The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was an ABC TV show that ran from 1992-1993. I never saw an episode. I still haven’t, because the version that’s on video is called The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones and it’s re-edited. According to legend (as well as Wikipedia) the Chronicles were hour long episodes about Indiana Jones as a young man having adventures and/or chronicles in different exotic locations. The stories would jump around in time, so sometimes it would be Sean Patrick Flanery (BOONDOCK SAINTS) as teen/early-twenties Indy, sometimes it would be Corey Carrier (school band cymbal player in THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK) as 8-10 year old Indy. And the episodes would be bookended by George Hall (BIG DADDY) as 93-year-old Indy (with eye patch) remembering the stories.
Wait a minute – that would mean in the then-present day? I always think of him in the WWII era, but it turns out he stuck around a while. Think about that. Indiana Jones was around for Woodstock, for disco, for “We Are the World,” for “Baby Got Back.” If he had grand kids there might’ve been an Indiana Jones and the Elusive Cabbage Patch Doll adventure one Christmas. None of this is covered in the show though.
The first season (1992) was 6 episodes, the second season they made 22, but only aired 18 before cancelling it. Then from 1994-1996 they followed it up with four TV movies for the Family Channel. Finally, in 1999 they paired up the hour long episodes, plus a couple new ones, and re-edited them into movies, which came out on VHS and later DVD. One major change was to remove all the segments with 93 year-old Indy, so you never get to see Indiana Jones in contemporary situations, like the one where he tells the story of his teenage love of cars after seeing a monster truck at the gas station.
(Do you think they said if Indy went to movies when he was in his 90s? Do you think he saw UNDER SIEGE?)
The magic of Youtube has preserved what Old Indy was like. It’s not embeddable, but you can watch it here.
Okay, now that I see those horrible kids he was talking to in the pilot I understand why they wanted to hide these 1992 segments underneath The Star Wars Holiday Special. But I like George Hall as Old Indy. I like the eyepatch. It’s not his fault.
(What TV shows do you think Indiana Jones watched in those days? Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper or something? I guess maybe Murder, She Wrote.)
The other big change is that they put all of the stories into chronological order. What makes this weird is that the chronologically second story was one of the last ones filmed. Here’s how Indy looks in the first hour:
And then all the sudden he looks like this:
Which I was okay with, because the actor is more tolerable when he’s older, and it’s not specifically stated that time hasn’t passed. Maybe he’s been traveling for years by this point, or maybe this is a separate trip years later.
But then here he is in the third hour:
So that’s kinda weird.
I wasn’t into these kid ones, so somebody please let me know if there’s one I should watch. I skipped ahead to Flanery’s first movie, Spring Break Adventure, and Indy’s look seems to change there too. On DVD this is movie #6 out of 22, but the first half was originally the twelfth episode, and the second half was the second half of the pilot. But that’s okay. I’m over it.
There are a bunch of notable names in the credits for the series. Several episodes, including the pilot, were written by Jonathan Hales, who later wrote THE SCORPION KING and co-wrote ATTACK OF THE CLONES with Lucas. Frank Darabont (SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL) wrote a bunch, Jonathan Hensleigh (DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, THE PUNISHER , KILL THE IRISHMAN) wrote some, even Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher, did a couple. Directors include Simon Wincer (QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, THE PHANTOM), Vic Armstrong (ARMY OF ONE, Indiana Jones stunt double), Terry Jones (writer of LABYRINTH), Joe Johnston (Star Wars designer, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER), Mike Newell (PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME), Bille August (SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW), Peter MacDonald (RAMBO III, also second unit location director for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), Deepa Mehta (FIRE, EARTH), Gavin Millar (DREAMCHILD, FUNNY BONES), Nicolas Roeg (WALKABOUT, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH), David Hare (Turks & Caicos), Robert Young (VAMPIRE CIRCUS), Michael Schultz (CAR WASH, KRUSH GROOVE, DISORDERLIES, THE LAST DRAGON) and Ben Burtt (sound designer for STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES serieses, also editor of many episodes).
I didn’t want to make you guys wait around forever while I watched the entire series, so I looked at those credits and the premises and chose a pretty big sampling of what seemed like the most promising ones to watch: My First Adventure, Spring Break Adventure, Demons of Deception, The Phantom Train of Doom, Attack of the Hawkmen, Adventures in the Secret Service, Mystery of the Blues and Hollywood Follies.
According to a 1992 New York Times article the series was filmed in Africa, India, Europe, Egypt and China (35 different countries, I read somewhere else), but cost about the same per episode as MacGyver or Quantum Leap. This was due in part to Lucas’s pioneering use of digital compositing. It’s cleverly done, and probly hard to spot at the time, but on DVD you can notice them using it to add extra soldiers, buildings, sunsets, bi-planes, hot air balloons, etc., or to put Indy into shots with wild animals. It makes this epic for a TV show of the time but of course overall the production is still cheap and crude compared to the movies.
One thing that does help give it a cinematic (and Lucasfilm) feel is the orchestral music. The great theme song by Laurence Rosenthal captures the adventurous feeling of the movies ,but with a sense of youthful frolicking. Here’s a weird thing I can’t explain: some of the music (mostly by Joel McNeely) really reminds me of music John Williams would make years later for the STAR WARS prequels. For example this theme from the Verdun episode (first half of Demons of Deception):
reminded me of… I don’t know, something that’s in one of the prequels, mixed with the ATTACK OF THE CLONES love theme:
I guess that just means they did a good job of creating John Williamsy music. Even predicting the John Williams sounds of the future.
In the episodes I watched the younger Indy travels with his parents as an entitled young rich kid, visiting pyramids and palaces. There’s a good supporting cast. Lloyd Owen (MISS POTTER, APOLLO 18) plays a much less silly version of Henry Jones Sr. than Connery did. You can see both his influence on Indy and his emotional distance, which continues into episodes that he doesn’t appear in as Indy has left the country, doesn’t want to come back to go to Princeton, and is afraid to face him again. I also liked Margaret Tyzack (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, MATCH POINT) as his proper British tutor Miss Seymour. Like Yoda she first tries to reject him as a pupil (too young instead of too old) and he’s a little afraid of her at first. But she does good things like encourage his questioning of slavery to powerful people who practice it. Also I like Ronny Coutteure as his friend Remy, who he meets in Mexico and then joins the Belgian army with. I was surprised how much of this series is about Indy fighting WWI for Belgium! That seems to be most of the episodes.
Flanery (who reminds me of Ewan McGregor as young Obi Wan) does do a great job of establishing his own version of Indy, who is not yet cocky or abrasive, still naive, clumsy, and learning. While his skills and exploits far exceed that of the normal man, he still seems like an underdog because he’s pretty much always in over his head while surrounded by people who do know what they’re doing. Usually he ends up impressing them, but only after stumbling into success.
In the first half of Spring Break Adventure (directed by Joe Johnston, written by Matthew Jacobs [THE NINJA MISSION, PAPERHOUSE]), producer and story-provider Lucas indulges his AMERICAN GRAFFITI side in a story about Indy wanting to drive a cool car. Indy’s job and nickname to all the assholes at school is “soda jerk,” and he wants to show them up by borrowing his girlfriend’s dad’s Bugatti to drive to prom. Trouble is it’s in the shop, so he has to pull some strings to get it fixed in time, which gets him mixed up in a caper involving the theft of Thomas Edison’s plans for an electric car. He also ends up in an early high speed car chase.
The reason the dad (Lee Lively, PRINCE OF TIDES) has such a fancy car is that he’s Edward Stratemeyer, creator of The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys and more. He likes Indy, who helps him when he’s stuck on a Tom Swift story. The show leaves you to connect the dots that Stratemeyer created Nancy Drew, and here his daughter Nancy (Robyn Lively, THE KARATE KID PART III) basically is a real life Nancy Drew who drags Indy into the mystery solving business. Indy dated Nancy Drew!
This is also important because throughout the series Indy falls in love with many strong and capable women before Marion Ravenwood. These include historical figures like Mata Hari (Domiziana Giodrano, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE) and fictional ones like Claire Lieberman (Allison Smith, JASON GOES TO HELL), depicted as Universal Pictures’ best screenwriter in the silent era.
In the movies Indy always encounters old friends and colleagues, and one cool thing about the show is that they’re able to show him actually meet people as a kid and then run into them again as an adult. Or when he’s an adult and he mentions his old friend Ned you know it’s T.E. Lawrence, who his tutor introduced him to at the Great Pyramids.
Lucas told the New York Times, “I told the network this is not going to be like the movies, that this is not an action-adventure film, but a coming-of-age film. It deals with issues and ideas. It’s not a high-tech adventure thing.” And despite what we saw in the prologue to LAST CRUSADE, most of young Indy’s coming of age doesn’t involve treasure. In what was originally the pilot he sees one as a boy in Egypt and catches up to its thief in Mexico. Otherwise he spends the series broadening his horizons pre-archaeology school. During his spring break in Mexico he ends up captured by Mexican revolutionaries and rides with Pancho Villa (Mike Moroff, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN, DESPERADO) for a while, a story he tells Mutt in CRYSTAL SKULL, so it’s canon. Then he joins the Belgian army and goes to war in various capacities from infantryman to air photographer.
By far the best one I watched was The Phantom Train of Doom, a later episode intentionally released at movie length, but it’s basically two connected mini-movies. Both are directed by Peter Macdonald and written by Frank Darabont, with the first (superior) half co-written by Carrie Fisher. Indy and Remy get horribly lost in Africa and team up with the British Army unit the Royal Fusiliers, a bunch of badass old guys like a male Vuvalini. Their legendary leader Selous, inspiration for the literary character Allan Quatermain, is played by Belloq himself, Paul Freeman.
Using Indy as their train expert, the Fusiliers keep tricking Indy, getting him to help them on missions in the guise of helping him get back to the front lines where he’s supposed to be. The story is full of clever gimmicks and exciting action, especially in the first part where they attempt to find and destroy a mysteriously disappearing German train that tows a giant cannon. Obviously they hijack the train and get chased by troops and have a big shoot out and chase. One of the soldiers unhooks the cannon from the rest of the train and they throw him a rope and he walks across like it’s a tightrope. Also I noticed two Wilhelm screams.
1. The phrase “hakuna matata” is used in this, following THE LAND BEFORE TIME in being ahead of the curve on stuff that’s in THE LION KING
2. The Phantom Train of Doom has no relation to either the Phantom Menace or the Temple of Doom.
In the second half Indy captures a WWI Flying Ace who’s the type of lady he’ll be attracted to later in life: acts like she hates him, also acts seductive, is on the other side, is a badass, says witty insults to him (after talking to him for a while she says “I’d like my gag back, please.”) He’s young though, so he doesn’t know what to do about that. He stays away.
Some of the episodes aren’t action-oriented at all, but when they are it’s impressive how much they do. There’s plenty of explosions and stuntwork.
A less thrilling but still very interesting episode, Demons of Deception, deals with both the senselessness of war and the knocking of boots. Working as a motorcycle courier, Indy witnesses the mass death of trench warfare close up. He realizes that he and his fellow soldiers don’t even understand what the war is about until one guy explains it to them using the food on their table as a map. Indy takes an important moral step when a stubborn general insists on sending orders that will get a bunch of soldiers killed, and Indy decides to burn the orders and return to the front lines. Remy thinks he’s crazy for giving up the safer job, but he feels like an asshole living the sweet life while his friends are getting gunned down like cattle at a slaughterhouse.
Still, he jumps at the opportunity to go to Paris when his dad pulls some strings for him. He has to stay with an old friend of Henry Sr., played by Ian McDiarmid, who had already played the Emperor in RETURN OF THE JEDI, and would soon be Senator Ted Palpatine (R – Naboo) in the prequels. (Palpatine’s pupil Count Dooku appears in another episode when Christopher Lee plays a count.) Brought to a hoity toity party, Indy ends up in bed with Mata Hari. This episode was written by Carrie Fisher and directed by Nicolas Roeg.
One of the best and most distinct episodes I saw was The Mystery of the Blues. I had to watch this because it actually has Harrison Ford as Indy in the bookends, so they kept that for the video release. It’s 1950 and Indy is bearded, but man did he age in the 7 years between this and CRYSTAL SKULL.
We find him in a pickup truck in a high speed chase in the snow with his friend Grey Cloud (Saginaw Grant, THE LONE RANGER), who bad guys are trying to steal a sacred peace pipe from. They have to wait out the storm in a cabin where Indy finds an old soprano saxophone that inspires him to tell the story of his days as a waiter at Colisimo’s Restaurant, where he won over the initially unfriendly Creole clarinetist Sidny Bichet (Jeffrey Wright), who gave him the sax. Indy practices and gets embarrassed until he understands the concept of jazz well enough to impress the band (which also includes Keith David). He has a few run-ins with stupid racists and segregation rules, and crosses paths with Louis Armstrong (trumpet player Byron Stripling) and Bix Beiderbeck (not sure who played him).
In the second part his boss is killed and he tries to figure out who did/dun it. The goofy part is he does it with his nerdy roommate Elliot Ness (Frederick Weller, BUFFALO BUSHIDO) and his fledgling reporter friend Ernie Hemingway (Jay Underwood, Johnny Storm from the Roger Corman FANTASTIC FOUR movie that that one asshole burned the negatives of when he made the much worse big budget version). They also talk to their bartender friend “Big Al” Capone (Nicolas Turturro).
I love that they were into doing episodes like this. It’s not that surprising that Lucas would be into jazz, especially of that era, but Indy? That’s some new insight into his character.
In the chronologically last movie of the series, Hollywood Follies, Indy is hard up for work and naively takes a job from Carl Laemmle (David Margulies, the mayor in GHOSTBUSTERS) to fly to Hollywood and make sure Erich Von Stroheim (Dana Gladstone, BEVERLY HILLS COP II) finishes FOOLISH WIVES in ten days.
Being offered complete authority to do what he wants, Indy says, “Well, Mr. Laemmle, I think you ought to know that I don’t know anything about motion pictures.”
“You don’t have to,” Laemmle says.
This seems to be a joke about a director’s frustrations with studio bosses who don’t know or care about art, but there’s an eyebrow-raising conversation with Claire about Irving Thalberg (John Cusack’s brother Bill) wanting to change the system so producers are king instead of directors.
“Will that work?” Indy asks.
“If the producer is a genius,” Claire says.
At this point of course Lucas had spent more time on the producer side than the director one. In this show, at least, it seems the producer is in charge. Obviously I consider Lucas a genius producer, but it’s funny if he or his writers are trying to say that themselves.
In his attempt to be a genius producer Indy has to trick Von Stroheim into shooting something that can be edited into a movie-ending death scene before the 10 days is up. I have to wonder how personal this is to editor and producer Lucas, who tried to help or drastically change many movies in post-production. (In fact, one such movie was the one we’ll be looking at next, RADIOLAND MURDERS, which was released a week after this one aired.)
Von Stroheim is depicted as a genius and an out-of-control artistic madman trying to make the most expensive movie ever. In the second half Indy works with a very different type of director, John Ford (Stephen Caffrey, LONGTIME COMPANION), a cafeteria buddy who had given him some good tips on dealing with Von Stroheim. Ford is willing to tear out pages and take shortcuts to come in on time for his western. When a star dies from a rattlesnake bite Indy becomes his stand-in, and later he takes over for an injured stuntman, which allows the show to re-create the RAIDERS under-the-truck stunt, except under a horse-drawn carriage and in flickery black and white.
This show really won me over. Some of the episodes I watched at first were on the dull side, but I guess they started to get the hang of it, and they do a good job walking the line between adding to the character and keeping him pulpy. I like that Henry Sr. teaches him to learn the language of everywhere he goes and plants in him a love of travel and new experiences. He’s also Seagal-like in his passion for being down with different cultures and groups, whether that means joining the Mexican revolution, taking on the name Henri Defense, or hanging out mostly with black people during segregation.
It’s very ambitious in how it brings him to different locations, involves him with different historical figures and different types of stories, breaking the standard TV series template. Lucas said from the beginning that he wanted the show to be educational, and he spent years preparing the DVD set with hours and hours of documentaries about all the related people and events. I think they do a great job of working those things in in a way that doesn’t seem intrusive and could definitely make people interested in learning more. As Lucas said in that New York Times article, “The show is designed to sparked the imagination and curiosity of students and just acquaint them, on the barest level, with these figures.”
It actually worked on me. I never heard of the Royal Fusiliers or Indy’s girlfriend’s dad.
That stuff also just works as a fun fantasy device. You wouldn’t guess from RAIDERS that this was a guy who personally knew Pancho Villa, Pablo Picasso and Wyatt Earp (when he was old), but hey… in the movies he ran into Hitler that one time. And that immortal Knight Templar. We knew he ran with some famous people.
And come to think of it, maybe the idea that Indiana Jones met Teddy Roosevelt and Norman Rockwell is a precursor to Yoda knowing Chewbacca. There are many ways The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles set the stage for the STAR WARS prequels. Back then Lucas had no interest in new INDY or STAR WARS movies, saying “Once you’ve done it a couple of times, then the thrill of it wears off and you really want to get into different territory. That’s why the TV show interested me.”
At the same time, he was excited about the possibilities of these new digital effects (here is one article from the time explaining the new concept). After having the chance to develop those techniques across 44 hour long episodes worth of
adventures coming of age, while also experiencing the joys of expanding on the backstories he’d created for his character, Lucas started to get the itch to ruin your childhood by taking STAR WARS into “different territory” as far as story, style and technology. But first he had to try some of these tricks out on a smaller feature film, a project he’d never been able to get off the ground before but that computers would help him make affordable.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.