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Before I post about more unseen Star Wars stuff, I thought I’d do a bit of follow-up to some that I’ve already shown. One of our biggest heartbreaks in designing stuff for Phantom Menace promotions was getting all the way to prototype on a big Jabba the Hutt beanbag, but having it rejected for cost/size issues.

Keep in mind when looking at this that it was just the initial attempt. We would have had a few more rounds of refinement to get it as close as we could. The one that got made was created by a domestic beanbag maker in the traditional manner, with a sort of textured fabric for Jabba’s "skin" and very simplistic vector graphics (created by Steve Ross, shown next to Jabba) printed on it for the details. Originally we tried to have the fabric airbrushed for a more realistic effect, but this proved to be too problematic to reproduce, and we had concerns about the durability in the long term. This was not our first attempt though.

I’m going to digress a bit here to explain why I am showing this "prototype". A lot of times collectors complain about how paint jobs are off on toys, or they are off-model compared to the source, or the articulation has been put in wrong, or any number of things that they can’t understand how someone missed it. What they don’t realize is that many times these "mistakes" were not there in the original sculpts or paint masters supplied to the factories, but showed up during production itself. Due to the high costs involved and the strict timetables, if it was caught early enough there might be a running change. But most of the time these things are just let alone if it does not greatly impact the licensor or safety. 

The reason for this is that the Chinese engineers and artisans do not see the source material as we see it, at least in my experience. This is the reason I had to actually go live in China and show them exactly what I wanted. I found that they were great at copying a 3D object to another 3D object, but couldn’t seem to make the connection between 2D art and a 3D object. They have fantastically talented sculptors and painters, but they need very detailed engineering blueprints, exploded views, and everything to be perfect in terms of measurements to create what you want. And even then the process needs to be refined a few times to correct for problems in translation. This is why you need line designers who really know what they’re doing, especially when the sculpting is being done at the factory level and not domestically.

So back to the Jabba Beanbag. While I was staying in China working on the Star Wars life-size characters I was also overseeing our other promo items that were in production, like the Star Wars bomber jacket, Lightsaber Flashlight, and assorted trinkets like watches, magnets, and puzzles. Once the Jabba Beanbag got the greenlight to go further, I sent our concept art to the factory to make an initial sample for costing. Their only instruction was to come as close to the concept art as possible (for these types of "never been done before" projects, it’s always good to see what they can do first, before trying to reinvent the wheel). We also included a lot of shots of Jabba from the movie for reference. When I went over to their offices the next week, this is what they showed me:

Yeah, that was my reaction, too. They seriously thought this matched the concept art very well. After a few more discussions, we realized that for this specific project it would probably be better to find a beanbag manufacturer and go from there. Even so, there were a lot of discussions and experiments to get us where we were at the picture at top. But hopefully this helps explain why you really need someone who knows what they are doing to daily communicate with the factories to make sure that they are on the right track. It’s not that the skill isn’t there, but the common viewpoint is sometimes lacking.

I have a few more really crazy examples that I’ll try to dig up, to further illustrate the point, this time with actual sculpts. As an added bonus, here is a picture I took when I was goofing around of our life-size Yoda sporting a pair of Jar Jar eyes. Makes him look kind of a like a Gremlin!

A couple of things about this Yoda; one of the cooler moments of my life was standing around Lucas Licensing at Skywalker Ranch with Karl Myers of Gentle Giant, right after we were given the surprise go-ahead to make Yoda based on the positive feedback from the Darth Maul and Jar Jar prototypes. We asked if they had any reference of his new Phantom Menace look and they walked into George’s office there, picked up the bronze casting of the new Gary Pollard sculpt that was made for George Lucas and Stuart Freeborn and handed it to us and said "why don’t you just cast this?"  So our Yoda was basically an identical duplicate of the actual sculpt used for the puppet. Unfortunately, the puppet didn’t look too much like the classic Yoda (I always thought it looked kind of like Anthony Hopkins) and for the next two films they went back to a look closer to that of his first appearance. Our Yoda was also not really life-size: Pepsi thought that his real height (28") didn’t have enough presence for an in-store display so we scaled it up to 36", which created some headaches in trying to figure out new dimensions for his feet, cane, hands, clothes, etc. But it still came out neat enough for a mass produced item! And Lucas Licensing was awesome throughout the whole process (got to give props!).

So that’s the story More tomorrow! 

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Posted by Jason Geyer No Comments
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So I started this year vowing to cut back on the toy buying. In fact, I had quit buying almost all together, thanks in part to it being so hard to find Mattel’s latest offerings and the fact that Hasbro has delayed the next batch of Marvel Legends for so long. In any case I wasn’t planning on starting any new lines. And then I went to see this:

 

And within a few days I had bought all of this:

 

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love Indiana Jones. It’s just that I hadn’t planned collecting any of these, really, especially after dropping the Star Wars line in 2001. I was narrowing the collection down to just the DCUC line and a few Marvel Legends that filled gaps in my nostalgia collection. Mainly because as I get older I care less about owning toys, and also the small fact of having 60+ boxes of action figures sealed away that i will probably never open or display every again.

But once I saw the film and then saw all the toys on sale the next day something deep within me snapped and before I knew it I was carrying them to the register and buying a good chunk of what was out there. It didn’t help that I had ordered the "Making of" book and the soundtrack the morning before I saw the film (the book is good, but not anywhere near as good as the great Making of Star Wars book they put out last year. Much of the info here is from the documentaries that were on the DVDs!).

I did plan on buying one or two figures and maybe the truck vehicle to repaint with a more detailed paint job. As it is, the deco work is one thing that is really bad about these figure. Hasbro claims to be fixing it, so we’ll see. Having come this far, I’ll at least pick up the main characters from Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, along with whatever major characters are left over from Raiders. But I don’t need 20 Indys, Mutts, or army builders. Maybe I’ll just paint them and put them all on eBay next year, I dunno. In any case, I already broke down and got the great Sideshow 12" figure when it went on sale to go next to my Medicom Rocketeer and assorted real life characters, Generals, and Presidents.

So what did I think of the movie? Well, the short answer is that I enjoyed it a lot while i was watching it. I found it pretty entertaining and I didn’t get bored. My parents happened to be visiting me that week, so I took them on opening day, and being children of the 1950s they enjoyed it a lot. And that made me like it probably more than I would have otherwise, having seen Raiders of the Lost Ark on opening weekend with my Mom 27 years ago.

But it could have been better. It is better than Temple of Doom (in my opinion), but suffers from the same problem: a good story, good set pieces, good action that is hampered by an inelegant script. Say what you will about Last Crusade, but the dialogue and character motivations are solid. Yes, I know some people don’t like the revised characterizations of Indy and Marcus Brody from Raiders, but within that story everyone behaves as logically as you could expect them to for a film of this type.  For that matter, this is the same problem that the Star Wars prequels have. I can only imagine this is mainly a "George Lucas need an editor" issue. He’s a fantastic storyteller, but a pretty bad with dialogue and motivation.

So here are my thoughts about the film. SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Keep in mind that I did enjoy it quite a bit, and felt that Spielberg really nailed the era it is set in, and the overall look of the film, which fits in very well as a "lost" 80s movie in terms of pacing, editing, and lighting.  I really loved all of the 50s elements: the hot rods, greasers, atomic age paranoia, and even the sci-fi angle. I didn’t mind the fact that the artifact in this film was extraterrestrial, and really liked Lucas’ idea of following the 50s "saucer men" conventions instead of the 30s serial ones. The lusic fit perfectly, with a hint of thermin even. Unfortunately, 50s sci-fi music was very atmospheric and not much for stirring character themes like the 30s scores of Rozsa and Steiner, so there are very few memorable new cues from John Williams this go-round. I liked Shia’s character and acting well enough, and of course loved that they brought back Marion instead of trying to introduce a new "girl" that would have to be either in Indy’s age range (icky) or much younger (creepy!). 

What I didn’t like are all the things that made it seem not like an Indiana Jones film.  For one thing, all of the other films open with a segment that feels like it is the ending of a movie that we haven’t seen. This one picks up in the middle of an ongoing story all right, but is more or less a prologue to the movie we’re about to see. It also sets up a great "commie witchhunt" angle that is then completely dropped! Almost nothing that happens in the prologue pays off in a meaningful way later. In the first draft of the script (Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars) written waaay back in 1994 this sequence took place near the middle of the film. I would have rather seen a prologue that has nothing to do with this film, start with the Yale sequence and then have the Soviets grab Indy and Mutt and take them to Hanger 51. Everything else could proceed from there, with the FBI goons basically blacklisting him at that point. 

It would also break up the film a bit more. One thing that bothered me even as I was watching was that not only did everything see to happen very easily without much hassle, but they traveled in a fairly linear manner: Mutt gives Indy a letter about South America, Indy figures out a code the Soviets couldn’t crack IN SECONDS they travel to Peru where he figures out where to go IN SECONDS they go to graveyard that doesn’t seem to be in the least bit hidden, are attacked by useless guardians (who are these guys?), find the skull immediately, and it continues like this for the rest of the film. It would at least seem a bit more challenging if they had traveled somewhere other than South America to find the conquistador, and THEN went to Peru. Of course, Temple of Doom suffers from this very same thing- too long in one place.

Speaking of plotlines that got dropped,  why make such a big deal about Mutt bringing his bike to South America with them, and then never mentioning it again? Why bring up the human looking Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skulls if they have no relevance to the plot or the alien skulls? Why do the Soviets get the alien from Hanger 51, yet not try to use its skull? How is it connected to the Akator aliens? Where does it go? What connection do the graveyard warriors have to Akator? What are they guarding, if not the skull? If they are guarding the skull, why? Again, too many things are brought up in the script with no payoff later. We never even see Indy and Marion really reunite, or Marion and Mutt reunite, it’s all like a sitcom reunion. And shouldn’t Oxley and Indy have some sort of reconciliation once Ox’s mind is right? Seriously, why does David Keopp have any kind of reputation?  

I’ll skip complaining about the CGI, except to say my biggest objection to it was that it removed any feeling of danger and made a lot of locations feel like soundstages. In the first film, I was nervous about Indy hanging on to a truck. In the second, I marveled at him being on a rope bridge over a humongous chasm. In the third, he’s on a horse vs a tank. All of these felt like he was actually doing these things. In this film he goes over 3 giant waterfalls and is a little bit wet. No one in the CAR is even slightly sore! They drove off a cliff to get there! C’mon! The ants weren’t particularly scary, but it was a nice nod back to another 50s film, the Naked Jungle. I’d have rather George included a river boat sequence with crocodiles like the ones in the earlier "Saucer Men" draft and even the rejected script for the 3rd movie, Indiana Jones and the Monkey King. I guess Lucas just wanted to let Disney own that concept in their upcoming Jungle Cruise film.

I talked a bit earlier at how I liked Mutt and Marion. I thought that they, and Indy, and even Irina were fleshed out well enough for this film. Marion needed more to do, but all of them had nice moments and they felt like consistent characters. The rest of the Soviets were a waste (and why cast real Russian actors when only one of them had anything to do outside of shout and run?) Speaking of a waste, what is the point of Ray Winstone’s character at all? He doesn’t really effect the plot at all, and is given very little to do. And I understand that John Hurt is supposed to be akin to Treasure Island’s crazy Ben Gunn, but it would have been nice to see him have some resonance on any level with the audience. Even the characters in the film treat him more or last as a dog they found and are taking along for the ride.

And honestly, did we need all these great big-name actors? Indiana Jones is supposed to be a down & dirty serial, not an Oscar contender. Outside of Sean Connery (which was an in-joke that made sense) the other films didn’t have any acting heavyweights involved. Sure, they had great character actors, but not of the caliber of Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, and John Hurt. Even Shia starred in freaking Transformers! I think the story would have been much better served without so many recognizable faces on the screen every five minutes. Even minor roles had me saying "hey look, it’s Charles Widmore from LOST! And the janitor from Scrubs!" and I don’t even watch much TV. This same thing was a detriment to the Star Wars prequels. Although I don’t want Lucas casting the parts if it gives us the Indiana Jones equivalent of Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christenson. *shudder*.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but I did enjoy it pretty well for what it is and am looking forward to seeing it again on DVD. Unlike Star Wars, which is one long story, the Indiana Jones films are relatively self contained and each one’s merits don’t necessarily effect the others. After all, these are meant to be the B movies of today, and for my money they’re still better than crap like Transformers or the Matrix sequels. I think they could even extend the franchise with Mutt for some fun 60s styled adventures and i don’t have a problems with that at all.

Man, that’s a lot of writing for no good reason! Check back in a couple of days for my long-awaited follow-up of more unseen Star Wars concepts!