By the time the fifth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise hits theaters next summer, less than a decade will have passed between Disney first acquiring the rights to the iconic adventurer and Harrison Ford’s whip-cracking return to the big screen, even with the huge amount of upheaval on either side of the camera that’s seen Steven Spielberg drop out of the director’s chair and a multitude of writers come and go.
That’s positively quaint compared to the project that eventually became Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which spent so long mired in the depths of development hell that for a long time, it looked as though it would never happen. Based on the wildly polarizing reactions from the fanbase when it did land in the summer of 2008, many of them still wish it never had.
One of the many, many, many writers tasked with attempting to crack the story was M. Night Shyamalan, who was approached in 2002 when he was one of the hottest talents in the business coming off The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. In a new interview, the filmmaker reflected on what it meant to have a stab at such a beloved property, and teased the tone he had in store.
“Oh, my god. I mean, it was fantastic. Obviously, Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite movie of all time, and so this was a dream, to be asked as a kid to go see a movie in a movie theater and then later to be asked by that person to write one of those in the future. I could faint at that moment. It was amazing. I do have my notebooks; I still have those with all my ideas for that movie. I did have a take. I talked to everybody involved and it was so nascent at that time, that movie. Everyone hadn’t gotten into a room yet. They were bouncing ideas off of me. So everyone had different ideas of what to do. When you say that, I have in my head, it’s a green notebook, and I had this idea. It was a darker idea. I had an idea. I hadn’t pitched it to them or anything like that, but I had an idea.”
David Koepp was ultimately the sole credited screenwriter on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson. To get to that point, Shyamalan joined Jeb Stuart, Jeffrey Boam, Stephen Gaghan, Tom Stoppard and Frank Darabont in trying to pen a script that would meet the approval of Lucas, Spielberg and Ford, but it was the one with CGI gophers, fridge nuking and little green men that won out in the end.