So much thought went into each item.
If you’ve ever wondered how certain movie props are made you’re not alone. But, each set, designer, film, and production company has their own ways of making the objects you see in films. When it comes to the Indiana Jones franchise (AKA Raiders of the Lost Ark franchise) there are no shortage of really interesting pieces in the films! In particular the props from the first film hold a lot of visual and sentimental value for a lot of people. TV host, designer, and inventor, Adam Savage is probably best know for his long-time role on Mythbusters. But, before that show he worked on film sets making fantasy items come to life. Since then his other projects have included making replicas of objects from famous films, including from the Indiana Jones movies.
In a recent episode of his Tested YouTube series Savage visited Propstore, an auction house for movie props. Among the objects up for grabs at the time of filming were some iconic pieces from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the first in a long line of Indiana Jones movies. One of the most recognizable pieces is the Grail Diary, a beaten-up, leather bound journal of clues, drawings, and insights related to finding the Holy Grail.
According to both Savage and Propstore’s Brandon Alinger this book was not singular, but was a series of different books. The size, color, and hand-done scribbles in each book are consistent across the films, but even within the first film they didn’t only have one book and the various books were not identical.
Close-up shots of the book were all filmed using one book, but a less detailed version was used as a “walk around” edition that the actors handled. This version has lost most of its inserts, little clues and mementos (like bus and zeppelin tickets) on scraps of paper tucked into the pages of the book. It makes sense that these smaller pieces of paper were so easily lost over the course of 40+ years.
What’s interesting to note is that the pages of the book repeat in a sequence, something the movie audience never has to deal with since a different version is shown in close-ups. There are also repeated passages, but done in different fonts so that it appears at first glance like a new subject. Shortcuts like these saved time on the production. In this example the pages were hand sewn so perhaps the designers balanced this time consuming step with a few shortcuts here and there. The cover is made from brown leather, but the first ideas for the journal were to have a black cover. In the end it was decided that the black version looked too much like a bible.
Likewise the Staff of Ra headpiece is another iconic piece from the film. The version at Propstore is an intricate, detailed, gleaming decoration adorned with a faceted rhinestone in the center. However, some versions of this prop were less so. Apparently this version was decided on only after the first one had been made and found wanting. This particular piece was manufactured as a cast gift, a present for some of the people who worked on the film. This very special piece also has some hidden figures in the design that you’d never see just from watching the film.
Have a look at how these fascinating props were made in the video below, including the spiral-engraved Sankara stone and the gold-lined ceramic Holy Grail, too.