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DANA PARSONS / ORANGE COUNTY

Indiana Jones whips fans into a frenzy

May 22, 2008|DANA PARSONS

With the sound of a cracking whip and . . . then another cracking whip and . . . then another cracking whip . . . and yet another cracking whip. . . .

"Doesn't that drive you nuts after a while?" I ask Brandon Kleyla.

"No, you get used to it," he says.

We're standing Wednesday morning on the lawn outside the Edwards Big Newport theater, a mere 12 hours away from the midnight premiere of the new Indiana Jones movie and, well, let's just say the movie has some devoted fans. Kleyla is aware of that, having made a documentary on the fabled Indy series and its fans.

Fans such as Chris Perley, a 37-year-old Newport Beach graphic designer who's cracking that whip near us as if he expects to find himself in a tough spot later that night. If he does, my money is on Perley, whose whip was made by David Morgan, the same guy who made the whips for the real Indiana Jones. I mean, the fictional Indiana Jones.

Your arm moves about a mile an hour in the standard whip-lashing motion, Perley says, but because the arc starts wide and then narrows considerably, the kinetic force ends up being about 750 mph.

I don't argue the point, because his whip has just split a playing card nearly in half from several large paces away. He displays the mutilated card with the same pride as a big-game hunter would a bagged leopard.

Perley and a couple of buddies are setting up quarters outside the theater to snag the premium seats for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the fourth in the series that captivated just about everyone after the first 10 minutes of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1981.

Perley was 10 when his aunt took him to "Raiders." He knew the star on the screen was really Han Solo from "Star Wars," but that changed in a hurry. "As soon as I saw him crack that whip and step out of the shadows, he was no longer Han Solo," Perley says. "Right then, it was, 'Wow, that's Indiana Jones.' "

Kleyla, Perley and his two buddies are all wearing the Indy uniform -- light shirt, dark khaki pants and a fedora like the one that Ford wore so well.

"What are you guys going to do all day?" I ask, noting they have 12 hours to kill.

"Whip fighting," one of them says.

"How many whip fights can you cram into 12 hours?"

"Several."

The temptation is to lump these guys in with trekkies, who sometimes appear otherworldly in their love of the "Star Trek" franchise. Problem is, they don't come off that way. They come off, instead, as pretty funny guys who just happen to love the character and his garb.

"When you get this stuff on, you kind of feel like you're representing the character," says Shane Smith, who lives in La Habra and is one of Perley's pals. "I feel more confident -- probably just because I have a whip on my belt."

His pals say Smith is the slickest with the whip. "He has the least of a life among all of us," says friend Michael Trotochaud of San Diego, "so you see him all the time in his frontyard cracking his whip."

"And in the middle of the night," Perley says.

Smith, a stagehand in real life, isn't denying it. "I would love to be Indiana Jones," he says.

Because? "He's just so cool," Smith says. "He doesn't give up even when he gets the snot kicked out of him. He can get tortured, he gets whipped, possessed, he keeps going, he doesn't give up."

Hey, man, I hear you. These guys first saw Indiana Jones when they were 10 and wanted to be him. I was 30 when I first saw him, and I wanted to be him.

What guy didn't? Indy was a brainiac professor who could sidestep death traps in forbidden caves and take on the Nazis with a whip and a pistol. And look like a million bucks in the process.

"Raiders" predates Smith, who is 19. "I was negative 8 when it came out," he says. "I was 2 months old when the third one came out." As a kid, he saw the "Temple of Doom" -- the second Indy film -- before the others and decided then he wanted to be Indy.

His parents got him the jacket and hat at Disneyland, and Smith began augmenting. "I thought, 'This isn't good enough.' So I would upgrade and upgrade."

The three friends, who were in Kleyla's film, were among about a dozen people milling about outside the theater at midday so they could snag the best of the 1,100 seats in the complex's big theater.

Perley insists it isn't about obsession, although he acknowledges my observation that he's skipping work and carrying a bullwhip.

"It's just an entertaining movie," he says. " 'Raiders' is just a fun, perfect movie. Indy doesn't win in the end and so he's not a superhero that comes out of it saying, 'I beat all the bad guys.' He kind of loses at the end of the movie. He doesn't defeat the Nazis and he doesn't get the prize, so it makes him more human."

Perley is preaching to the choir. Light shirts and brown khakis have been part of my wardrobe for years.

When the newspaper I worked for in the mid-1980s sent me to Peru with some archaeologists looking for a "Lost City of the Incas," the editors played up the Indiana Jones image when promoting my dispatches.

It was my one shot at cool.

Even if they wouldn't let me take a whip or a .45.

--

Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com.

An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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