Book Review: ‘The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films’

(C) 2008 Del Rey Books/Penguin Random House and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This film could very easily not be a hit. All films are a risk. I mean, there’s no way to know. You can’t predict a hit.” – George Lucas, on Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981

On May 20, 2008, Del Rey Books – an imprint of Ballantine Books, a division of Penguin Random House – published the movie tie-in paperback edition of The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films by Lucasfilm executive and film historian J.W. Rinzler and Laurent Bouzerau, a prolific documentary maker who worked on the behind-the-scenes materials for the home media releases of the first four Indiana Jones films.

Illustration by Richard Amsel. (C) 1981 Richard Amsel and Lucasfilm Ltd.

In this 300-page volume, Rinzler and Bouzerau chronicle one of the most successful collaborations in modern movie history as George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, and Steven Spielberg, director of classics such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Schindler’s List join forces to create a series of films about a dashing archaeologist/soldier-of-fortune named Indiana Jones.

Using the same techniques he used to write The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film and books about several other Lucasfilm productions – digging into company archives, listening to hours of recorded interviews with Lucas, Spielberg, actors Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Alfred Molina, Kate Capshaw, Sean Connery, and Allison Doody, and producers Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, and Robert Watts (just to name a few), and poring at the scripts, memos, storyboards, and minutes from script conferences – Rinzler and his co-author Bouzerau (whose interviews for the behind-the-scenes “bonus features” films are integrated into the narrative of The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films) give readers a fascinating look at how Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were made.

Publisher’s Blurb

From Raiders of the Lost Ark to The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The man with the hat is back–in the definitive behind-the-scenes look at the Indiana Jones epic action saga.

When George Lucas and Steven Spielberg put their heads together to create a no-holds-barred action-adventure movie, bigger-than-life hero Indiana Jones was born. The rest is breathtaking, record-breaking box-office history. Now comes an all-new Indiana Jones feature film: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Here’s your chance to go on location for an up-close, all-access tour of the year’s most eagerly anticipated blockbuster, as well as the classics. The Complete Making of Indiana Jones is a crash course in movie magic-making–showcasing the masters of the craft and served up by veteran entertainment chroniclers J. W. Rinzler and Laurent Bouzereau. Inside you’ll find:

• exclusive on-set interviews with the entire cast and crew of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, including Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, and John Hurt–plus director Steven Spielberg, executive producer George Lucas, screenwriter David Koepp, and the incredible production team that built some of the most fantastic sets ever.

• hundreds of full-color images–from storyboards, concept paintings, and set design schematics to still photos from all four films with candid action shots of the productions in progress

• an in-depth chronicle of the making of the first three Indiana Jones movies–Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade–including transcripts of the original concept meetings, cast and crew anecdotes, production photos, and information on scenes that were cut from the final films

• never-before-seen artwork and archival gems from the Lucasfilm Archives

• and much more!

Don’t miss the thrilling new movie or this definitive making-of opus. It’s as essential to fans as that trusty bullwhip is to Indy!



In a strategic financial decision, Paramount decided to release Raiders on June 12 (1981), one week in advance of its original date, to get a jump on its main competitor, Warner Bros.’ Superman II, even though that schedule change entailed about $148,000 in overages.

On that day, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. “I don’t know how strong is Paramount’s percentage in the distribution of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but of one thing I’m certain – Lucas and Spielberg have just opened another goldmine,” Arthur Knight said in The Hollywood Reporter. Like his fellow critics, Knight recognized the film’s serial roots, but he also asked, ”Just how did Harrison Ford make it all the way to Gibraltar clinging to the conning tower of a German submarine anyway?”

“I don’t give a damn how Indiana Jones could hang on to that Nazi sub’s conning tower for 2,000 submerged nautical miles, Harlan Ellison ® wrote in his review, “because I love everything about Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like you, I go to movies to be dazzled, enriched, entertained, and uplifted, and to give myself over with the trust and innocence of a ten year old.”

In Rolling Stone, Michael Sragow called Raiders “the ultimate Saturday action matinee – a film so funny and exciting it can be enjoyed any day of the week.” Clearly identifying one of the film’s inspirations, he added, “This movie has as many garish corpses as the most macabre EC comic book.”

Negative reviews ran in a few papers, of course, some pointing out how silly the film was and how lacking in substance. “There’s no exhilaration in this dumb, motor excitement,” Nicholas Kenyon wrote in the June 15 New Yorker, but added, “There’s a lot of fun and action, but nothing to chew on afterward.”

“George and I decided to wait for the grosses on the Big Island of Hawaii just like we did with Star Wars,” Spielberg says, “and we built our good-luck sand castle. This time the sand castle lasted a long time. It didn’t get washed away right away, which is always our way of guessing if the film has legs. We have this weird superstition.”

The first-weekend gross was $8.3 million, however – less than hoped for – and Raiders was only neck-and-neck with Superman II after its first couple of weeks. Given the stealth-like marketing strategy that had lulled reviewers, it’s possible that the public was at first largely unaware of the film, too.

“I thought we had failed,” Spielberg says. “Despite the amazingly good reviews, we didn’t have a spectacular opening. Not that we’re greedy, but everyone was hoping we would do something like $12 or $11 million.”

My Take

If adventure has a name… it must be Indiana Jones. – Tagline, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

I have been an Indiana Jones fan since I was a high school student in Miami, Florida; I saw it with my mother – it was the first time I invited her to a movie – on the first day of wide release in June of 1981, and for 40 years I’ve watched the movies, listened to most of the soundtracks (I don’t have the one from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!), read the novelizations, and I own the 2007-2008 DVD box sets of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.  I even bought the licensed Indy hat, trousers, and shirt to cosplay as the Man With the Hat. (I have a leather jacket, too, but it’s not an authentic “Indiana Jones” jacket.)

Heck, when I went to Hollywood Studios near Orlando for the first time a few years ago, I wore my Indy outfit at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and posed for a photo with that show’s two principal performers.

Bottom line, I’m a huge fan of the Indiana Jones franchise, which is second only to Star Wars in my pantheon of media franchises. Probably always will be, too.

Photo by the author

As such, it’s fair to say that J.W. Rinzler and Laurent Bouzerau’s The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films is one of those books I’ll be happy to read and re-read frequently, both as a resource for film reviews and for my own enjoyment.

Like Rinzler’s 2007 The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films covers a lot of ground, starting in 1968, when George Lucas was starting his career as a filmmaker and first exploring the medium’s storytelling possibilities with his friend Francis Ford Coppola (the two founded American Zoetrope in 1969, and they worked together on THX-1138 and American Graffiti) and other filmmakers, and ending 40 years later with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,

The “rough draft” of my Indiana Jones costume. A few days later, I received the $150 costume pants and shirt I ordered from a seller in Singapore! (Photo by Rogers Perez)
At Hollywood Studios, March 2017.

The book follows every stage of the production of the Spielberg-directed films, from Lucas’s early attempts to write Raiders of the Lost Ark with his friend and fellow director Philip Kaufman (it was he who came up with the Ark of the Covenant as Raiders’ McGuffin) to the genesis and making of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There’s even a few mentions of Lucas’s TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in the chapter Atomic Ants from Space, which delves into the gap years between Indy III and Indy IV and – to my surprise, at least – reveals that Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford began developing the story for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as early as September of 1993.

Because the book was written in tandem with the production of that film and published two days before its theatrical release, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films does not have any material about how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was received by critics and the franchise’s fans. Consequently, readers who are looking for post-release controversies, such as negative fan reaction to Shia LaBeouf’s casting as Mutt Williams or Industrial Light & Magic’s CGI monkeys, will have to look elsewhere.

 (Judging from how Rinzler and Bouzerau evenhandedly cover the previous three films, it’s likely that if The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films had been written in 2018 and not 2008, some of the backlash might have been mentioned.)

Overall, if you are looking for an informative yet entertaining account on how the first four indy films were made, then The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films is the book you’re looking for.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films’

  1. I saw the first movie in a theater back in the day and immediately under its spell. I loved it. The Temple of Doom and the Crystal Skulls didn’t have the same power to enchant as far as I was concerned. I always liked the Last Crusade, but none of them worked the same magic, as far as I was concerned, as the first one. Reading how they got put together would be a lot of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to see that you finally got to enjoy this marvel of a book. I own it, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Judging by your comments alone, it appears to be as solid as all the other JW Rinzler making of books that I’ve read so far.

    Liked by 1 person

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