Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 1 – The Summer of Indiana Jones
One could find it hard to imagine that with the popularity of its films, why did it take so long for Indiana Jones to return to the action figure aisles?
In the early 1980’s, Kenner held the license for figures to be made for Raiders of the Lost Ark. When Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, the license passed to LJN. Unlike Kenner’s figures, which were in the same scale as those from Star Wars, LJN chose a 6-inch size, and only released 3 figures.
In 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came and went without any figures or toys, but then again, fans of Lucasfilm productions were in the middle of the Dark Ages, with the Star Wars’ Power of the Force line having ended a few years prior. It wasn’t until the announcement in the late 2000’s that Indiana Jones would be returning for a fourth feature, did merchandising swing into full-gear. Kenner was no more by this time, having been absorbed by the Hasbro toy company. As the Indy line began to take shape, the release for action figures and playsets from the films looked to follow this schedule:
Summer 2008 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Raiders of the Lost Ark
Fall 2008 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Winter 2008/2009 –Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Spring 2009 – Raiders of the Lost Ark (additional figures from the film)
Hasbro also expanded their reach into other age-groups, with the static-figured Adventure Heroes for younger children, and the creation of 12-inch, articulated figures with real clothing for collectors.
Indiana Jones and the Toy Shelves of Doom
Naturally, when you have a well-loved film franchise returning to popularity after 2 decades of absence, you’re going to ramp up production of merchandise for the latest installment (if you lived through the hype that was Episode I, you know where I’m coming from).
The latest adventure of Indiana Jones saw the release of 9 individual figures, a couple figure packs, vehicles, and a Temple playset. Though in a move that was rather surprising, Hasbro blitzkrieged the toy aisle with a second line of Indy material: figures, and vehicles from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Thus in May of 2008, both lines collided with a jumble of figures, vehicles, and more merchandise. It was almost like there was a crazy grab for new fans, and old ones.
Though one of the most startling things to be found, was the difference in sculpting and articulation between the lines.
Here’s one example above. The Indy on the left is from the Raiders line, and the one on the right from the Crystal Skull line. While the newer film has a pretty good sculpt of Harrison Ford, the Raiders Indy just looks…generic. Definitely a step-down from the level of sculpting quality we had come to expect from Hasbro who were now able to make spot-on likenesses in their Star Wars figure line.
The Crystal Skull line was also not without problems, as some figures were strangely out of proportion. Just take a look at Mutt Williams below, compared to two of the other figures in the line. Some would say Shia Labeouf can have a big head, but this is ridiculous.
Hasbro also created a mail-away offer tied between both lines. Each figure came with a small top secret crate, that contained both a relic from one of Indy’s past adventures (some fictional), and a small sticker. Collecting 6 stickers and sending $5 dollars for shipping and handling, would make the sender the proud owner of an exclusive crystal skeleton, complete with a gold (painted) throne to sit on. You can see examples of the crates, a few of the items they contained, and the final mail-away ‘prize’ below:
Of course, within days of its release, word was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not turning into the return that many of the fans had hoped for. George Lucas’ attempts to move Indiana Jones from the realm of 1930’s matinee serials to 1950’s B-movies, wasn’t being widely accepted by many. As well, many had no problems with Indy attached to a sub in Raiders, jumping from a plane on a raft in Temple of Doom, or getting his whip-training, facial scar, and fedora in a single afternoon in Last Crusade…Jones surviving a nuclear explosion in a lead-lined fridge was just going too far for today’s audiences!
But, I’ve gone off track.
Needless to say, the shelves were never bare of Crystal Skull figures, or even the Raiders line. Mutt Williams and plenty of background characters continued to gather dust throughout the summer season. Indiana Jones games and vehicles sat on shelves past the summer, and on into 2009.
So, what happened? With so many fans eager for the return of Dr Jones, why wasn’t there a buying frenzy for all things Indy and plastic? Well, I’ve given it over to a couple of things:
1) Tastes in Action Figures – There’s one likely reason why George Lucas’ Star Wars line has been able to weather itself through several generations, and keep collectors coming back for more: its diverse and strange universe of human and alien creatures.
Indiana Jones doesn’t deal in alot of strange-looking aliens (well, with the exception of Crystal Skull’s ‘inter-dimensional beings’). Plus, almost every bad guy Indy has fought is basically a man in a (fine-tailored) suit. Rene Belloq, Lao Che, and even Walter Donovan were sharply-dressed men looking to off Indy. Belloq did show up in the Raiders toyline, but only in his final ceremonial outfit.
As well, the background characters didn’t really make kids go crazy. While adults remembered the characters of the Nazi spy and his monkey, as well as the black-robed swordsman, these figures excited kids as much as seeing Jar Jar Binks on toy shelves again. Given this logic, one can’t imagine there were kids requesting figures from Crystal Skull like Jim Broadbent’s college dean, or John Hurt’s crazy Harold Oxley character.
2) Over-Saturation – Sometimes it would be nice if some stores would show restraint in ordering merchandise. It’s not that many weren’t excited for Indiana Jones to appear, but I never once saw a store peg picked clean. In fact, the only figure that didn’t seem to spend much time on pegs was Irina Spalko. Even though she is the main baddie in Crystal Skull, it seems the odds of short-packing female figures was prevalent (I got lucky and just happened across her at a suburban Walmart one day). As it was, there were more pegwarmers of the generic Russian soldiers, and Colonel Dovchenko.
3) Choices for various vehicles – Whoever decided on vehicles for Raiders of the Lost Ark, they did pretty good with their choices, notably choosing to create the cargo and troop vehicles during the big desert chase where Indy tries to get the Ark back. However, when it came to choosing vehicles for Crystal Skull, the vehicle choices only came down to one: The Jungle Cutter.
Sure, the vehicle has ‘spinning blades,’ but it probably had about 2 minutes of screen-time before Indiana Jones disabled it with a rocket launcher. One wonders why choices such as the amphibious “Duck” vehicle our heroes use to escape, or the large troop transports in the film weren’t considered.
In a sense, it is sad that no vehicles were made after the summer of 2008 lines. I’m sure many were hoping Hasbro would have created the German tank from The Last Crusade.
By the end of the summer, with the figure line showing no signs of disappearing any time soon, prices quietly began to be slashed on Indy merchandise, and orders for the next wave of figures all but dried up. For those hoping to go on The Last Crusade, finding these figures would be like going on a quest yourself.
*Next Time: We look into the short-packed Wave of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Will we find illumination…or something else?*
*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 2 – The Fall of Indiana Jones