Last night in downtown Los Angeles, the LA Times hosted a special 30th Anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark with Steven Spielberg in attendance. What people didn’t know is that Harrison Ford would surprise everyone and show up as well, creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience I know I’ll never forget.
Following a screening of the film’s new digital restoration that will be used on the upcoming Blu-Ray, which makes the movie look better than it ever did, Spielberg began the Q&A with the famous “Hawaii story” of how Lucas got him involved with Indy. Here are some highlights from the Q&A where the LA Times Hero Complex was moderating:
On his friendship with Lucas
“George doesn’t do text or email ever. I’ve never received a text or email from George, he’s never received one from me. He’s a phoner, you know. It’s all the telephone. Or it’s in person. So it’s either eyes on, or it’s a telephone call. But it’s never texting.”
“I get a phone call, and this is what I hear; (in a GREAT Lucas impersonation) ‘Hey Steve, what are you doing?’ ‘I’m sorta sitting around working George, you know. I’m making ten pictures a year as a producer what are you doing?’ ‘Ya, I’m just. I don’t know’. He always has something going, but it’s funny. The thing with George, when George and I get on the telephone I have to clear my morning or my afternoon because we talk for a long long time. The only person I’ve ever talked to at the length I’ve talked to George believe it or not is Stanley Kubrick when we were friends in the 80s. We talk about every thing. We talk about movies, we talk about his projects and my projects. We talk about our families and our friendship. It’s been an enduring friendship. I met George when he premiered THX at the Royce Hall UCLA/USC Film Festival in 1967, I think it was, so we’ve known each other for a long time.”
On the true story of the swordsman scene
“Ok well, the truth is. The morning we were supposed to shoot this three-page long sword vs whip fight between the swordsman and Indy, and Harrison came to me in the morning. He said, he always calls me ‘Pal’, he said, ‘Listen pal, I went into like Senior Barfies, and I had something that didn’t agree with me last night and you’ve got about an hour with me and then I’m going back to the hotel because I’m really sick. So what do you want to do?’ I think I said, ‘Well we have three pages to shoot, but if you pull out your gun and shoot the swordsman, you can to back to the hotel.'”
A gravely voice appears, “No, no that’s rubbish.”
The entire theater explodes as Harrison Ford walks out to reveal the true story.
Ford: “I had chosen to eat native food, unlike Steven who went to Tunisia with a steamer trunk full of Spagetti-Os. And I had suffered mightily for that. I was no longer capable of staying out of my trailer for more than it took to expose a roll of film, which was ten minutes. And then I would have to flee back there for sanitary facilities, and it was really horrible. We had rehearsed the night before what was to be a three day scene. There was a certain logic to my plea the next morning. It was about a forty-five minute to an hour drive from our hotel to the set, and during that period of time it came to me that there might be a way out of this. It came out of the logic, a kind of interest, in the film; we had just shot a lengthy scene in which there was a duel between bad guys with swords and things and the whip. We were about to shoot another scene that would take us at least three days to shoot. The ultimate, the sad thing is, that the guy who was playing the black swordsman had won the part, probably the greatest contest for any part in the film was over this because both Steven and George were convinced you could throw a salami in the air and slice it into wafer thin slices. This guy trained and trained and trained and we had to tell him he was going to die. My logic was that we really didn’t want to see another big long extended scene, we wanted to get to Marion who was captured. So I said, ‘Hey pal, why don’t we just shoot this son of a bitch’ and Steven said, ‘I was just thinking of that.’ That’s all there is to it. But the poor guy, when the news was broken to him that was not get a chance to show any of the skills that he’d spent the last three months acquiring with the sword.”
Spielberg: “But he became the most famous swordsman ever to die by Indy’s gun in the history of the series.”
Ford: “The first time I shot him, it took about three weeks for him to die…robbed of the drama…that was his due. So he did a very elaborate death scene.”
Spielberg: “First he dropped the sword, then he stumbled backwards, then he came forward again, he started to weave, then he went down to one knee, then the second knee, then he stood there on his knees, and then went face down. That was take one.”
Ford: “Then I said to Steven, ‘Watch this’. Steven said, ‘Speed…’, and before he had a chance to say “Action” I pulled the trigger and he fell down. And that’s what’s in the movie.”
When asked about coming back to Indy over and over
Ford: “Maybe a fifth, but I ain’t going to Mars.”
Spielberg: “No, no I ain’t going to Mars with you.”
Ford: “There’s no mix in that bag. It’s an absolute delight to revisit this character. Have a chance to work with Steven again, who only hires me for Indiana Jones.”
Spielberg: “Wait a minute. Let me correct this. I hope I don’t embarrass you. You know who I offered Jurassic Park to? This guy. Alan Grant. First offer to Harrison.”
Ford: “That was a lot like going to Mars.”
Spielberg: “I think what really scared Harrison was, I had the art department, and I still have the painting, I drew a painting of the character of Alan Grant with a kid, Lex and Timmy, in each hand running toward camera and a huge T-Rex chasing after him and I told them to put Harrison’s face on the character. I think might have done the trick.”
Ford: “Next time we get a script for Indiana Jones, I’d be delighted to play the character again. The thing that we all both had as an ambition for the character and the series was that each time we meet Indiana Jones, we have the occasion to go to a new Indiana Jones film, we wanted to advance the audience’s understanding of and experience with the character. Not just by putting him in new adventures, but learning something new about him. Something about what made him what he is. And that lead to meeting his father in the person of Sean Connery and his son in the person of Shia, and bringing back Karen and all of those things. Which are to me what makes the character so interesting to revisit.”
On Lucas’ revisions to Star Wars
Spielberg: “It’s a little hot topic isn’t it? Let me put it this way, George does what he does cause there’s only one George Lucas and thank God for that. He’s the greatest person I’ve ever worked with as a filmmaker/collaborator. He’s a conceptual genius, and he puts together these amazing stories, and he’s great at what he does. My feeling is, he can do anything he wants with his movies because they’re his movies and we wouldn’t have been raised with Star Wars or Indiana Jones had it not been for George. So what he does with his films is great.
Speaking for myself, I tried this once and lived to regret it. Not because of fan outrage, but simply because I was a little disappointed in myself. I got very very kind of overly sensitive to some of the criticism E.T. had gotten from parent groups when it was first released in ’82, having to do with Elliot saying ‘penis breath’ or the guns with the FBI or the CIA or whoever the plain clothes people were. Also there were certain Carlos Rambaldi, brilliant, but kind of rough around the edges close ups of E.T. that I’d always thought if the technology ever evolves to the point that I could do some facial enhancements to E.T., I’d like to. So I did an E.T. pass for like the third release of the movie.
It was okay for a while, then I realized what I’d done was I had robbed the people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T. and I had done that. My only contrition that I could possibly to, because I felt bad about that, the only contrition that I really performed was when E.T. came out on DVD for the first time; I asked Universal, I didn’t ask Universal I said you’re going to do this or we’re not going to release this on DVD, you have to come out for the same price of one DVD you have to put two movies in the box. One movie would be the 1982 version and the other version would be the digitally enhanced version. So we got that.
What I’d like is this, do a little poll here because I know we’re coming out with the Blu-Ray of E.T. If I came out with just one E.T. on Blu-Ray, 1982, would anybody object to that?”
Everyone yells “NO!”
“Ok, then so be it.”
You can hear that last part for yourself here: