The poster art for the movie was painted by Drew Struzan, the same artist who also created the poster art for the previous two Indiana Jones films. He took over from original Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) poster artist Richard Amsel who died in 1985.
Sean Connery was approached for a cameo appearance as Henry Jones Sr., Indiana's father, but he turned it down, finding retirement too enjoyable. George Lucas later stated that in retrospect it was good that Jones Sr. did not appear, as it would disappoint the audience when he would not come along for the adventure. Harrison Ford also joked that he was getting old enough to play his own father, so Sean wasn't needed anymore.
Shia LaBeouf signed on for the film in April 2007, so excited about doing an Indy film that he didn't even read the script. To prepare for his role as the greaser Mutt Williams, LeBeouf repeatedly watched the previous three Indiana Jones films as well as The Wild One, Rebel Without A Cause and Blackboard Jungle in addition to gaining fifteen pounds of muscle.
Originally, Indy was to be up against an uprising of ex-Nazis, but Steven Spielberg felt he could not treat the Nazis lightly after directing Schindler's List (1993), and Harrison Ford felt they had "plumb wore the Nazis out." George Lucas also felt that the 1950s decade would have to take into account the Cold War, and when he heard that that Joseph Stalin had been interested in crystal skulls, he made the Soviets the script's villains.
Harrison Ford convinced David Koepp to include more jokes about Indy's age in the script, believing they would help reduce the "American paranoia about aging." He also refused to dye his hair for the role, arguing Indy's appeal wasn't in his youth but in his imagination and resourcefulness: "My ambition in action is to have the audience look straight in my face and not the back of a stuntman's head. I hope to continue that no matter how old I get."
Steven Spielberg included the opening scene where the car driven by a group of students racing against a car driven by a Russian soldier as a homage to his friend George Lucas. In his youth, Lucas had a passion of car racing. (See also American Graffiti (1973)). In the previous movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Spielberg included the opening prologue in homage to his experiences as a boy scout.
Several weeks into production 'Harrison Ford' saw a blonde woman on the set, when he asked who she was he was told it was Cate Blanchett, who he had never seen out of costume and did not recognize without her black wig.
Producer Frank Marshall stated that the film would be shot the same way as the previous three - with stunt men, and using CGI only when necessary. Before the film entered production Steven Spielberg corroborated these claims, but during filming the decision was made to employ more CGI than had originally been anticipated (Spielberg estimated at the time that about 30% of VFX would have to be CGI).
Steven Spielberg brought on Janusz Kaminski, who's shot all Spielberg's films since Schindler's List (1993), to replace the now-retired cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, who had worked on all three of the previous Indy films. Spielberg refused to modernize the photography and wanted to retain the comic book style from the previous films; thus Kaminski had to watch all the three previous films repeatedly to study Slocombe's techniques. Spielberg later commented that both he and Janusz had to swallow their pride: "Janusz had to learn another cinematographer's look, and I had to acquire this younger director's look which I thought I had moved away from after almost two decades."
When asked if Harrison Ford was too old to return as Indy, producer Frank Marshall quoted Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): "It's not the years, it's the mileage." He explained that it would be interesting to see Indy in a different decade, and deal with all kinds of new and interesting things. The age also adds to Indy as a fallible and therefore believable character. Ford spent three hours a day at the gym, and subsisted on a high-protein diet of fish and vegetables, thus building his body into a condition where he could perform his own stunts (he always kept himself fit anyway, as he hoped to complete all the five Indiana Jones films that were originally planned in the 1980s). Steven Spielberg later stated he was so impressed with Ford's form that he could not tell the difference between the shoots for the third and fourth films.
At a pre-production press conference at Yale, producer Frank Marshall said that Indy's fictional Marshall College is indeed named after him. He quipped, "If my last name was Yale, it would be Yale College."
In the coffee shop, Indy mocks at Mutt Williams' name: Mutt (a mixed breed dog). But as stated by Henry Jones Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Indy's name is also canine-related: "Indiana" was the name of the Jones family dog.
The film has some tributes to Marcus Brody (the late Denholm Elliott): A portrait of him is shown on the wall in the hallway when the Dean Charles is having the conversation with Indiana Jones, a picture of him is set on Indiana's desk next to a picture of Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery), and there's a statue of Marcus in the College's court yard when the KGB agent accidentally drive the car into it. The plaque reads "In proud memory of Marcus Brody, Dean of students 1939-1944 with honour and loyalty".
In the scene at Marshall College, pictures of the Sankara Stones from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) can be seen on a blackboard, along with some of the names of characters associated with the stones.
Harrison Ford apparently has kept himself in such good shape over the years that his costuming measurements for this film had not changed from those in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), nearly 20 years earlier. He performed many of his own stunts, because stunt technology had become safer since 1989; he also felt it improved his performance.
The "amphibious jeep" used by Jones is a Russian GAAZ. It is incorrectly thought by many people to be a US WWII GPA or amphibious jeep. The Russians copied many US and German vehicles from WWII and manufactured them even today such as most dump trucks are based off of the Studebaker which was lend leased to them.
The "Kung Fu Aztecs" who attacked Indy and Mutt in the graveyard are not as historically inaccurate as one may think. Pre-Spanish Peru Incans did in fact practice a Martial Art known as "Rumi Maki", which literally translates as "Hard Hands."
While the previous Indy films were a tribute to the 1930s Republic Pictures serials, the filmmakers decided to change the approach/setting of this film; according to George Lucas, the film was "more of a 1950s B-movie."
To prepare for her role of Irina Spalko, Cate Blanchett learned to fence and (during filming) practiced karate. She based her performance on Rosa Klebb from From Russia with Love (1963), who also has a stern manner and a bob-cut hairdo.
For his role as Spalko's henchman, Dimitri Diatchenko bulked up his physique to look more menacing, arriving at 250 pounds through weight-lifting. He was originally to shoot his role in ten days, since his role was a minor one. When shooting the Marshall College fight, Harrison Ford accidentally hit his chin, and Steven Spielberg liked Diatchenko's humorous reaction to the punch so much he expanded his role, and Diatchenko spent three months filming.
When filming the scene where Indiana drives a truck through a wall, things did not go as planned: timed explosives were used, but one explosive did not go off and landed in the seat next to Harrison Ford.
The Akator throne room designed by Guy Hendrix Dyas keeps up an Indiana Jones tradition by having C-3PO and R2-D2 etched into one of the yellow titles, and E.T. into another. According to the book "The Complete Making of Indiana Jones", the characters can be found somewhere in all four Indiana Jones pictures.
The movie introduced the line "Nuke the Fridge" to the colloquial English language as a replacement for "Jump the Shark" (see trivia for Happy Days (1974)) referring to the scene where Indiana Jones survives a nuclear explosion by climbing into a fridge. Both terms refer to a series having surpassed its peak and getting close to absurdity.
Harrison Ford was adamant that he got to wield Indiana's famous whip. Paramount executives wanted the weapon to be computer generated because of new film safety rules, but the actor branded the rule "ridiculous".
The Staff of Moses from Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) also makes a cameo appearance in the Area 51 Hangar. The props department made a replica out of the original one. However it is much harder to spot than the Ark's cameo appearance.
Karen Allen was not aware her character was in the script until Spielberg called her in January 2007, saying, "It's been announced! We're gonna make Indiana Jones 4! And guess what? You're in it again!"
In the chase seen through the campus Indy and Mutt crash land in the library where Indy is asked a question by one of his students regarding research. Indy responds by saying something to the effect of research being best obtained by getting out of the library and into the field. This seems to contradict Indy's advice in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), when he tells his students that "70% of all archeology is done in the library. Research, reading. We cannot afford to take mythology at face value."
According to the George Lucas interview from the Special Effects documentary included on the DVD, the concept for the giant, flesh-eating ants was lifted directly from an abandoned script for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
All three previous Indiana Jones movies featured a Bond-like, mini-adventure introductory sequence that bore little or no significance to the main plot. In this film, the main story begins immediately after the opening credits, which includes the introduction of all the main villains, along with the very secret to the crystal skull itself.
Security throughout filming was very tight with one of the measures to prevent info leaks was to address the cast with false names in daily call sheets. In those call sheets for example, Harrison Ford was called '#', Cate Blanchett as 'Mean Girl' and Karen Allen titled 'The Damsel'.
Indy's line, "I Like Ike" (also visible on the bomb above the test town) uses the popular slogan created by Peter G. Peterson (Commerce Secretary for Richard Nixon) for the "Draft Eisenhower movement" in 1952, the first political draft to persuade a private citizen (Dwight D. Eisenhower) to run for the presidency.
Before 'The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' was chosen as the title, several other titles were considered and even registered with the MPAA in August 2007, including 'The City of Gods', 'The Destroyer of Worlds', 'The Fourth Corner of the Earth', 'The Lost City of Gold', and finally, 'The Quest for the Covenant'. Shia LaBeouf revealed the movie's official title during his appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards 2007 (2007).
When viewed at an angle, the badge of the Security guard at gate looks like a "Theta Chi" fraternity emblem. Steven Spielberg is a member of that fraternity, and adds symbols and references that his brothers would recognize as 'in-jokes'.
During the interrogation of Indy after his escape from the KGB agents, he is accused of being a communist. This is a reference to the cold war anti-communist sentiment, known as "McCarthyism" because of the investigations pursued by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Before "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was chosen as the subtitle for Indiana Jones 4, the original title on the original script was "Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men" because that was George Lucas' original choice for the title. He also had several other titles in mind, such as "Indiana Jones and the Attack of the Giant Ants". Steven Spielberg's wanted the movie to be called "Indiana Jones and the [blank blank] of the Mysterians" but he quickly gave up on that idea to avoid confusion with The Mysterians (1957). Screenplay Writer David Koepp thought the movie should have been called "Indiana Jones and the Son of Indiana Jones". Eventually all three had settled on the movie's final title, with Lucas himself insisting on using the word "Kingdom" in the title, as opposed to "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull".
In an interview with Empire magazine in October 2011, director Steven Spielberg admitted that he never liked the MacGuffin of this movie. It was George Lucas' idea and Spielberg only put it in the movie because of his friendship with Lucas. He said in that interview: "I am loyal to my best friend," he says. "When he writes a story he believes in - even if I don't believe in it - I'm going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it."
The nuclear bomb test that Indiana Jones finds himself in is loosely based on the Operation Teapot atomic bomb tests of 1955, detonated on the Nevada Test Site. Most notable is the use of buildings and mannequins to observe the destructive force of the explosion, which was also featured in the nuclear bomb test in the film. The announcements and countdown preceding the explosion are based on the Ivy Mike test of 1952, the very first detonation of a hydrogen bomb (most notably the warning "Do not remove goggles or face blast until ten seconds after first light.")
Steven Spielberg originally wanted the film to be released exclusively in 35mm, but changed his mind and allowed a small digital release after being shown how this version would look. It was shown digitally at a theater if all of its projectors were digital, or if its 35mm projectors were only in smaller auditoriums.
John Hurt wanted to read the script before he signed on. He had previously heard about actors who signed on to a Steven Spielberg film before reading the script, since "Spielberg - you know, GOD - was doing it!" Hurt replied, "'Well, I need to have a little bit of previous knowledge even if God is doing it." The filmmakers sent a courier with the script from Los Angeles over to London, who gave the script to Hurt at three in the afternoon, reclaimed it at eight that evening and flew back the following day. Ray Winstone mentioned a similar experience on a British chat show: he was asked if he wanted to be in the film, and he requested to read the script. He described a young man in a suit coming to his house, drinking tea while he read it, then getting on the next plane back to America. He also noted that once the film was over, they had to give the scripts back.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Mutt Williams was originally a nerdy kind of character, but George Lucas decided to make him Indiana's son and give him a rebellious character, reasoning that "he needs to be what Henry Jones Sr. thought of his son, and the curse returns to Indy in the form of his own son - he's everything a father can't stand!"
In the "making of" on the Back to the Future (1985) DVD, one of the original ideas of the time machine was as a refrigerator that Marty would climb into. Furthermore, the way Marty was to come back from 1955 was via the power of a nuclear bomb at a test site in the desert. Back to the Future was produced by Steven Spielberg. The idea was scrapped because filmmakers were afraid children would shut themselves inside of their home refrigerators to imitate the movie.
There were no less than three major drafts written for this film before the final rewrites by David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson. The first draft was written in 1993 by Jeb Stuart (who was recommended to George Lucas by Harrison Ford while working on The Fugitive (1993)). It was sub-titled "Saucerman from Mars" and it features many plot elements used in the film including the Doomtown nuclear sequence, launch bay test fight, the jungle, Russian enemies, and as well as Indy getting married in the end to a fellow scientist called Dr. Molly. The second draft, written by Jeffrey Boam in 1995, simply called Indy IV had Indy searching for Noah's Ark. Boam's draft contains elements that were used in the final film, including having Marion back from the first film, Indy having a son (called Abner and was described as a geek), aliens and the main object was a crystal skull. This draft could have been used if the film was released in 1996, but was shelved at that time because, according to Spielberg of the release of Independence Day which also contains aliens. The third major draft by Frank Darabont, subtitled "City of Gods" was very similar to the final film, with Marion in the film but also has Oxley in it, but removes Mutt. Steven Spielberg reportedly loved the script (according to Darabont he called it the greatest script he'd read since Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)), but Lucas rejected it for reasons not disclosed. Koepp looked at all the film's previous drafts, and kept what he felt were good ideas. He tried not to make his work a "fan script," avoiding any trivial references to the previous films. He noted that the story would have to acknowledge Ford/Jones's age, and also aimed for the mix of comedy and adventure from the first film, trying to make it less dark than the second film and yet less comic than the third film. Plot elements from all three drafts were used for the final script.
This film continues the Indiana Jones tradition of killing off the lead villain through paranormal means related to a consequence of the villain's own greed. Although the villain in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) did not die from paranormal means but instead was eaten by alligators, this happened because of his greed for the stones.
There are two literary references included in Harold Oxley's cryptic instructions and gibberish. The first is 'Eyes that last I saw in tears' by 'T. S. Eliot'. However it is incorrectly quoted. Ox says "Through eyes that last i saw in tears / Here in death's dream kingdom" whereas the real lines are "Eyes that last I saw in tears/ Through division/ Here in death's dream kingdom". The second quote, "To lay their just hands on that Golden Key/ That opes the Palace of Eternity", is from 'Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634' by John Milton.
John Rhys-Davies was approached to reprise his character Sallah in a very brief cameo in the wedding scene. But he turned it down because he felt that having Sallah just appear as a crowd member would cheat the audience and cheapen the character.