Lucas, ABC gamble on plunging 'Young Indy' into the depths of history

January 22, 1992|By Hal Boedeker | Hal Boedeker,Knight-Ridder News Service

Los Angeles -- The Force needs to be with George Lucas this time.

The creator of "Star Wars" is producing and writing the most ambitious series of the television season. The title for the one-hour show: "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles."

Don't let the blockbuster movie reference fool you: It's no sure hit, and Mr. Lucas knows it.

When the young Indy arrives on ABC in late February or early March, he will bear little resemblance to the action hero played by Harrison Ford. Two actors are portraying Indy as a boy and a teen-ager; a third is playing him as a 93-year-old who reminisces about the earlier times.

The stirring John Williams music is gone, and the series is not a continuation of the movie trilogy. Instead, it is an epic look at the 20th century and a widely traveled boy's coming of age.

Mr. Lucas warned ABC honchos about what he was sending them: "I said this was slightly more like 'Masterpiece Theatre' than network television."

In one episode, 10-year-old Indy (Corey Carrier) falls in love for the first time, with a princess, and listens to a dissertation on the emotion by Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung.

In another episode, 17-year-old Indy (Sean Patrick Flanery) loses his virginity to Mata Hari. "The show is about self-deception in relationships," Mr. Lucas said. "It's about the aspect of human nature to create a persona for yourself that is not true and for you to live your life that way and to develop a relationship that's not true."

Television critics saw the two-hour introduction last week. The first hour transports the younger Indy to Egypt and the pyramids, where Lawrence of Arabia instructs him, much as Obi-Wan Kenobi did Luke Skywalker. In the second hour, Pancho Villa saves the teen Indy from a firing squad.

"I've been very interested in the way mankind operates," Mr. Lucas said. "And the best way to understand that is through history. And I've always been very interested in historical figures as real people."

Other notables moving through Indy's life are Albert Schweitzer, Theodore Roosevelt, George Patton, Winston Churchill and Vladimir Lenin.

Mr. Lucas traced his passion for history to a set of Landmark Books he read as a boy and some World War II documentaries he saw on television.

The series strives for historical accuracy, he said, although one episode drops 14-year-old Norman Rockwell into Paris for adventures with 10-year-old Indy. They meet Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso while viewers learn about cubism and expressionism.

The look of "Young Indy" is spectacular and reminiscent of such big-screen epics as "Out of Africa," "Reds" and "Lawrence of Arabia." The series costs $1.5 million per episode and is being filmed in England, Kenya, China, Austria, India, Russia and other countries. The rigorous production focuses about two-thirds of the time on the older boy.

Producer Lucas has gathered such directors as Bille August ("Pelle the Conqueror"), Simon Wincer ("Lonesome Dove"), Jim O'Brien ("The Jewel in the Crown"), Nicolas Roeg ("Don't Look Now") and Terry Jones (the "Monty Python" movies) to film episodes. Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford might get involved, too.

The storytelling style ranges from high drama and adventure to comedy and love stories. Subtitles are used.

"We have a very large jump to make to get people to realize that this is something different from the films," Mr. Lucas said. "I don't want to constantly refer back to the films."

Mr. Lucas said he could not worry about viewers zapping out if they find Young Indy too slow-moving. "If this can find an audience, it will be wonderful," he said. "But I won't upset the integrity of the work just to be a success."

ABC has ordered 17 hours this season, and Mr. Lucas has 22 more scripts written if the show is renewed. He hopes it wins a 9 p.m. ET time slot on the ABC schedule. If the series fails in America, Mr. Lucas hopes Paramount will continue to produce it for overseas markets.

Mr. Lucas said he would allow his own daughters, ages 10 and 3, to watch "Young Indy." "A parent has to be ready to discuss difficult issues," he said.

"It's a series designed to ask questions. It doesn't give easy answers." One such question: What is love? "We don't ever say what love is. If we did that, I wouldn't have to make movies anymore."

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