While I’m usually bored with remakes of classic movies, I’m not going to begrudge them. I’m very excited for the new Star Wars revamp, and I have every trust that J. J. Abrams is going to do due homage to second-most important movie trilogy of my life.
However, it’s the first-most that’s got me worried: apparently the Indiana Jones trilogy is getting a makeover. This is enough to give me a heart attack, especially with rumors circulating that someone like Robert Pattinson, Channing Tatum, Chris Hemsworth or Bradley Cooper could be cast as Indy. A choice like these would reflect to me that Disney is more invested in getting kids to watch the movie on the basis of its lead’s looks rather than the philosophy the movie presents.
Obviously, Harrison Ford’s massive, throbbing sex appeal (yup, I’m saying it like that, because it’s true) was a factor in casting him for the role. But Indiana Jones is more than sexy — he’s a genius, he’s resourceful, he’s wry, he’s rugged. And he cares passionately about his profession and his life’s mission, which is to protect and preserve antiquities that reflect the history of humankind and allow us to understand our past.
It’s true that the original trilogy has some really serious political problems, not least of which is its colonialist bent. As he was most frequently portrayed, Indy wasn’t really an archaeologist so much as a looter — archaeologists don’t destroy the sites they visit in order to nab one artifact, and they work in cooperation with native populations. They have more respect for a diversity of cultures than Indiana Jones did, because studying the diversity of human cultures is their job. They don’t kill people.
That being said, Jones’ overall set of principles about the place of artifacts — “This belongs in a museum!” — and the conviction with which he held them was what made him a great advocate for his field. There’s plenty to be said about admission prices and accessibility, and what does versus what does not get displayed in museums and why, but the overarching debate in the Indiana Jones trilogy was, who owns the physical remains of humanity’s history — private collectors or publicly-accessible museums? Indiana Jones was willing to fight and die for the public’s right to its past. That’s what made him a hero, not his swaggering good looks.
So pause: I bet you never thought that Indiana Jones had that much moral content in it! But here’s the crux of my argument — I know, because Indiana Jones is the biggest hero I had as a kid. Yeah, I had (OK, have) a giant crush on Harrison Ford. But it was the fact that the movies portrayed the academic study of history as containing a lust for adventure and the thrill of discovery that made me want to study history and anthropology as an adult. Indiana Jones is what taught me to value our history, and to value understanding it. That’s why I love Harrison Ford. The fact that he’s good-looking helps, but I loved his characters more than I ever loved his looks.
There’s a lot that can be improved about the trilogy, the politics not least of all. I would love to see an Indiana Jones that is admittedly more swashbuckling than the profession is in reality, but that manages to be sensitive to non-western cultures rather than fetishizing them. I’d love to see an Indiana Jones that reflects the fact that the field of archaeology is more and more dominated by women, and that reflects the scientific advances the field has made while retaining the genuine and real sense of intrigue that drives historians and archaeologists to do what they do.
But if Disney casts a typical heartthrob in this role, they’ll be sending the message that they put more stock in the glamour of exotic locales and the glitter of golden trinkets than they do in getting kids excited about the serious academic study of history and archaeology. That is the real legacy of Indiana Jones. Casting an actor like Robert Pattinson or Channing Tatum screams, “We really only care about how much money our films make, not their potential to inspire!”
Rebecca Vipond Brink is a writer, photographer, and traveler whose face melts like this whenever someone takes Robert Pattinson seriously. You can follow her at @rebeccavbrink or on her blog, Flare and Fade.