How exactly do you mediate a conversation with two of the most fertile minds in moviemaking? You hang on for dear life, that’s how! When EW sat down with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for a chat about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which opens May 22), the pace was fast and furious. You’ll see part of our chat in the Summer Movie Preview issue of EW (as well as here). But Spielberg and Lucas were so voluble, so passionately steeped in film history, and so funny that we had to bring you even more of their historic summit meeting, in which the pair discuss how filmmaking has changed in the past quarter-century, the impact of websites like this one on the experience of moviegoing, and the fate of Indiana Jones and the Monkey King.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Gentlemen! This is like having Superman and Batman in the same room. [Laughter]
STEVEN SPIELBERG: But wait a minute — which is which? I wanna be Superman! With the big S.
GEORGE LUCAS: We should get some clinking glasses and stuff, just to screw up your tape.
So what took so long to get to installment No. 4? It’s been 19 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the last of the original trilogy of films.
LUCAS: When we got to [the idea of making a fourth] one, I had already said, ”No. I can’t think of another MacGuffin.”
Meaning, the mystical thingy everyone is chasing.
LUCAS: I said, ”I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” We barely got through the last couple of ’em with smoke and mirrors. Sankara stones, for God’s sakes?
But there’s a lot of historical data about the Sankara stones!
LUCAS: There is, but nobody in the United States knows about it, so there’s no resonance. The MacGuffin is the key. Before the Sankara stones [which became the focus of the second film in the trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom], we’d had ideas for all kinds of other MacGuffin things. Some of them were original ones, that were in the [proposed] stories that I did. Like a haunted castle and stuff. But then Steven went off and did Poltergeist and said, ”I don’t want to do another haunted-castle movie.”
In developing the third movie, there was a Christopher Columbus script early on, Indiana Jones and the Monkey King, set partly in Africa. And that one had a preamble involving a haunted castle.
LUCAS: We wrote complete scripts on other MacGuffins [for the third film]. And finally I said, look, let’s just try the Holy Grail. [Adopting another voice] ”Ohhh, it’s too cerebral, we’ll never make it work….” So we turned it into a tangible magic cup with healing powers, instead of an intellectual thing. It wasn’t until the idea of introducing the father came along that we kind of pulled [the third movie] out of the fire. Because it then shifted from being about the MacGuffin. But ultimately, these are supernatural mysteries. They aren’t action adventures. Everybody thinks they’re action-adventure films, but that’s just the genre we hang them on.
SPIELBERG: There’s not one that hasn’t been supernatural.
LUCAS: The supernatural part has to be real. [He taps the table] Which is why they’re very hard, and you run out [of options] very fast. You have to have a supernatural object that people actually believe in. People believe that there was an Ark of the Covenant, and it has these powers. Same thing with the Sankara stones, same thing with the Holy Grail. We may have exaggerated some of its powers, but basically there are people who believe there is a Holy Grail, brought back by the Knights Templar.
SPIELBERG: Of course, I was worried that people would hear ”Holy Grail,” and they would immediately think about a white rabbit attacking Monty Python. My first reaction was to say, ”Everybody run away! Run away!”
Well to bring us into Indy 4, what kind of developmental push and pull went on once you decided to set the new film in the 1950s?
LUCAS: The idea was to take the genre of Saturday-matinee serials, which were popular in the ’30s and ’40s, and say, ”What kind of B movie was popular in the ’50s, like those B movie serials were popular in the ’40s?” And use that as the overall uber-genre. We wouldn’t do it as a Saturday-matinee serial. We’d do it as a B movie from the ’50s.
SPIELBERG: The Cold War came to mind immediately, because if you’re in the ’50s, you have to acknowledge the Cold War.
NEXT PAGE: ”Of all the villains I’ve been able to work with in the Indiana Jones movies, I can say she’s my favorite. And I think Cate made her that way.”