Steven Spielberg directed all four Indiana Jones movies to date, but when he announced he was stepping down from making the fifth, the opportunity of a lifetime arose for James Mangold.
“I grew up admiring these movies. They were all made by people who shaped my love for filmmaking, from Harrison and Spielberg to George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy. The opportunity to direct one was glorious, but the warmth with which they welcomed me aboard was what really made me want to do it.
“I felt like it was going to be one of the great experiences of my life, and it was.”
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is an emotional swansong for Harrison Ford’s archaeologist, who’s recruited to take part in one last adventure when a mysterious Greek artefact threatens to fall into the hands of a former high-ranking Nazi, who is now helping NASA in their efforts to win the space race.
It’s a high concept period piece that brings Indy into the swinging sixties, with some of the most extravagant set pieces to date – including an opening prologue that digitally de-ages the star back into his 1980s self. This is the first time such technology hasn’t proved distracting.
But as Mangold states, the biggest challenge wasn’t pulling those bigger sequences off, but how he could effectively ground the drama in reality.
He explained: “There’s a lot of logistics, stunts, shooting in many different places, which is all very
interesting and it takes a crack team, a lot of planning, and a lot of work. But the greatest challenge, and I think the centre of my job, is to make sure that the movie has heart and that the cast have the space to bring humanity into what is a large-scale film – there is no reason that a large-scale film shouldn’t have humanity.
“In my position, there should always be the goal of making sure we have spectacle and a big-screen adventure, but also have the eccentricities and wonderful contradictions of the human condition within the characters. And that is, more than anything, the real challenge for me because amidst all the technology, infrastructure, scale of the crew, and the size of everything, you have to protect this bubble at the centre that can’t be done on a computer.
“Through playing with this wonderful cast, dancing together through the script, we aim to give you something you haven’t seen before in a movie like this. Forget special effects, as there are none greater than an honest human moment”.
The other challenge Mangold isn’t mentioning is that he has to make a satisfying conclusion for die hard fans, whilst also introducing a new generation to Indiana Jones. This wasn’t a challenge he was as daunted by.
“You have to make the car drive, you can’t think about whether it’ll be unappealing to people before it can move! The challenge of making a movie like this is that there are memories of these great, older films, and these characters, and their overall legacy; the question of how am I could honour what was and push forward and try something new was a creative challenge that is all answered by story.
“In a sense, the way you answer all these questions is instead of thinking about them like some kind of marketing or political exercise in capturing people, you think about it as, “Well, what’s Indy’s story in this movie? Where’s he at, and is that interesting? Who is Helena Shaw? How is that interesting?”
“To talk about Mads for a second, our Nazi in this movie is a part of the American fabric of life, he is part of a scientific endeavor going on in the United States in the space race. So, instantly, that simple change makes the character different; he’s brilliant, he’s integrated into life in this country, yet he maintains a kind of mission of his own.
“That’s different than what we’ve seen before. So, it’s a long way around, but the answer to almost all questions in movies is character and story, and that’s certainly the answer to how you can satisfy legacy fans and a whole new audience.”
Unintentionally, Mangold is becoming the go-to guy in Hollywood for franchise swansongs, having previously helped audiences wave goodbye to Wolverine in 2017’s Logan. As a storyteller, this is something that appeals to him.
He continued: “When I’ve worked within the world of franchises, the thing that scares me most is the thought I’d be just making a chapter in the middle of a mega expensive series. I’m pretty old fashioned myself, and I like the idea of a beginning, middle, and end to this particular story, and all the other ways it connects to what’s come before are wonderful, but still there’s this very old-fashioned idea of maintaining the integrity of this story in and of itself.
“In the case of both Logan and this movie, what I’m trying to figure out is how could we tell a story that’s unique to this film, this moment, these two hours. And in Logan, I knew we were making the last one, but it was a character who had spent almost all of his life tortured, a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster living in a world where his choices were to be a weapon or to somehow try and hide himself from everybody, so death seemed to be a kind of salvation for him.
“But that’s not this movie; Indiana Jones is one of the most beautiful aspects of all the Indiana Jones films – but as I had a star who was in his 70s, it’s clear that we couldn’t deny reality, Indy is older. So, we had to focus on what drove him to go on this final adventure.
“That meant asking what it is to be someone who’s led such a dynamic life, who’s seen so much conquered and won and survived against all odds, only for the world to on, and those adventures to stop presenting themselves – normalcy takes over. Those questions can sound grim but they also are the first chapter in a story about a guy who goes on one last ride.
“So, that to me all seemed really interesting and the opposite strategy, in a way. Although the externals are the same with Logan, as they’re both about characters coming out of a slumber after being numbed out by the way the world has passed them by.”
It may be a less gritty, more joyous experience than Logan, but Mangold is right about one thing: it’s one hell of a final ride.
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is in UK cinemas from Wednesday, 28th June.