Monday, March 24, 2008

Indiana Jones: The Adaptation

The Hirschhorn museum in Washington D.C. occasionally screens free movies in its auditorium. When Melody and I were undergrads, it was a reliable source of contemporary avant garde film. We saw Michael Haneke's original Funny Games there and one of the Cremaster series, for example. A couple of weeks ago, while browsing its film series, I saw that they would be screening Indiana Jones: The Adaptation, a more or less shot by shot recreation of the first Indiana Jones movie, made on a BetaMax over seven years (1981-1988). Both Melody and Zed predicted that the screening would be popular, and Melody recommended that we show up several hours in advance. I thought that was absurd, considering that I had never seen the auditorium more than half full. But when we showed up two hours in advance, there were already about 50 people in line ahead of us. Eventually the line grew so long that it coiled twice around the inside of the circular Hirschhorn courtyard. So many people showed up that they had to show the movie twice that night.

The filmmakers were there to introduce the movie and answer questions. They apologized beforehand for the terrible sound, and opened the movie with the invitation to "Let the Beta wash over you". You can get some idea of what the Adaptation is like in these clips.

The opening jungle sequence is recreated remarkably well, including the scene of the porter reaching nervously for his gun and Indiana Jones knocking it out of his hand with the bullwhip. The sound was indeed awful, and it was only because we had watched the original a couple of nights beforehand that we had any idea what anyone was saying. We also debated about whether the grainy, blurry picture helped or hindered the experience of the movie; it was often hard to tell what was going on, but otherwise mundane settings were concealed and made mysterious because you couldn't see much of what was going on. Most importantly, though, the low fidelity made what otherwise would have been glaring continuity problems easier to accept: characters' hair got longer and shorter, depending on the changing styles between 1981 and 1988, voices changed, actors got acne, grew noticeably in height and weight, and so on.

The only scene that was completely left out of the Adaptation was the fight with the strongman around the airplane. During Q&A Melody asked why they left that scene out. The director said that he still has nightmares about not doing that scene. He said that they had prepared to shoot it, with a big fan painted silver for the propellor, the most muscular kid in school ready to play the strongman (complete with a bald wig), and a mock-up of the plane that was to be blown up with a pipe bomb. But some undisclosed problem with the pipe bomb ruled out shooting the scene as planned, and the director said that the idea of blowing up a model with an M-80 was thought to be "too cheesy".


nate said...

Did they still use the Wilhelm scream?

Nat Hansen said...

Good question. If I remember correctly, in the original it occurs in the truck sequence when one of the German soldiers gets knocked off the back of the truck. I didn't notice it during the truck sequence in the Adaptation.