We do not actually see exactly what checkmate would’ve looked like in Saucer Men from Mars, however Indy and Elaine tenuously reason that the stone cylinder must be returned to a nearby mountaintop. Otherwise “dragon fire” will fall. As the countdown descends into the third act, we get a glimpse of that too, beginning with a flying saucer that crashes the Soviet plane that attempts to take Indy and Elaine to Moscow, and then outmaneuvers two rudimentary U.S. jets, including by melting one of them with a heat ray.
After crash landing in a small town, Indy and Elaine are also pursued by aliens on foot in a sequence that mirrors Close Encounters and Signs. Later on, they’re abducted from a ‘50s drive-in where, while hiding, the two almost-newlyweds are so distracted by making out in the backseat that they’re oblivious to the fact their convertible has been captured by a tractor beam and is flying in the sky! Even with all this ‘90s action movie spectacle, the actual aliens of the film still feel poorly constructed and like a work-in-progress. They melt American planes and during the climax completely obliterate McIntyre’s army in a massive special effects sequence involving explosions and whirling sand tornados.
Yet Indy and Elaine are also defensive of the visitors in what appears to be a theme about trusting foreigners. This feels undercooked in a movie where both the Soviets and extraterrestrials have killed servicemen and at various points try to kill the two leads. The stakes are never defined, and the aliens ultimately become little more than UFO straw men used to facilitate various set pieces, including a mountaintop climax that plays like a more violent (and boring) version of the end of Close Encounters, including when Bollander out of nowhere believes he can harness the alien cylinder to his advantage and shouts, “Bow down rulers of the universe, for I now have the power!” Flying saucers promptly incinerate him.
The screenplay feels decidedly unfinished, with only the ending seemingly ironed out: Indy and Elaine get a second walk down the aisle where Henry, Marion, Willie, and Sallah all look on in approval. In the final beat, their “Just Married” car is driven by an adult Short Round who asks, “Where to, Dr. Jones?” Indy looks up from kissing his bride, “The airport, Shorty, and step on it.”
The Road Not Taken
Upon reading the Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars script, it’s obvious that the film was not ready to be shot—and it never would be. We’ve only heard glimpses of what occurred behind the scenes during the development of the project, but unsurprisingly, reports suggest Spielberg was reluctant to do another alien movie after Close Encounters and E.T. (1982), although in 2005 he tried his hand at a far less tongue-in-cheek alien invasion film when he remade War of the Worlds as a post-9/11 parable. Meanwhile in 2008, Lucas admitted to Entertainment Weekly that Ford rejected the treatment.
“Harrison said, ‘No way am I going to be in a Steven Spielberg movie like that,’” Lucas recalled. “And Steven said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.’”