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Why We Don't Want 'Indiana Jones' in 3-D

Oct 26, 2010 | 9:13am EDT

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Raiders of the Lost ArkGod dammit, George Lucas.

I wonder how many times those words have been uttered by scornful film geeks like me. I'd hope it was less than logic assumes, but that's just wishful thinking. If you were to calculate it, I bet it comes out like some kind of shocking death statistic: Instead of a child dying every 60 seconds, the headline would be "Nerds Curse George Lucas' Soul Every Eight Seconds".

So what's 'The Beard' gone and done this time? Well, nothing ... yet. It's what he's going to do: retroactively convert the entire Indiana Jones saga into 3-D. Because he's just so darned tired of getting asked every hour why he hasn't done it already, I guess.

Who wants this? Other than the people in the LucasFilm accounting department, of course the answer is a resounding "No One!" But, for the sake of argument, let's play Devil's Advocate and muse over what good may actually come of this ...

Huh. This is harder than I thought.

I'd love for a whole new generation of little tykes to discover the world of Indiana Jones starting with Raiders of the Lost Ark, but isn't that why the home video market was invented? To discover things consumers couldn't see in theaters? If the continued legacy of Indiana Jones is parents showing the films to their children, doesn't it make sense that they'd want to show them the films they fell in love with?

My opposition to the whole idea of this prospect doesn't even stem from my growing indifference to 3-D as a new technology, either. It all comes from the basic principle that a 3-D Dr. Jones is not the Dr. Jones parents grew up with, so why is that what they would want to show their kids?

Raiders of the Lost ArkThis news is just further evidence that George Lucas does not comprehend the way nostalgia works. He understands the power of it; he understands that it can drive consumerism in more fervent ways than even the most overfunded of marketing campaigns, but he fails to understand that people are also dangerously fickle about how much they let nostalgia effect them. Releasing something back into theaters with a few minor changes (a la the '90s Star Wars release) is one thing, but changing the entire look of the movie is drastic enough to make people realize that their nostalgia is being actively exploited.

Converting the films to 3-D is essentially no different than recasting Harrison Ford. It ultimately doesn't even matter if it improves the movie at all; since it's no longer the same product, people simply aren't going to be interested in it.

Oddly enough, I'm not sure the same can be said of Star Wars. Before the revelation of a 3-D Indiana Jones, Lucas had been actively working on a Star Wars conversion. The results of that conversion were so impressive that people who had seen demonstrations of it often cited it as one of the main reasons they were okay with the post-conversion process (until Clash of the Titans came along, of course). But this isn't a question of whether or not the 3-D will actually look good; it's a question of whether or not it fits the property.

When it comes to Star Wars, 3-D is a bit more palatable. It's already got the sci-fi aspect going for it, so 3-D is a much more natural fit for space battles than it is George Lucasrunning around archeological digs. But even beyond a better fit for the material, it's just a more reasonable fit for the property. Star Wars has been repurposed and retooled for decades, both by the fans and by Lucas himself. That has never been the case with Indiana Jones.

It's a franchise that has stood its ground because of how singular it is. Yes, I realize there are four films and a Young Indiana Jones spin-off, but for the most part Indiana Jones has had a unified image from the beginning. 3-D simply doesn't fit into that image, and making it fit is going to be perceived by fans as the forceful, penetrating act that it is.

George Lucas doesn't realize that you can't force nostalgia. It's an organic development of popular culture, and the best way to use nostalgia is to step back, observe it and then work your way in unobtrusively. Anything else is going to trigger alarms -- and when it comes to movies, no alarm is louder now than unnecessary 3-D.

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