I Hate Indiana Jones: Day 46

Day 46: Indiana Jones and the Shamed Name

Today's entry is a pretty obvious problem that I'm sure nearly everyone who saw the film in the theatre noticed. Beyond its obviousness, though, it's deceptively important, and I feel the mistake being made says much more about the filmmakers attitude towards the character than they intended it to. What I talking about? The film's steadfast refusal to refer to its main character by the name "Indiana Jones".

This one was so unexpected and completely out of left field that I almost thought I was hearing things. Or rather not hearing things. Somehow every time a character goes to talk to Indiana Jones they referred to him up by his proper birth name: "Henry Jones Jr". His friends call him that. His enemies call him that. Letters address him as that. Even the government calls him that. Why? That's not his name.

It's possible that by so aggressively referring to Indiana Jones' actual name the filmmakers were trying to make a point about the character's experience with aging and his feelings about his own mortality. Maybe even that after the death of his father, the actual Henry Jones, he started going by Henry Jones Jr. as a show of honor. Those kind of deft touches and philosophical navel-gazing would be fine if this film were a much more serious movie about an aging man's attempt to continue to going on the kinds of adventures he did as a younger man and gradually realizing he's just not able to. That's not what this film is about. In fact, except for a joke about Indiana Jones missing a swing at the very beginning, this film goes to great lengths to act like absolutely nothing has changed for Indiana Jones in the past 19 years since we last saw him gunning down Nazis.

More to the point though, at its very core this movie is not a Henry Jones Jr adventure. Look at the poster. Ask anyone who bought a ticket what character they were coming to see and you'll get one answer repeated over and over again. And it sure as heck isn't Henry Jones. So why were the filmmakers so bound and determined to re-brand the character that the franchise was built around? The only possible explanation I can come up with is that, on one level or another, it was the filmmakers who were ashamed. Ashamed to be making a movie about a character named Indiana Jones.

It's not like a bit of this attitude isn't understandable, I mean all of the principals are getting up there in years, and to them the idea that character named after a state non-ironically might seem a little silly, but those are the breaks. You created a character named Indiana and he went on to make all of you hundreds of millions of dollars and become a beloved national icon. Whatever silliness inherent to the character is now part of the overall cultural lexicon, and people love him enough that they want to be able to enjoy him for what he is utterly non-ironically. If you don't feel like like you could make a movie about a character named Indiana Jones without sniggering the answer isn't to change the character's name, the answer is let someone else make the movie.

The only way this kind of a move could have been even slightly acceptable is if the renaming was part an of an overall character arc in which the character had, at the film's opening, given up his adventurous ways and started billing himself as Henry Jones, the staid professor. Then upon being called back to adventure, ideally via something not involving aliens, he could've hesitated at first, but then decided to go and announce his return as a swashbuckling hero by correcting someone who called him Henry or Dr. Jones. He'd put on his hat and look over his shoulder, and remind everyone that his name is Indiana.

Obviously there's no other place in the Indiana Jones franchise with a problem comparable to this one, so I had to go to an entire other franchise before I found something that even came close. That franchise? The Fantastic Four. It seems that during the FF's endless development some executive got it into their head that it was too silly that main villain was named Victor Von doom. While it's perfectly acceptable that he would choose the super villain name Dr. Doom for himself after being horribly injured, somehow having Doom as a last name in the first place was just entirely too ridiculous for the audience to accept. That the Fantastic Four were scientists given magic powers by unique cosmic radiation is fine, it's just the last name Doom that went too far.

The solution? Call the character Victor Van Damme, a real last name that was similar enough that it might not offend the fans and could still justify in moving over to Doom after the whole disfigurement thing. This was a profoundly stupid idea, one that didn't make it anywhere near the finished product, because the filmmakers understood that their audiences were more than willing to accept the silliness of having a character named Victor Von Doom if it allowed them to also have the wonderfulness of a character named Doctor Doom. More fundamentally, though, they understood that he was a character with over 40 years of continuing popularity and that perhaps there was something about him that people responded to whether it was strictly realistic or not.

Just take a moment to consider that idea. The people making a Fantastic Four movie had more respect for their audience and the source material than the people making a Indiana Jones movie.

Do I have to remind everyone?

Adventure has a name.

And it's not Henry Jones Junior.

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