INDIANA JONES - THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
By James Luceno
Published by DORLING KINDERSLEY - MAY 2008 FIRST EDITION
Published by DORLING KINDERSLEY - MAY 2008 FIRST EDITION
Reviewed by Scott Weller
If adventure has a name then it has to be Indiana Jones. And if you’re looking for the name of a book publisher to chronicle his amazing adventures then I can think of nobody better than DORLING KINDERSLEY for their excellent new release, INDIANA JONES: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE visual/text reference work.
Having previously come up top trumps with their book range for STAR WARS, JAMES BOND and the hit TV series 24, the company seems the natural choice to present a superb compendium of the history of our intrepid archaeologist/ soldier of fortune, and his thrilling adventures throughout the world over the years. Expert travel writer/adventure fictionist James Luceno, whose previous STAR WARS original novels LABYRINTH OF EVIL and CLOAK OF DECEPTION carried on the grand tradition of the pulp adventure science fiction novels that also inspired George Lucas in creating the saga in the first place, showed writing talents on those books that impressed me greatly- his fast paced style proving totally in character to that universe that I have always loved, and bringing an equally precise concoction of character and adventurous flavour to the Indiana Jones series with his new work on THE ULTIMATE GUIDE.
Starting, where else, from the beginning, the book takes a look through, and charts, the history of Indy from his exploits as a youngster, as witnessed in the early 1990’s semi-educational TV series (presented in a way that almost makes me actually want to watch it (though, puzzlingly, THE SECRET OF THE BLUES instalment with Harrison Ford’s front and back end cameo seems to be strangely absent from the book), through to the final (so far??) adventure in the KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, and charting pretty much every other non TV/film event/adventure involving Mister Fedora man at the same in between, from the many adventures in books, to those of comic, video games and other media. The compilation of facts within Indy’s screen universe is very well done and Luceno’s prose style brings it all together well, adding great detail to events that lead in to the films (such as why Indy went to find the Chachapoyan fertility statue at the start of RAIDERS). As well as the words, the photography chosen to accompany the books epic adventure travelogue is equally excellent and there are quite a few new images I hadn’t seen before (C’mon OFFICIALPIX, go and release ‘em!). Where stills aren’t available for certain scenes/ moment, some great artwork from the comic books is used, as is the addition of screengrabs, the quality of which, presumably from the Lowry re-masterings for the DVDs, is extremely good. The design is beautiful (I loved the opening spreads intros for the films (done the same ways as with their previous STAR WARS books) and easy to read throughout-this really is one of those coffee table books that you really can dip in and out of properly and contentedly-today, if you feel like it, I may want to find out more about Walter Donovan, tomorrow, how about something on the Well of Souls or a look at the landscape of the Tanis excavation sites from RAIDERS. To add to the historical facts and educationalist stance of the YOUNG INDY TV series, KINDERSLEY, being a historical book specialist, also makes the most of the George Lucas doctrine to educate its readers, presenting accurate and highly interesting information on events happening in real life to the simultaneous fictional ones going on within Indy’s world. In some cases, the two have merged together beautifully…
On the other side of the visual coin, the diagrams and illustrations are, as ever, also first rate. Much like the ones created for the STAR WARS SAGA, showing you the insides of secret bases, heavy weaponry, and numerous fighters/alien craft, this book goes in depth into the landscapes and environments of the alternate universe of the Ark, the Shankra Stones and the Holy Grail, as the reader discovers all the exotic places Indy has visited, all the dangerous environments he has become trapped in, and all the foes he has just managed to defeat through sheer willpower, luck or a shrewd type of humanity and skillfulness (special notes must be made of the illustrations of TEMPLE OF DOOM, showing the Kali underground lair and the mountain/Pankot Palace in superb detail- bringing the environment to geographical, and logical, life). There’s even a nice spread on our heroes evolution as a character and that of his costume (including Indy’s weather beaten hat and action dusted casual fatigues).
To top it all off, outside of the character history compiled, there are also excellent sections going behind the scenes of the Saga’s creation, with some excellent artwork (it’s always nice to see that early Jim Steranko conceptual art used so well!) and some pieces that I hadn’t seen before (including unused logo designs early character sketches), nice storyboards from the early movies too, and nicely production photos of the cast and crew (which add the “family” feel to the book that has been clearly evident on screen for so long), an intriguing behind the scenes ILM spread with some distinctive images of the filming of the Nazi deaths from RAIDERS, and a look at all the publishing (from the early MARVEL comics to the numerous adult novels, and merchandise (from KENNER’S early figures for RAIDERS to their current mighty mugs range!), and even a nice section on the video games over the years. A creation/ behind the scenes timeline tops it off, which is most helpful if you want to see how the Saga came into being-from a few jottings by Lucas in 1973 to it’s current, we can’t wait to see it new release in 2008. All these sections have some great little tit-bits to enjoy that I wasn’t previously aware of.
But the most important question, on everybody’s minds I’m sure, as I write this, is...what about the CRYSTAL SKULL coverage!! Well, not to give anything away, there is a very good section on the film but I have deliberately tried not to read it too heavily-just skimming through parts of it have revealed plot info that I didn’t want to know, but hopefully it won’t spoil my enjoyment (in fact, I know it won’t cause that to happen-I just cant wait to see this movie, anyway!). Though there are no in-depth sections on the characters, environments and the Crystal Skull itself like the previous films (the Producers, quite wisely, wanting to keep it all secret), the on-set stills photography in this section is also superb, and ninety nine percent I hadn’t seen previously in any of the other current film magazines-again, the layout is good, but that really is all I’m gonna tell ya!! There is much deliberately missing in that section, with very little on the AREA 51 part of the movie in particular, though to compensate, there are nice production bits on the film in the making of section to continue to satiate the readers, alongside parts of the storyline (of which a fair bit of the film has probably been revealed-again, though, I haven’t tried to read it! It’s up to you if you want to read it!!). Perhaps they (LUCASFILM/DK) should have waited a little bit and released a fuller version of the book after the film was released. Would that have damaged sales? Possibly, but then they could still re-release the book with additional pages when it comes out on DVD, or perhaps when a fifth INDY film comes along (hopefully I won’t be at an age to match Harrison Ford, as he is now, when it finally turns up! Eighteen years was a helluva long wait, guys!) KINGDOM looks impressive to me in every respect, and the film’s photography within the book gives the impression of a well rounded, and heart pleasingly warm closure to the saga to come, with some nice references to the past thrown in (like the Ark of the Covenant and a special mention of the late, great Denholm Elliot’s character of Marcus Brody).
No matter what happens to cinemas, no matter what happens with movies, we’ll always love adventures stories. And whilst that is the case, Indiana Jones will continue to live on in our hearts and minds. This book is a wonderful celebration of that fact.
So, all in all, another exemplary book from the DK range to add, not only to their own impressive list of book case titles, but your own personal list as well!
REVIEW RATING: "X marks the spot!" An INDY-TASTIC 9/10