November 2006

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I have had it with these motherf***ing snakes on this motherf***ing train! Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr., Age 13

Young Indy is a little old to be developing a phobia, and it’s a little precious to suggest that his adult character traits were formed in an eight-minute span, but there it is. While trying to escape from the bad guys in Utah, Indy jumps on a circus train and runs into trouble in the reptile car when the catwalk gives way. First he somersaults into a tank containing an animatronic anaconda — say that ten times — then falls backwards into a crate filled with small snakes. Those snakes — like the one we saw earlier when Indy tells his scouting friend “It’s only a snake” — are Red-sided Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis).

Ahem. I know something about Red-sided Garter Snakes: not only have I been to the dens, I’ve also bred and raised that particular subspecies. Spielberg and company used thousands of them, imported from Manitoba, which at that time still allowed commercial collecting. (A year or two later, after an average of 52,000 snakes per year were harvested from the province, collecting was stopped over concerns that the population was being fished out.)

Interestingly, the snake that crawls from Indy’s wrist onto one of the bad guys a minute or two later isn’t a red-sided garter; my partner Jennifer, who tried to ascertain the sex of the snakes while watching this movie, immediately identified it as a Wandering Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans vagrans). We’ve got one of those too, and even had a litter a few years back.

So, garter snakes made Indiana Jones an ophidiophobe. What a pussy.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Only one brief scene with a live snake in the second Indiana Jones movie (ignoring the dinner scene’s “Snake Surprise,” which was filled, like a hovercraft, with eels). About 33 minutes in, Willie Scott tosses away a snake dangling over her shoulder, thinking it’s an elephant’s trunk, while Indy recoils in fear. The appropriate snake for this purpose would be an Indian Python (Python molurus molurus) or light-phase Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus), and by God that’s just what they used. (Even so, they had to fly a pair of snakes into Sri Lanka, where the film was being shot; seats were reserved for Mr. and Mrs. Longfellow.) Another snake scene was planned, but cancelled before it was shot, to the considerable relief of the ophidiophobic Kate Capshaw.

Now, if this blog was called Crocs on Film, I might point out that using American Alligators in the suspension bridge scene instead of an indigenously Indian crocodilian species kind of ruins the verisimilitude, but it isn’t, so I won’t.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Our favourite ophidiophobe encounters snakes twice in the first of the three Indiana Jones movies. First, in South America, he finds himself in Jock’s plane, sharing a seat with Jock’s pet snake. You’d think that, being in South America, they’d use something South American, like a Boa Constrictor, which isn’t exactly hard to find. But no: they used a Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus) instead.

Then, of course, the scene: the Well of the Souls, full of snakes. As Spielberg recounts on the bonus disc, they started with a few thousand harmless snakes, then had to add more. Trouble is, most of what they added were glass snakes — which is to say, Glass Lizards (Ophiosaurus), legless lizards that are definitely lizards, with eyelids, ears, lizard scales and breakable tails (hence the name). I spotted an awful lot of them in the scene’s wide-angle shots; as for the smaller nonvenomous snakes, I couldn’t make them out, though I think I spotted at least one garter snake (my favourite snakes, so of course I would).

There were pythons, which were easier to spot: the striking snakes were small Reticulated Pythons (Python reticulatus) from southeast Asia, not the sort of thing you’d find in Egypt; there were some larger-bodied pythons, but I couldn’t tell whether they were African sebae or Asian molurus — it doesn’t matter, since neither are found in Egypt. And look: here are the Boa Constrictors they could have used at the start of the movie!

The cobra scene was well done: actors behind clear plastic for safety, of course. But the cobra was a Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia), rather than an Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje). Egyptian Cobras are psycho; Monocled Cobras are more common in captivity and have more distinctive markings.

But no asps (very dangerous), so far as I could tell.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Dr. Montgomery Montgomery’s reptile room features a menagerie of snakes and other reptiles: some computer-generated, like the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and some real. All the real snakes seem to be albinos, like the albino Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus) wrapped around Billy Connolly’s neck and the amelanistic Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) I think I briefly saw in one shot. Then there’s Petunia, who is completely harmless and so, not milkable, but is almost certainly either a Queretaro Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis ruthveni) or one of several possible subspecies of Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum); my best guess is a nelsoni — again, an albino in either case. At least there were no egregious instances of snake blinking as occurred in the original book — or in the Harry Potter movie.

P.S. Little udders?!

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