It sounds like M. Night Shyamalan almost had a chance to write the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise but something happened and David Koepp ended up taking the job instead. Shyamalan described his vision as a darker take on the franchise and that it would have taken things in a very different direction than where it went. In truth, it might have been the saving grace that the movie could have used. Some folks have stated that the fourth movie should have been expunged from the franchise while others have offered up their sympathy while trying to find something good to say about it. The truth is though, the fourth movie deviated from the main thrust of the franchise in such a way that it was difficult to think that it would ever be able to pull itself back into line. Obviously, that wasn’t the goal in the first place, but going from the Ark of the Covenant to the Sankara Stones to the Holy Grail and then to a Crystal Skull did sound as though it would keep things in the supernatural realm for a bit longer, at least until it was established that the skull was an alien artifact that turned out to be an actual part of an alien from another dimension.
And that’s kind of where this one fell off the rails. Well, one could say that it did that with the continual need to put Indy in the path of the types of danger that should have ended the movie early, such as having dozens of guns pointed at him with no way out, or being in the middle of an atomic blast, or being propelled forward by a jet engine, or being tossed about in a refrigerator and miraculously coming out of it with just bumps and bruises and a little radiation poisoning. Granted, there were a lot of moments in the movies before that weren’t realistic, but the fourth movie pushed it in a way that was beyond even the events of The Last Crusade.
Shyamalan is known for writing dark but very meaningful stories that can be a bit gritty but are usually quite filled with detail and feeling that comes out in one way or another. Perhaps it was this latter part that didn’t mesh well with the franchise, since while Indy has been able to be seen as an empathetic individual with actual feelings, it’s still easy to state that the movies have had a down and dirty feel to them that indicates that while Indy does have a heart, he’s almost always about the treasure and the artifacts first and foremost. To be certain, I do believe that Shyamalan could have adapted his style to collaborate with Spielberg. There are elements of Shyamalan’s stories that drag a bit and are a little irritatingly predictable sometimes, but the man does tell a great story all the same and many would agree without saying much about his style. It does feel as though he could write a story like this and that he might have been able to keep the supernatural aspect of the franchise alive, or could have at least added an illusory feel to it that would have likely left his mark on the franchise and pleased a lot of fans.
That is one big reason why, I believe, Indiana Jones 4 wasn’t received that well. There’s been a supernatural element to the movies since the start, and with number 4 breaking that trend it’s likely that the fans were thrown for a loop and didn’t expect the premise of the movie to change so drastically. In a sense, it still didn’t since the movie did feature an artifact and had Indy going after it. But the fact that it was extraterrestrial and not supernatural could have had something to do with it, and it’s entirely possible that adding in Shia LaBeouf was another mistake that was made since he was already considered to be box office cancer at that point. Plus, his tough-guy act didn’t come off so well since next to everyone else he still looked like the little kid he used to be.
A darker tone might have saved this movie in a big way since there were many, MANY other supernatural angles to this story that could have been used and a lot of other artifacts that Indy could have gone after. The past happened as it did though and there’s nothing left for it but to accept it and move on. Shyamalan was excited to have a chance to work with Spielberg it sounds like, but sometimes things don’t work out and a person has to move on and try something else. Obviously, Shyamalan found something else and made it work in a very big way.