Review by Lord-of-Babylon Just translated in English by me. Original review in French can be read HERE.
Indy disappearing under the setting sun at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade seemed like the perfect conclusion of a legendary trilogy. However if the archaeologist was retiring in movie theaters (at least till now), new media offered a brand new start like video games and television.
While on one hand, thanks to their interactivity and huge liberty of action, video games focused on the hero's most known time-frame in order to offer the most exiting adventures to gamers, on the other hand television was going to explore another time, targeting another goal. We will underline anyway that both of them emphasize Indiana Jones' adventures' cultural diversity; so much for the theory according to which each story focus on one Judeo-Christian myth.
While the first scenes of Indiana Jones and the last Crusade tried to show the birth of a myth, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones are going to explore the building of a man. The TV series reveals the path along which the little boy, then the teenager will become the man we know through his adventures across the World. If the movie trilogy is famously under the influence of the Belgian comic book Tintin, it is interesting to notice that at the time of the TV series another comic book series inspired Spielberg and Lucas as in it a famous character was also exploring his adventurous origins. For one who has ever read The Life and Times of $crooge McDuck, parallels between the master-piece of Don Rosa and this TV series are legions. The most relevant being the architecture of the story telling itself. Indeed both of them ground their heroes on a long and difficult initiatory quest along which they will reveal themselves step by step, discover their true potential and fight against their dark side. Each story will then focus on one of these stages of the long endurance race which is life. In The Adventure of Young Indiana Jones, they put our hero in front of difficult choices and important decisions which will make the character far more interesting as the series goes on than the discovery of an artefact associated to the hero we know. In synthesis, we don't give a fuck about how Jones got his whip, we prefer to know how his insatiable appetite for ancient civilizations and his taste for adventure were born.
Anyway this desire to tell Indy's youth is nothing but a pretext for George Lucas who finds here a good way to reach another goal. At the end of the 80s, he wanted to get people interested in History through his foundation dedicated to education. His project was then to use Indiana Jones' character as a witness of the 20th century. Even if the project went nowhere, the idea stayed and Lucas then solicited the networks in order to release a TV series around Indian Jones' youth. This one would be a good media to get children interested in the History of the World and mainly of Europe. A laudable initiative as very few TV series can boast about having so clear pedagogic intentions forward its audience. In order to succeed, the first idea was to focus the series on two different times corresponding to rich historical times: the very beginning of the 20th century and World War I. The red line through these stories being handed by 93 years old Indiana Jones (George Hall) telling to whom wants to listen to them, his past exploits.
First time, Henry Jones Junior (Corey Carrier) is 8 years old. With his parents and his private tutor, he travels all over the World in the different places where his father is giving conferences. Second time, Indiana (Sean Patrick Flanery) is 16 and lie about his age to be enrolled with his friend Rémy in Belgium army. In each of these times, Indy is going to live great adventures but he will also be the witness of crucial times of our History among which he'll encounter illustrious people like Lawrence of Arabia, Charles de Gaulles, Lenin, Picasso, Roosevelt, Freud, Albert Schweitzer, Joffre, Pétain, Al Capone, Hemingway, Clémenceau, Kafka, and so on and so on. Even if these encounters are of course fictions, their historical contexts are totally truthful. This makes The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones the precursor of historical series like Rome. It does it also as like for this predecessor the creators didn't count the money, making this series a very luxury one. The episodes taking place during World War I (Verdun, September 1916, Somme, August 1916 notably) are truly amazing for a time that will only see in the next following months the arrival of visually ambitious shows like ER, Homicide, NYPD Blues or X-Files. Finally, the series will never hesitate to confront Indiana Jones to the worst times of History, the stupidity of men's behavior, or to his own pride with disastrous consequences. To be convinced, watch the episodes German East Africa, December 1916 and Congo, January 1917, both written by Frank Darabont, one of the show's great revelations, who will start soon after his director's career with The Shawshank Redemption.
Despite the show's ambitions and its relative financial comfort, the series will hardly goes on. Maybe the educational wish is to blame as it is so strong that it tends to load the rhythm of the episodes down (in particular for the ones taking place at the time where Indy was 8). Even if Lucas' desire to take distances with the movies and then not make a pure action TV series is understandable and legitimate, this instability between action and instruction will cause the series' disappearance. But here is a series which can find a second youth through the dvds. In the end it doesn't look too old and it stays way beyond numerous series of its time and proves that we could do ambitious shows without necessarily passing through the HBO case. And frankly, one episode (the Mystery of the Blues) with Harrison Ford in his most famous role, would you really want to miss that ?