Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the most surprising sequel I have ever seen in terms of difference with the original. The film has a much darker tone, reportedly because George Luca wanted to capitalize on his success with the darker The Empire Strikes Back. He brought in screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to replace Raiders of the Lost Ark writer Lawrence Kasan. The results are… mixed.

Temple of Doom is a point of nostalgia for me and pretty much any guy close to my age. We loved Raiders of the Lost Ark and were excited for a sequel…any sequel. Temple of Doom delivered with breathtaking action and a lot of classic scenes. But we all knew it fell short of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The perspective offered by the passage of time has helped illuminate the problems, as has the subsequent The Last Crusade and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Those are other reviews I will get to later. Temple of Doom is not a sacred cow like the other two films in the original trilogy. Let us deal with that for now.

The first thing that strikes me is the story is difficult to connect with emotionally. Raiders of the Lost Ark had Nazi villains seeking a Biblical artifact. That is clearly a theme of pure evil and pure good. Temple of Doom involves Indiana searching for some pagan stones ad stumbles across a death cult with supernatural abilities.

I am not terribly prudish about using demonic forces as villains , I do appreciate less ambiguity in their origin. Is this stuff real or voodoo hokum? Why not tell us? Spielberg and Lucas used divine power as the mean to defeat the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark and will do so again in The Last Crusade. Why not pull the trigger here? Stop with the hell allegory and just say this is a Satanic cult Indiana is battling. At least we could relate more to that.

It feels strange that Short Round shows up without explanation as a kid with apparently a longstanding relationship with Indiana. He is thrown in there in order to lead the rebellion of the slave children against their cult captors and never seen or heard from again in any canon or non-canon Indiana Jones material as far as I know. He is an awkward fit because he is just there for a plot point

I bet Short round was a Lucas insistence. Looking back at the Star Wars prequels, I note Lucas has the notion kids fantasize about teaming up with their heroes, so they will want a kid in the movie who does that they can relate to. However, kids are more apt to fantasize about being the hero himself. I do not think characters like Short Round are good additions to movies unless they are more developed and important to the story. Short Round comes up…well, short.

You know you have been jaded by time and circumstance when you rewatch Temple of Doom and realize a movie featuring a 41 year old, single man traveling with a Asian boy would not be made today because it would conjure up images of the child sex trade of Southeast Asia. It probably did then, too, but I was too young in 1984 to know about that sort of sordid thing. Sometimes, I wish I still did not. Studying political science and law while writing for international politics and law journals will teach you some terrible things about this world.

I do not care for Willie as much as I did Marion, either. Kate Capshaw is Steven Spielberg’s wife, so what more is there to say about her casting?

On a more amusing note of how jaded I am in my old age, I laughed watching the mine car chase scene again. As with the droid factory scene in Attack of the Cloes, I realize the sequence is only there to make a theme park ride based on it more popular. The early ’80’s was when cross media promotion really hit it big. Star Wars was just the beginning.

It sounds like I am really trashing Temple of Doom. While it is my least favorite of the original trilogy, it is an iconic film and a big part of my childhood movie experience. It has only diminished over the years because I have gotten more discerning about the flaws in thins of which I used to be uncritical. It is telling that I would enthusiastically sit through Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade again, but cannot imagine the urge to put the Temple of Doom DVD in the player will ever come up again.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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