Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In Defense of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"

I was extremely disappointed by the latest Indiana Jones movie. While I wouldn't go so far as to call it "terrible," I did leave the theater feeling let down and kind of angry, though a large part of that was due to the fact that the stuff I disliked the most was at the end of the film.

However, a number of people I know thought it was pretty good and a few others loved it. But I hope that they can understand my side of things. While most fans of the movie would argue that people are only critiquing it so heavily because it's an Indiana Jones film, I take the opposite view. People are only letting stuff go because it's an Indiana Jones film.

If you were watching a film about entirely new characters and all of that stuff started happening, you'd be complaining as much as I was. While I didn't quiz each person that enjoyed the film about why, the general consensus seems to be that they love Indiana Jones so much that they didn't care what happened; they were just happy to see him again.

I can understand that. I loved seeing him again too. But I wanted him to be the same (more or less) as the great character I remembered from the past films. The amazing Raiders of the Lost Ark. The highly entertaining Last Crusade. And the mediocre but still Indiana Jones Temple of Doom.

At least...that's how I used to feel. But after seeing Temple of Doom again for the first time in many years, I owe it an apology.

Sure, it's different from the other films. But it's jam-packed with action. It never slows down, which can make even a bad film highly entertaining. Temple of Doom, however, is not a bad film.

One of the biggest critiques (and one that I associated with it) is that it's much darker than the other films. The scene that stands out in everyone's mind is the beating heart being pulled from the man's chest. In reality, this scene isn't as gruesome as I remembered from my childhood. There's no blood, as the hand passes through the chest by way of magic (or mysticism).

Then the man being sacrificed is lowered into the lava where he burns alive. Sure, it's dark. But no darker than people's faces melting (Raiders) or a man rapidly aging to the point of decay (Crusade).

While there's straight gore (yes, extremely light gore compared to, say, a horror film, but still technically gore), Temple has other dark elements as well, such as Indy being brainwashed through drinking the blood and the voodoo doll that's used to injure him.

Really though, this isn't any darker than the greed and sinister plans of the Nazis in the other films. It's just a different type of darkness. And while those other films don't dwell as much on the sinister elements, the fast-paced, non-stop action of Temple more than makes up for the creepier moments.

Truth be told, I think a lot of the criticism comes down to the fact that its "magic" isn't based on Biblical elements like the other two films. While I enjoyed that aspect of them, there's nothing wrong with branching out and including mysticism. It sure as hell beats aliens.

The other major point of contention is the sidekicks. A lot of people find them annoying. Short Round either works for you or he doesn't. It's that simple. But when you think about it, he's really just a feistier, scrappier (Come to think of it, Short Round is a lot like Scrappy-Doo, though much less annoying.) version of Indy's dad, mostly just along for the ride but contributing to the cause every now and then. (I'd agree that Indy's dad is decidedly NOT annoying, but you'd have to concede that his interactions with Indy become a lot sappier than Short Round's.)

And then there's Willie Scott. Pretty much everyone finds her annoying. Good. That's the point. She's an anti-Marion. She contributes as little to the action as a character can without being dead. While I like Marion much more as a character, it would have been worse to create another tough girl character that paled in comparison to her. Better to make the female lead a complete 180.

While I still say it's my third favorite Indiana Jones film, I'll never again brush it aside when discussing the Indiana Jones legacy. (That "luxury" is now reserved for Crystal Skull.)

It deserves tons of credit for the mining car chase sequence alone. Seriously, that still holds up 24 years later. And can somebody tell me why this isn't a theme park ride somewhere? (I know there's an Indiana Jones ride, but I found it lackluster.) There could be another car chasing you with animatronic characters shooting at you. And there could be a point where you go over a hill and they make it look like the track disappears, so that you're jumping (The car could shake.). And finally, they could change things so that the water filling the tunnel happens while you're still in the car, and you barely outrun it, water misting down on you.

That would be awesome.


steve jones said...

I've always thought Temple of Doom gets a bad rap for exactly the reasons you outlined. People who complain about Short Round and Willie making the movie unwatchable are the same ones who get all bent out of shape about Jar Jar Binks. Hey, here's an idea: come down from your collective high horse, since we're talking about action movies targeted for teenagers here, and accept that sometimes annoying characters make it in there. Heck, you could even argue that it's more fun to have a couple characters who you are actually rooting against - Last Crusade doesn't exactly have the same dynamic.

I think criticizing Temple of Doom because it's different from Raiders and Last Crusade is pretty lazy. If you want the same thing every time you go to the movies, just watch your DVD collection over and over. It's actually either my favorite or second favorite of the Indy trilogy (nothing I've heard about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull convinces me that it should ascend to the same status) and I think it's nothing but entertaining from start to finish. And yes, the mine car chase is probably the best action sequence in any of the trilogy.

And really, if you can't get excited about an action climax featuring a fight on a delicate rope bridge over a 150-foot drop with alligators at the bottom, why go to the movies at all?

Jonathan K said...

I'm going to have to disagree about Jar Jar Binks. He is definitely too annoying, especially in the first film, and really doesn't contribute much, unlike Short Round and Willie.

But otherwise, yes, I agree.