If all goes according to schedule, "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," ABC's new adventure series premiering tonight, will be the first stage in filmmaker George Lucas' fantastic voyage into the possibilities of 21st-Century technology and learning.
Right now, all viewers can do is sit back and watch the exploits of young Indy on network television. But Lucas has a master plan that would allow viewers to interact with Indiana Jones a few years down the road via an emerging technology called interactive multimedia.
The newest rage in education, interactive multimedia involves the fusion of computers and video laser discs. With the click of a mouse on a computer, students can forage through a technological wonderland of motion pictures, still images, music, speech, animation, text and graphics--all designed to teach a particular subject.
ABC News, CNN, the long-running PBS science series "Nova" and National Geographic have all "repurposed" portions of their immense libraries of videotape and film footage into interactive multimedia products now used in schools nationwide. An ABC News InterActive package on AIDS education is part of the state curriculum in Florida, which purchased laser-disc players for each of the state's 2,500 schools.
Lucas, however, has the distinction of being the first to produce a network TV series with the idea of turning it into an interactive multimedia venture. "Young Indiana," filmed at culturally rich locations in 15 countries, brings to life a history book of larger-than-life figures from the early 20th Century.
"I had no interest in going to television with Indiana Jones," Lucas, 47, said recently in an interview at his Skywalker Ranch production facility in Marin County. "("Young Indiana") started out as a project to teach turn-of-the-century history in the eighth grade for an interactive prototype that I'm developing."
The familiar Indy character has the potential to be the perfect porthole into history for children, Lucas believes. Indy's remarkable childhood travels with his father on a lecture tour include encounters with T. E. Lawrence, Pancho Villa, Sigmund Freud, Mata Hari, Pablo Picasso, Winston Churchill and Albert Schweitzer.
Because Lucas could never hope to finance "Young Indiana" strictly as an educational enterprise--the first 17 episodes cost $27 million--he turned to network television.
"I said, 'I'm just going to see if I can do this as a TV show,' and at least then I can get 17 hours of the core stories produced," Lucas said. "And then maybe I can take advantage of them and build off them for an interactive prototype."
Lucas, one of a new wave of post-studio '70s filmmakers who grew up with television, wants to liven up the educational process that put him to sleep as a child in Modesto. His vast LucasArts Entertainment Co. includes LucasArts Learning and the nonprofit George Lucas Foundation, which explores improved teaching methods through the merging of entertainment and computer technologies.
If Lucas can bring "Young Indiana" to the educational arena, the series episodes would most likely serve as tree trunks, in effect, that students could use to branch off to explore related subjects. The information is stored on software programs and laser discs linked to a personal computer.
Lucas cited one upcoming episode as a sample of what he has in mind. The fictional story takes place in 1909 British East Africa, when Indy and his family meet former President Theodore Roosevelt on safari.
During the 25-day shoot on the Masai Mara Reserve, a vast government-protected area of land in Kenya, producer Rick McCallum shot endless footage of Indy at age 10, played by Corey Carrier, and a Masai native boy with "virtually every animal that exists in Africa," McCallum said. They stroll past a herd of elephants, point to lounging hippopotamuses, abruptly encounter a pride of lions and nearly get caught in a stampede of hundreds of wildebeests.
If that episode were to become interactive, Lucas said, students could learn about ecology and wildlife. They could call up documentary footage on elephants narrated by young Indy, listen to elephants trumpet, flip through still photos, study maps of elephant habitats, read text about ivory poaching. The possibilities are limited only by the ability to pull all the source material together.
"In terms of financial involvement, I've got over half of it done, just by virtue of the fact that an hour episode is over half the cost," Lucas said. "The next cost is much less because it requires mostly stock footage, voice-overs and textual material. We don't have to shoot that much more because the drama and the story and the set-up are all done."