This is the one-hundred and thirty-third in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and thirty-two. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The rolling boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark was an homage to a Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comic.
The fact that George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg's Indiana Jones was at least partially inspired by Carl Barks' classic Uncle Scrooge comics is fairly evident, as Indiana Jones' globe-trotting searches for lost artifacts are extremely similar to Uncle Scrooge's similar trips (along with his nephew Donald and his other nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie). This fact was made quite clear when George Lucas wrote the introduction to the 1980's collection of Carl Barks' comics, Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times, and spoke directly about the influence (as an aside - it is quite silly that that collection is out of print. Amazon is currently selling the PAPERBACK edition of the collection for a LOW price of $114!! If you want to see this baby back in print, please contact Celestial Arts here).
A oft-repeated story that is quite a deal less evident is that Lucas and Spielberg's famous rolling boulder scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark was an homage to a Carl Barks' comic story.
Reader Jamie Coville (of Coville's Clubhouse fame) asked me about the legend recently. Coville asked:
Here is an urban legend I've yet to see any confirmation of.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark there is the famous rolling ball scene. Apparently either Spielberg or Lucas was inspired by a Barks' Uncle Scrooge story showing the same thing.
The Barks scene in question is from "The Seven Cities of Cibola," from Uncle Scrooge #7, where the Beagle Boys, just like Indiana Jones, removed an idol that is on a pedestal, tripping a lever that sets off a trap that releases a giant boulder down upon them.
This homage is quite often passed off as an undisputed fact. Heck, noted Barks historian, Geoffrey Blum says of the homage - " Every reviewer worth his salt knows of this borrowing," and the homage is cited in Indiana Jones' Internet Movie Database's trivia page.
That said, as you can see, while the scene certainly bears a resemblance to the famous rolling boulder scene in the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is not really a straight reproduction by any measure, so it is surprising that histories of Barks keep referring to it as though it is explicit, never with an actual source from Lucas or Spielberg. It is just "a given." And, as Coville quite rightly points out, it really does not seem to be confirmed anywhere, just a lot of presumptions.
Luckily, I was able to contact Edward Summer, noted writer, filmmaker and journalist, who put together the aforementioned Barks collection, Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times, the one with with the Lucas introduction.
Summer told me that he had been friends with Lucas for some time before Indiana Jones came out, and Lucas was definitely a fan of Barks' work, but as to the specific scene, Summer recounted to me an incident that occurred while he was putting the book together (the comics were all specially prepared for the collection, including being recolored). Summer spoke with Lucas, and at the time, the specific comic that was being prepared for the book was "The Seven Cities of Cibola," and Lucas told Summer plainly that yes, the boulder scene in Raider of the Lost Ark was a conscious homage of "The Seven Cities of Cibola."
I would certainly say that Summer is a reliable source of information, being the editor of the collection and a contemporary of Lucas, so it is quite gratifying to be able to give you fine readers an actual confirmation that yes, the rolling boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark was an homage of a Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comic book.