Fifteen years ago, George Lucas employed cutting-edge digital technology and a stunning array of European talents (including directors like Harry Potter IV's Mike Newell) to pour his consuming interests in history and anthropology into ripping yarns that echo classic movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Wild Bunch. The result was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a TV series that lit up the small screen from 1992 to 1994.
Today marks the DVD debut of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, a vivid and imaginative package that surrounds the original episodes with supplements that deepen the resonance and expand the dimensions of the show.
In Volume One, the 9-year-old Indy encounters everyone from T.E. Lawrence to Tolstoy, before the teenage Indy connects with the likes of Pancho Villa and Winston Churchill.
But the 12-piece DVD set also contains 38 new documentaries, as well as an interactive game and timeline. They're all part of Lucas' master strategy to engage audiences in history by filling out amazing period tales with astounding facts.
On the phone from Marin County, Calif., Lucas says that once Volume Two appears Dec. 18 and Volume Three next spring, his vision for Young Indy will finally be fulfilled.
In his own words:
The first step was to do the TV show, but it was always the plan to get the resources to do the documentaries and to put them all together. The whole purpose was to get young people interested in historical characters who were not that far away in time, who could have had a direct relationship to their grandparents. The DVDs are designed to work for kids from sixth grade all the way up through college, but they're really for anybody who has an interest in history, and they present an extremely eclectic view of history, touching on culture, politics and religion. And they try be abolutely true to the facts.
For example [as seen in the episode called "Spring Break Adventure"], Edison did invent an electric car. The idea is that students can then see the documentary on Edison and get books or see other documentaries and discover that all this crazy stuff is real. Who these historical characters really were and what they actually accomplished can be stranger and more entertaining than anything in fiction. What you can get out of an episode:
"Spring Break Adventure" is about the spirit of American invention, the beginning of the modern creative inspiration that made us the powerhouse we were throughout the 20th century. We've got the same thing going on in the cyber world today: an Edison of the future is working on a dot.com or developing a new chip right now.
And when you see young Indiana Jones reading Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout, it's also about young people's fantasies and the uses of the imagination in adventure stories. One of the issues he must deal with is what happens when the adventure in your life reflects the adventures written about in stories - especially if those are written by the father of somebody you go to school with!
Catching great men at mundane moments:
The idea behind Young Indiana Jones was to take historical characters and present them from a very personal point of view, not a man-in-crisis point of view. We see them on their rest time, during their days off from being famous.
The way we do it is to take a known fictional character, an adventurer named Indiana Jones, and show him, say, having dinner with Sigmund Freud. Suddenly, people who may have no idea who Freud was find out something about him and even something about the differences between his psychological philosophies and those of [Carl] Jung and [Alfred] Adler.
Indiana Jones' father is a visiting professor who gives lectures all around the world, so it seems natural he would come into contact with these people.
We're trying to get at history through people rather than dates and events - how they face problems and what that means for the rest of the world. I'd like young people watching the series to realize we're the ones who could be making a difference. All in all, I think it's a great technique to introduce kids into a world in which the past is always present in our contemporary history and news - so they should pay attention and try to figure out why things are happening.