DVD Released: 2008
Episodes in total: 22 x 90 (approx)min episodes
Episodes in Vol 1: 7, 650min
The original ‘The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’ had 24 aired episodes, 4 unaired and 4 TV films (the budget for this show was apparently too big – $1.5mil per episode according to Wikipedia – to continue the series); however the episodes were edited to make the 22 film length ‘chapters’/episodes, the first 7 of which I’m reviewing here under their new name: ‘The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones’, vol 1.
As you can see from the dates this series was made and aired prior to the highly anticipated fourth Indiana Jones movie but its release was used as promotion for ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’. It’s interesting because I was surprised by all the negative reviews I heard from people regarding that movie. Who didn’t love Indiana Jones as a kid (and obviously many adults) for the thrill ride it provided and cool treasure hunter/university professor protagonist with glib lines and devil may care attitude? The Crystal Skulls movie was perfectly in keeping with the old films in my opinion but then I hadn’t been expecting a reboot. That said by the time that movie came out I had outgrown Indy, big time.
Indiana Jones is one of those franchises that I liked as a child and hence I later appreciated the TV show Relic Hunter (1999–2002) starring Tia Carrere and I’d venture to think that even fans of Time Team (1994-onwards) may have once been if not still fans, I never got into Tomb Raider but that’s probably because of three instances of guys who were supposedly in love with me forgetting I existed for Angelina Jolie. The older I got I realized the guy was an obnoxious a*se and with it having been a fantasy series I could deal with historical inaccuracy but the over exaggerated insulting cultural misrepresentations just made the whole thing too much. No amount of him managing to keep his hat and just scraping out of life & death traps could save it for me.
I didn’t know about Young Indiana Jones until 2008 and I’m glad I found out because though I watched the Crystal Skulls movie with the same acceptance I’d grown to tolerate the older movies with I’d have preferred a reboot and this series is almost that.
7 FILM INSIGHTS AND COMMENTS
Chapter 1: My First Adventure (Egypt & Tangiers, 1908)
We’re at once immersed into the hometown of Indy and his family in old fashioned Princeton, New Jersey, shown in the classic Jones’ rustic colourscheme with life described to us by 93 year old Indy via narration and we learn that everything we will see are his memories. We’re introduced to his family consisting of father Henry Sr (remember Indy is really named Henry Jr), mother Anna and a puppy his own age (also called Indiana) set to become his best friend as they both naw of the bars of their cot. As to be expected they grow up together, get in trouble together and love each other – something very well presented in a few short scenes so by the time Indy is roughly 9 years old (a few moments later) and his father invited to go on a world lecturing tour it’s very sad to see them separated. He and his parents go to Oxford, England, to acquire only the very best tutor for Indy on this tour, a Miss Helen Seymour, who at first states teaching Indy would be impossible but goes anyway. They go to Egypt and via an incredible meeting with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) they are invited to the famous Howard Carter excavation in the Valley of the Kings. After the inevitable curse/murder mystery the family go off to Morocco where Indy becomes good friends with a slave boy called Omar and takes him to the residence of Walter Harris.
This for me was one of the best episodes and indeed would be the best of this volume were it not for episode 7.
Chapter 2: Passion for Life (British East Africa, 1909 & Paris, 1908)
Queue a hunt featuring president Roosevelt who Indy is in awe of and who is on an expedition sponsored by the Smithsonian for the National Museum – Indy makes another friendship akin to the one with Omar in episode 1 but this time with a Masai boy called Meto. Unbeknown to them Meto and his people lead Indy and hence Roosevelt and crew to the antelopes they’re after but the fact that they’re hunting and killing endangered animals is secondary to their relishing/blood thirsty thrill to do in the name of science and sport and as many carcases for show to as many people as possible so they can learn to appreciate them. It is a serious issue but it is heavily glossed over/a backdrop to make Roosevelt look like a hero.
The second half of the episode is more interesting as the family go to Paris and partake in its artistic atmosphere, well Indy does as his parents ditch him for a vineyard. We’re (again inevitably) bored over the Mona Lisa and incorrectly told that it was the first painting where the eyes follow you around (hello all those deity paintings in Hinduism alone do that) and that it took three years to paint so Da Vinci had musicians in his apartment all the time to keep her amused – no wonder she has that politely dis/interested smile. Norman Rockwell introduces Indy to Montmartre filled with temperamental, hedonistic people and competing Degas and Picasso collaborating with Georges Braque. Here Indy also learns that the value of art can be heavily based on the label/signature but what is in a name?
Overall a big drop in quality from the first episode.
Chapter 3: The Perils of Cupid (Vienna & Florence, 1908)
We’re consistently told that Vienna and Florence are two of the most romantic cities in the world and against the magnitude of their opulence Indy is given Dr Love advice from Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler for his feelings towards princess Sophie, daughter of archduke Franz Ferdinand (yup). As usual Indy’s extra-curricular journeys are causing his father shame, embarrassment and worry and funnily enough he still manages to storm the palace (after multiple attempts at the front gate surprisingly without much trouble from the guards) and navigate its tardis like interiors to search for his little darling.
The second half of the episode takes us deeper in the darker realms of love aka lust and obsession where Indy’s mother Anna becomes the conquest of maestro Puccini whose passions are inflamed by the idea of having a devoted married woman since taking advantage of people needing/wanting a job in his plays and the party mentality is probably too easy. Someone who hesitates and resists makes a better thrill of a chase. Here Miss Seymour and Anna’s relationship deepens as the latter questions her usual acceptance of her husband pretty much seeing her and Indy as add-ons to his life where his work comes first and Indy realizes that flashiness/gifts can’t really buy love.
A heady, decadent episode.
Chapter 4: Travels with Father (Russia & Athens, 1910)
The spirit of the classic Indy movies is most prevalent in this episode in my opinion – Indy runs away and meets an old man also running away, a cantankerous Tolstoy and they embark on a wonderfully funny buddy relationship that is tragically punctuated by the bitter reality of ethnic cleansing by the government backed Cossacks of the nomadic people, as well as religious duplicitous discrimination and restriction.
Indy: “Why do you hate the Church so much, they were only trying to help you?”
Tolstoy: “They diminish God by claiming to speak for him. You may as well hold a lighted candle to the sun in order to see it better.”
(This episode is based in the year of Tolstoy’s actual death.)
In the second half Henry Sr actually has to take care of his son and acts like he’s never babysat him before, both he and Indy are initially against the idea but have no choice and it becomes a big father-son bonding trip. This part basically becomes a lovefest for ancient Greece as the beginning of everything from philosophy, science, democracy, civilisation etc. We know that much of Western thought comes from Graeco-Roman times but since this is supposed to be a historically educational show and since they’ve already been to North Africa and in the Mediterranean they could at least go back farther to include Turkey if not Western Asia. Like the first half there are memorable scenes and comedy throughout from a man and his donkey named Aristotle and Plato respectively (I felt very sorry for the little donkey pulling a very big cart and passengers) to being stranded on the side of the elevated mountainous Metéora monastery and have to put the theoretical principles into practise post haste. In this half Indy also meets Nikos Kazantzakis.
Chapter 5: Journey of Radiance (Benares & Peking, 1910)
After the last fun filled, action packed and info loaded episode the first half of this one is a real let down. Indy unwittingly meets Jiddu Krishnamurti, the next Messiah according to the Theosophical ( ‘theosophy’ is a Greek word) Movement who by this time was looking cultish and were just redressing/Christian-izing knowledge and religion to make something they could claim was theirs (like missionaries dressing up Mary statues in traditional goddess garb and parading her like an Indian goddess). Miss Seymour is very skeptical but they all learn a few things about tolerance and seeing divinity from a different angle. I know the last episode might as well have said that knowledge began in ancient Greece but if they were going to focus on late India and colonialism leading to that upsurge Victorian spiritualism they could of at least mentioned Madam Blavatsky and her translations and interpretations of quite a bit of astronomy and cosmology from Hinduism and then Jainism in her ‘Secret Doctrine’. (It’s good reading for those acquainted with Eastern learnings rather than the casual observer for whom it might be a difficult read due to it being multi-lingual and faceted depth/explanations.)
The second half is an improvement and sees the family’s mindset, trust and tolerance tested again in China where they have a local guide, visit the Great Wall but are in the countryside when Indy falls seriously ill. They obviously don’t think much/are scared of/don’t understand Traditional Chinese Medicine and insist on Western doctors and clergy but the nearest mission is days away, they can’t move Indy nor can they rely on the doctor cum clergyman to find where they are. When push comes to shove they ask for the traditional Chinese doctor and are scared of the acupuncture needles (though probably not the usual splice and dice tools to which they are accustomed for surgery). The medicines the doctor uses are not described and the ‘layman’ level of acupuncture i.e. the nervous system and pressure points are not gone into but the metaphysical overview instead, however like the first half they manage to do so respectfully and even beautifully. (Though they spoil it with an ironic mention of Thanksgiving as an associated example of compassion and love.)
Chapter 6: Spring Break Adventure (Princeton & Mexico, 1916)
I saw this episode a few times and still managed to forget much of it, it was middling at best and only really served as a springboard for the next arc.
Indy is now 16 years old and back in Princeton looking forward to going to the prom with his girlfriend Nancy in hopefully in her dad’s Bugati. Nancy’s father is Edward Stratemeyer and Indy helps give him ideas for his novels. Unfortunately the Bugati breaks down and can’t be mended until the relevant parts are imported but Indy knows a professor working at Thomas Edison’s laboratory who might be able to help. Of course the lab is broken into and the highly secretive electric motor battery plans stolen so Indy and Nancy have to solve the mystery if they want to go to the ball on time.
In the second half Indy ends up in New Mexico with his cousin in a town that is attacked by Pancho Villa and his gang the Vallistas. Indy actually joins them against General Pershing and sees a young George S. Patton. This part of the episode has a big, surprising coincidence that ties up a loose end from the first episode and leads Indy back to Europe and WWI.
Chapter 7: Love’s Sweet Song (Ireland & London, 1916)
At last the promising levels of episode 1 are revived! Indy and his Belgian friend Remy who he met in New Mexico arrive as ship stowaways to the Emerald Isles amidst the Catholic and Protestant tension as well as the tenuous position that puts them in regarding the currently European war (WWI). In similar fashion to Degas and Picasso in episode 2 Indy meets Sean O’Casey who at first is trying to win approval from Yates but after rejection wants to overthrow the latter’s preference for ‘ancient’ and hence irrelevant Irish plays, ironically he himself delves into an ancient custom for inspiration in redirecting and focusing the masses attention towards a united and independent Irish Republic. Sean believes that regardless of religion they are all Irish but if the Northerners want to stay with Britain then Catholic Ireland will fight them too. He and Indy display their immaturity in a verbal argument yet think their passion sans wisdom is enough to go to war for.
Indy and Remy make it to London and enlist in the Belgian army. Thinking that he’s now living on borrowed time he flirts even more than usual and asks a woman he just met on a bus if she’d like a one night stand, the bus driver witnesses this and yet still falls for Indy. In dating her Indy gets more than he bargained for, she knows even more languages than him, is more forward thinking and a suffragette whose mother was imprisoned, force fed and in her case paralyzed since. They go a meeting held by Sylvia Pankhurst and hear her and others speak about how they’ve been told to stop their actions in the war effort and the implication that they are not patriotic but how can they win a war when the women and children are starving, when they’re doing the work they were previously not allowed to do and for half the wages, that they will have to continue if the men die/are injured or unemployed when they get back yet face disapproval for their working and of course having to obey the law and expectations of society without the right to vote. They also meet a sexist Winston Churchill.
Corey Carrier as Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (age 8–10)
Sean Patrick Flanery as Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (age 16–21)
Lloyd Owen as Professor Henry Jones, Sr., Indy’s father
Ruth de Sosa as Anna Jones, Indy’s mother
Margaret Tyzack as Miss Helen Seymour, Indy’s childhood tutor
WHAT WORKED AND WHAT DIDN’T
If only George Lucas had less to do with this.
I know he was behind the movies with Steven Spielberg directing but did he have to continue with this series? He created, co-wrote and was the executive producer here with various directors. The first episode for some reason had a Spielberg/Amblin Entertainment screen credit in it that was replaced by Lucasfilm thereafter. The first episode really set a precedent and I hoped it was a start that meant to go on but it didn’t. It had a serious tone and portrayed gravity and depth to the issue of child slavery; all the actors did a good job and as the viewer I felt pulled into it. I felt that children who watched it would be taught about the slaves and be able to sympathise, to imagine how they must feel to have their lives planned for them, to not have choices, to always be obedient and not have a personality, to have a monetary value attached to them and have that compared to others, to understand the danger their lives involved more even though there was no blood and gore – it was very maturely yet sensitively done taking into account the target audience. Friendship, pain, acceptance and personal hopes/dreams were poignantly put yet the adventurous and escapist/escape artist essence of the franchise retained. I thought this was going to be a very educational show and not just in regards to orthodox and populist historical theories.
From the second episode onwards a lot was lost; there was an instant feeling of detachment – the audience was no longer a part of the show but just the watcher, the colour heightened, the music score more noticeable, the acting hammy, historical characters ‘interpreted’ too much sometimes pandered to as if PR had taken the helm and propaganda here and there. The difference between the first and second episodes was palpable and the portrayal of Africa seemed more twee.
The show didn’t get that re-visioned/rebooted feeling again until episode 7. It did improve gradually, getting less theatrical and melodramatic to serious, empathetic and suitably dramatic but some things remained the same and one of which was the portrayal of non-Caucasian cultures. Black people were uneducated tribes people or slaves, Muslims were superstitious and slave traders, Indians apparently had no knowledge or famous persons of worth before or alongside The Theosophical Society and Mexicans were the stereotypical ‘andale arriba’ characters from Westerns; the Chinese were credited with more intelligence but that’s not surprising given this is a US program. I won’t say the show was more historically accurate than the movies, it certainly wasn’t less and it had less of the fantastical element but it was still gaping and Euro-Western focused, in the other areas it seemed the team responsible for cultural setting were more interested in finding filming locations than researching local peoples. So even as an introduction to world history it’s severely lacking and misleading.
On the other hand the show did give a believable and watchable account of Indy’s amazing and very well travelled childhood from being a well intentioned and curious youngster not as interested in his academic education as his life experience to an older, resourceful, very intelligent and still wilful young man. The makings of his arrogance from the movies are here as well but there is also a keen desire and ability to get on with people rather than just dismissing or talking down to most as he usually does later in life, his passion hasn’t yet turned into the ego though the cocky chancer makes appearances. The comedy isn’t quite as pronounced as in the movies but it is there (especially in the 8-10 year old based episodes) and in conversations he has (rather than conversations other characters have) in between the serious themes.
Alongside the main cast who all acted their parts well from the scholarly father, the somewhat ornamental yet tender mother, the stern and caring tutor and of course both Indy’s there were many recognizable actors/guest appearances in the series, most of whom blended well into the periods and their roles. Surprisingly the one who stood out the most to me was Elizabeth Hurley who played Indy’s suffragette girlfriend, whilst still being eloquent and well spoken suppressed the ‘posh’ from her accent, she also acted the loving daughter in her supportive family well. It’s not a role I would have imagined her in, more the English rose than the sexpot. At first I wondered why they’d pick a mature lady for a teenager but then found that the 16 year old Indy actor was actually born in 1965 like she was.
The series has been reviewed as a great educational show and was picked up by the History Channel but it only superficially handles history and is too orthodox/mainstream for my liking, it works as historical fiction though as the storytelling is good and it’s more realistic than the movies. I’d recommend this to fans of the franchise obviously and to teens/young adults (who realize to watch with a generous helping of salt) for the escapades and if continued with to the next volume (which gets better) an insight (hopefully as prevention or at least the spur to research) into what it’s like to be in battle/war and how hindsight is different to foresight and often realized too little too late. However for young children and for the purpose of cultural education (ethno-geographical and animal) I’d say watch The Wild Thornberrys (1998-2004) instead.