ‘You can assume that Jedi’s structure will be like that of Star Wars and Empire, cutting back and forth. You could probably guess which of the characters will be returning. There will also be some new characters.’

Because of the suddenness of Lucas’s request, Kasdan was left with little time in which to complete his assignment. ‘It’s a similar situation to the terrible time problem we had on Empire, but I think this time I’ll have a much freer hand, because the Jedi screenplay George gave me isn’t nearly as far along as Empire’s was.’


The search for the man to direct Jedi was every bit as exhaustive as Lucas’s original Star Wars casting sessions had been. Lucas started out with a list of literally hundreds of British and American directors who could, conceivably, direct the third part of the trilogy. Lucas’s first choice was Steven Spielberg, who had to turn the offer down because of the threatened Director’s Guild strike. Another director in the frame was David Cronenberg, who probably would have made a very interesting Star Wars movie ...

After cutting away others who couldn’t do the film because of scheduling, prior commitments and lack of enthusiasm, the list fell to just two names, one of which was Richard Marquand whose previous credits included a horror movie called The Legacy and the war-time adventure movie Eye of the Needle.

Richard Marquand directs a strange blue elephant thing-y

‘George Lucas told me he wanted a director who could work fast, somebody – possibly from television – who could think on his feet, improvise quickly, and work with actors. Finally – and I think this is the most important thing – somebody who could work with him,’ said Richard Marquand. ‘Finally, there were only two of us left in the running. This was about April or May of 1981.’

Though most people associated with Return of the Jedi have been reluctant to discuss who didn’t get through the selection process, Mark Hamill did let it slip in an interview that Marquand’s rival for the job was David Lynch, director of The Elephant Man.

‘David decided he didn’t want to do a George Lucas movie,’ explained Hamill, ‘Because he felt he couldn’t be constantly answering to another producer. George didn’t want to restrict somebody that original, so they came to an amiable parting of the ways. Ironically, David left to make Dune for Dino De Laurentiis.’

With Marquand selected to helm Return of the Jedi, preproduction work got underway with a vengeance. Marquand was far more than a puppet director, and had a healthy input into the way the movie would shape up as a kind of punch-line to the first two films.

‘I had a whole plan of the way I wanted to present each character, each new character,’ Marquand told me in February 1983, ‘to make Jedi slightly different from the other films. Empire ends in a kind of explosion – everyone’s going off in different directions. I thought it would be nice if we opened Jedi with a tremendous sense of mystery. A ‘where is everybody?’ sort of feeling. We know that Vader and the Emperor are really on the Rebel’s tails after Empire, which ended on a kind of dark note. I thought it would be nice to pick up on that. All the heroes are scattered to the four corners of the Galaxy and then I could bring in each one in an interesting way. George liked that idea. Larry (Kasdan) picked up on it and turned it into something terrific. Then I was talking about killing off one of the major characters. George wouldn’t have that.’

This almost certainly would have been the Han Solo character. As Ford revealed in a later interview, ‘I thought it would give the myth some body. Solo really had no place to go. He’s got no papa, he’s got no mama, he’s got no story. But that was the one thing I was unable to convince George of.’

Richard Marquand’s next step was to get together with the principal actors and hash out how the main characters would develop in the film. “‘You know this character. Tell me what this character’s got to offer in terms of the public and the box-office and the story,” I said. I discovered some nice things about the characters, which we were able to inject into the film.’

Marquand has nothing but praise for Hamill, Fisher and Ford. ‘Carrie Fisher has made no secret of the fact that she’s this sort of boy in girl’s clothing,’ Marquand told me, ‘who marches up and down and shouts at everybody. She felt her character could do with a bit of development. And that happened to coincide exactly with my feelings. In the last movie, the Princess became such a bitch, she really was a drag. I was sure there was a lot more depth there we could use. And more comedy, too. Turn her into more of a woman. So I worked with Carrie on that. She’s a very sexy, attractive lady and in this film we’ll get to find that out.

‘Mark’s character, Luke Skywalker, is the one that develops through the whole series. That’s the area of jeopardy. Will Luke move towards the Dark Side of the Force? He does; you see the darkening as he is led in this direction.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) sported a whole new look
Return of the Jedi.

‘Billy Dee Williams had all sorts of ideas about Lando Calrissian. His past, and where he had come from, the kind of skills he had. We realise that he was the first owner of the Millennium Falcon. We didn’t really get to know him in Empire, we just learned to distrust him.

‘Harrison Ford’s great, he really is. He’s a very professional actor. A man who is now quite a major box office star. He gets on with it. Doesn’t suffer fools gladly. If you don’t know what you’re going to do on the day, he gets a little confused and upset. But he’s terrific as an ally, someone who understands the craft of being a movie actor.’

Next: The shooting starts

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Chapter 6, Part 3 - Harrison Ford: From Artisan to Artist

As was his custom on his other films, Ford did most of his own stunts for Blade Runner. One memorable scene had him clinging precariously to a ledge, hundreds of storeys above the teeming streets.

‘We were using a 65mm Mitchell camera,’ explained effects man David Dryer, ‘which weighed about 75 pounds. With that kind of weight cantilevered out over Ford there was always the chance that the camera would break a casting and come right down on him. So we rigged a special plate and support to get the camera actually looking back down on itself.’

It was Rutger Hauer’s job to haul Ford up onto the roof. ‘Harrison didn’t want to fall down that twenty foot drop, or whatever it was. So he was hanging there, with a wire for support, but it was still kind of tough to get him up.’

But Ford was dismissive of the danger involved. ‘That shot where I’m hanging from the girder ... well, god knows, I’m not hanging 30 storeys above the ground there. Not only am I not hanging from the girder, I’ve got a safety belt on and a wire that’s got me clipped to the bottom of the girder ... and I’m acting like I’m hanging from a girder, from the contortion of my face, the sweat of my brow. That’s all acting ... wonderful acting!’ But on a more serious note Ford is careful to draw a clear distinction between what he does and ‘real’ stunts. ‘What I’ve done in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner is “physical acting”. Stunts are falling off a tall building or crashing a car. Something you’re silly enough to think isn’t going to hurt the next day.’

Ford claims he wasn't really dangling from a girder by his fingertips
30 storeys above the ground ... but I don't believe him for a second.
Meanwhile, rumours abounded that Ford had drastically altered his appearance for the movie, one American newspaper even claiming Ford played Deckard with a shaved head. ‘The crewcut was my idea,’ said Ford. ‘And I had to talk Ridley into it, because he was afraid that it might make me less ... gorgeous. The haircut couldn’t be done unless Ridley was there. It took about four hours to get it. With long pauses for consideration by Ridley. My ambition was always to get it right down. Real short. I wanted to give the impression of a character who has given upon himself, was unconscious of his appearance and had lost, to a large degree, that ego that keeps us all doing things like combing our hair, brushing our teeth and all of that. I thought it was important to suggest that and change my appearance in some way. I think it’s more interesting for an audience, even if they know right away who it is. They don’t have the same expectation of you if you don’t look the same. It gives you a foot forward.

‘And one of the other things that drives me nuts when doing a four month shooting schedule is when someone is fiddling with your hair between every shot. I just can’t stand that. It just drives me nuts. If I could have short hair on every film ... I mean, some of my best friends are hairdressers, but it does drive me nuts. The first thing I do after a film where I have long hair is cut it all off.’ The beard was also Ford’s idea. ‘The first day of Blade Runner, I’m shaved. When the events begin to take over my life, it hardly seems a proper time to shave ... when things are going the way they are in Blade Runner, there doesn’t seem time for a bath and a shave. I think that kind of detail goes to make up the character. I try not to lose sight of those little things.’

An early continuity pic of Ford ... here his hair
is longer than it appeared in the final movie.
By this time, Ford had had a chance to think through Deckard’s relationship with Rachael. ‘It’s clear that Deckard doesn’t think very much about women at all,’ he told the author of Blade Runner souvenir magazine. ‘He’s the type of guy that would see them occasionally but not have any use for them around the house. He has a wife and child but they seem to have gone in search of a better life. Deckard acknowledges on Rachael’s first appearance that she is attractive. But then she becomes a puzzle and, when he figures out she is a replicant, he seems to have no further use for her. He sees Rachael as a zero. But her display of emotion, even though he knows it’s false, implanted, pulls him out of his despair. As he begins to become involved with her, he is forced to confront what is really going on around him.’


Director Ridley Scott called ‘cut!’ for the last time on Blade Runner during the second week of July, 1981. The production was already over-schedule and over-budget. The filmmakers busied themselves with such vital post-production activities as editing, dubbing and adding the excellent Vangelis music. The following January, the first of the Blade Runner trailers was released in America. It featured scenes from the movie under the music of the Inkspots, enhancing the idea of Blade Runner as a 1940s pastiche.

A rough cut of the film previewed in Denver, Colorado. The feedback from that screening indicated the fans were unhappy with the abrupt ending of Deckard and Rachael stepping into the lift and the doors slamming shut behind them.

‘Fortunately, we had also shot an alternative ending, with Deckard and Rachael leaving the city together in a Spinner, heading towards the unpolluted Northwest,’ said Scott. Also at this stage, there was no Harrison Ford voice-over to explain the more ambiguous scenes in the film. I was lucky enough to see this version at an early preview in London around March, 1982, and feel this ‘first draft’ to be far superior to both the theatrical release cut and the later ‘Director’s Cut’ released on VHS video.

When the film came out on June 25, 1982 in America, the 1940s look and the laconic (some would say, ‘bored’) narration was singled out by the critics as the chief target for attack. Ford was a little defensive about such comments. ‘I thought it had the makings of a very original film,’ he said. ‘It was no ambition of mine to play the character like a Forties Bogart figure, but it was always on Ridley’s mind. It was always my hope that there wouldn’t be a voice-over, that we wouldn’t need one. I thought the character needed to be a representation of a certain type of physical environment, the result of that kind of life. The voice-over was always Ridley’s idea, from the beginning.’

Scott was a little more philosophical. ‘We never addressed the problem of the voice-over early enough,’ he told me. ‘I wanted the voice-over from the beginning. The screenplay was written with a voice-over.’ But that wasn’t the voice-over that appeared in the finished film. And Scott was far from happy with the end result. ‘The voice-over is an essential part of the Marlowe-type character of Deckard and also to a degree helps clarification. One of the most interesting aspects of Apocalypse Now was the voice-over. It was incredible. I think Coppola went on for nearly six months trying to get that right. I think, with hindsight, I would have re-done the voice-over in Blade Runner, and I think Harrison would as well.’

As it turned out, the final narration was no masterpiece and it jarred against the other aspects of the production. Of particular note was the corny speech over the scene in which replicant Roy Batty dies. Ford’s tired voice proclaims. ‘I don’t know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life. Anybody’s life. My life. All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where do I come from? Where am I going? How long have it got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.’ Raymond Chandler, it’s not.

Ridley Scott directs Ford during the final showdown
with Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).
Almost predictably, the reviews weren’t good.

Playboy’s Bruce Williamson thought Blade Runner was a ‘major disappointment’ despite ‘smashing production values and fine actors’ and summed up the movie saying, ‘by the time Ford and Hauer face off for their climactic showdown, Blade Runner had grown dull – a simple case of Philip Marlowe meets Frankenstein.’

The British trade publication Screen International felt ‘the special effects dominate the film while the plot and characters fade into the background,’ and pointed out that ‘in spite of his voice-over ironies, Rick Deckard is no Philip Marlowe.’

The American trade bible Variety said that ‘Ford’s frequent inertia mutes the detective angle of the story which is couched in some hard-boiled Chandleresque narration and in the long run proves to be the weakest aspect of the pic.’

Some critics believed that the level of violence in Blade Runner was more explicit than was necessary. Ford countered this in his usual eloquent style. ‘There’s a really unfortunate and ill-advised attitude to the violence in the film. I am conscious of violence in a film. I abhor it when it is used for the sake of itself. I was anxious to make sure this character represented the abhorrence of violence. And he does. He wanted to get out of the police force because he couldn’t stand the killing. After every incident of having to kill someone, the character’s revulsion is clear. And, ironically, he is not killing human beings. That’s what the thematic backbone of the film is. They’re not really human beings. And yet, his empathy with something that looks like a human being – which is later to lead him into a romance with a machine affects him.’

In spite of the negative criticism of the film, Ford’s performance was praised. Scriptwriter David Peoples was enthusiastic about Ford’s portrayal of Rick Deckard. ‘Harrison is an absolutely magnificent actor,’ he commented. ‘He’s amazing. He’s like the great old guys. He becomes Deckard. I mean, you don’t see him act like Deckard, he is Deckard and Deckard is different from Han Solo and entirely different from Indiana Jones. In Blade Runner he’s a seething guy with a lot inside him. He’s a guy who’s got a lot of problems, who’s holding a lot in, and Harrison does it brilliantly.’

Science fiction author and friend of Philip K. Dick’s, Norman Spinrad was more restrained about Ford’s performance. ‘Harrison Ford is fine in the rather undemanding role of Deckard,’ a comment that seems to me to be sniffy and dismissive.

In my view Blade Runner remains probably the most literate science fiction film ever made. Ford’s performance is a masterpiece of understatement and contributed mightily to the film’s artistic success. Ford himself has spoken critically of his involvement in the film, stating that he’s very unhappy with Ridley Scott’s later claims that Deckard was always intended to be a replicant. However, I never got that Deckard was any kind of replicant from the movie in any of its cuts, just that the momentary doubt about his own humanity the character experiences is enough to finally convince Deckard that replicants are worth no less than human beings.

Some people thought this scene indicated that Deckard
was a replicant because his eyes glowed in the same
way as Rachel's ... I'd want more evidence than that.
Yet Blade Runner was an extremely important step in Ford’s career. It was his first opportunity to show what he could do as a serious actor. It was becoming obvious that Ford was a far better actor than his Star Wars and Raiders vehicles allowed audiences to see. But further expeditions into the area of serious acting would have to wait. Already the date for the beginning of principal photography of the third part of the Star Wars saga was approaching. It was almost time for Ford to return to the worlds of robots and rayguns as Han Solo in Return of the Jedi. But not before he’d rested up a while. ‘It would take an Act of Congress to get me to work before Jedi,’ he said, ‘I haven’t had six months with the kids for a long time.’

But Ford would be back at work quicker than he expected. Melissa had been around on set much of the time during the filming of Raiders, working with Spielberg on the script for E.T. During the filming of E.T., Spielberg had Melissa work with the child actors, rehearsing their scenes. It was inevitable that Ford would end up with a role in the movie. Spielberg also persuaded Melissa to play the part of the nurse who takes the “drunk” Elliot to the principal (played by Ford). As with most of the other adults in the film, their faces would not be seen. But nervous Melissa’s hands trembled so badly during her scene she pleaded with Spielberg to scrap the footage. So not for the first time in his career one of Ford’s performances was consigned to the cutting room floor.