Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984/ Lucasfilm/ Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Oh yeah, the first Indy movie I’m going to review and it’s one of the most infamous sequels ever made. Let’s get a statement out of the way straight off, this is a flawed movie. It’s the weakest of the trilogy, and yes I know Crystal Skull exists. We’ll talk about that one some day. It doesn’t work like the others, it doesn’t seem to fit with the others, and there are parts that make even a strong man wince. There is also a woman who spends more time screaming than talking, which I’ll get to. However, there is a lot to defend, or at least understand here, so I won’t just smack it around with a leather strap and call it a day. Besides, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the Kill Bill of 1984 and most people don’t even know it. Yes, I will explain that statement. Good movies deserve better than that, and while this might not be a great movie, it is a good one, no matter what those wankers on the internet might say.

Grab your cute sidekick! This movie is gonna be rough.

Okay, so right out the gate you’re giving me that look and justifiably so. If you’re like me, you popped in the movie as soon as you started reading and want to know why I think a film that starts with an old school MGM dance number (in Chinese no less) is worth anything but derision. Did you see my earlier statement about Kill Bill? Okay, now understand that instead of being a fan of 70s exploitation, George Lucas is a fan of all things 1930s Hollywood. He wanted a big musical number in Return of the Jedi with the band in Jaba’s Palace, but technical difficulties prevented what he wanted to do until the Special Edition. So he got a huge, unrealistic, dance number out into Temple. Does it fit? No. Does it work? Not really. However, this was both Lucas and Spielberg’s chance to impersonate Busby Berkeley for 170 seconds. Note that I blame them both here. Spielberg carries as much blame as anyone for what went wrong here as he does in Crystal Skull. However, it’s as much an attempt to recreate the big dance numbers of the 30s (which often had no basis in reality either,) as the fight with the Crazy 88s is an attempt to recreate the battle at the end of any given Lone Wolf and Cub movie. That doesn’t make it a good scene, but you can at least look and say, “Yeah, okay, I see what you were going for.” and that helps a little. There are actually a lot more influences in the Indiana Jones series than just serials. He’s based on a couple of adventure movies from the 50s and 60s, James Bond, Cowboys and yes serials.

How does a man who wears a bowtie get so much tail?

It is nice to see Indy is still kinda dumb. He’s the one who drinks the poison, just like he screwed up the weight of the idol in Raiders. There are nice things in the movie like this, although they’re few and far between. The nice touch everyone remembers being when faced with two swordsmen, Indy reaches into the empty holster and has a moment of panic before using his whip. These nice moments do exist though and prevent the movie from becoming completely valueless. However, there are these other moments. Or rather there’s this huge problem with tone. See, every time the movie gets exciting, or interesting, the movie suddenly tries to be a screwball comedy. Indy drinks the poison, they have the moment with Indy’s friend getting killed, and then suddenly he and Willie are on the floor trying to find the antidote and the diamond while a minor riot happens around them. While the crowd is rushing to try and get out, the band starts and dancing girls run on, just to make more trouble while Indy punches it out with gangsters. It’s screwball stuff that just doesn’t work and spoils the mood. Also, Indy punches a cigarette girl and that’s just not cool.

Nice family.

Let’s talk about some of what does work or at least what seems better. That’s the shorter of the two sections. Indy using a giant gong to hide from a machine gun is fun, and the room of spikes is fun. Some of the interplay between Indy and Willie is kind of good and Ford is probably at his most charming in the scene where he almost seduces Willie. Probably the best single moment is when Indy shows up to save the kids. He’s just never looked that genuinely badass before or since. As dark and angry as the movie is, it helps Indy look like a take-no-shit hero that we all want him to be. In fact, the whole section after that is quite fun. Even a bad Indiana Jones movie has some really good action scenes in it. And while there may be serious flaws, this movie probably does the best job of any of them at reproducing the feel of watching an old Saturday morning serial. It’s far more episodic, more cliff-hangy*, the death traps are far more obvious and contrived. That might not seem like a good thing, but if you want to remake a serial, it is. I mean, do you have idea what the logistics for a descending ceiling with spikes has to be? And hey, the movie has all the great hallmarks of a 30s serial like racism and ignorance about exotic cultures and religions. Wait, what?
*That’s not a real word btw, I checked.

Y halo thar moral panic that results in the PG-13 rating!

Yeah, there is almost nothing about India that’s real in this movie beyond a little backstory. Yeah, the Thuggee cult really existed, and there really are people living in India who speak with that accent, but that’s about it. And the Thugees didn’t rip people’s hearts out and dip them in lava, they strangled travelers and stole their stuff. Sure, there is also the divide between the haves and the have-nots, but even that seems a little extreme in the movie. The Chinese get off a little better, but even there you’ve got the basic yellow peril stereotype in that they’re clever and duplicitous even to the point of having someone say “Why bother?” when trying to work out their scheme and reactions to the situation. I’m not sure that Lucas and Spielberg are trying to be racist, just that they’re reproducing an artifact from a time where racism was the norm. It’s a tricky subject, and it’s best to say that no matter what their intentions might be, it is racist. However, those old serials were often fairly racist, and this movie sort of reflects that. Still makes it a negative though, there’s a reason who don’t make movies like that any more.

He just worked out that this was a bad idea.

So I’ve dragged this out far enough, and I haven’t mentioned the blonde screaming elephant in this particular room. There are two annoying side-kicks in this movie, one of whom is more annoying than the other. So here’s the thing. Syd had never seen Temple before, which is one of the reasons I decided to watch and review it. She didn’t find Short Round annoying, and I always did on previous viewings. He’s a pandering character, and it’s sort of insulting. However, I didn’t find him as annoying this time. Willie however, remains as bad as she was the first time. Her jokes are bad, she’s annoying, you can never see why Indy is interested in her and the screaming… oh the screaming. Is it any wonder that there was never another screaming woman in an Indy movie? Even the actor who played Willie hates the character. There’s only one moment with her screaming that I like, and that’s when she has the “I hate being outside” tantrum, because that feels genuine. That’s a good time, place and reason to start flipping out. Other than that though, no one really likes her… buuuut, again she is part of the pattern of those serials. There were a lot of screamers in those days. There were also a lot of kid side-kicks in those days. If anything, and I know I’ve said it already, Temple hold most strongly to the traditions of the classic serial. I know that will be a shock to lots of people who think they know all about the old serials, even though they never watched one, but it’s true. However, in many ways it shows why we don’t do that anymore. There’s a lot of annoying, stupid, tedious things in those movies. Believe me, I’ve watched a lot of them.

I love my new lamps from Ikea. This one is called NgǖKlǽagĉéü. I have no idea how you pronounce it.

I could talk about the mine ride, but what hasn’t already been said about that? I think what bothers me most is actually a small thing. Indy admits that he understands the power behind the stones at the end, but at the beginning of Raiders he says he doesn’t believe in all that hocus pocus mumbo jumbo. In fact, he never actually sees anything supernatural in Raiders, since he closes his eyes before the ghosts come out of the Ark. It’s sort of a big deal that Indy actually sort of believes in the power of the Ark when he does, and that’s severely undermined by having him believe a year or so before Raiders gets started. I don’t like it, don’t approve, don’t like the aliens being super intelligent pan dimensional beings that go back to the space between spaces or whatever.

All the best characters can be identified by their silhouette. Indy, Vader, Bugs Bunny…

Let’s talk for a moment about what I do approve of. Indy is pretty cool here, that’s good. The fights are interesting and well put together. If the whole underground cult just took place in some made up country, it would be viewed with much more affection I think. I do know people who mark this as their favorite, but those people have a specialized set of standards. This isn’t really a terrible movie, it’s just not as good at the other two in the trilogy. Yeah, there’s a fourth movie, but I honestly think that in 10 years time we’ll be calling that the start of the second trilogy. They’re going to go back to this well, I think it’s inevitable. Go get this one though and give it a go, it’s worth your time. I think there probably is more to say, I’m probably missing a bunch of points, which is why I should keep better notes, but that’s the way life is, this sentence is getting awfully long, maybe I should stop at some point.

Official Score:
55 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

It must be the hat, chicks dig the hat.

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