Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Film Review: INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984, Steven Spielberg)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 118 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Roy Chiao, Dan Aykroyd, Pat Roach. Music by John Williams. Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe. Sound design by Ben Burtt.
Tag-line: " If adventure has a name... it must be Indiana Jones."
Best one-liner: " I suggest you give me what you owe me... or 'Anything Goes!'" or maybe just "You betrayed Shiva!"

I've got something special for you all today. A review of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (you can read my review of RAIDERS here), a discussion of my favorite minutiae from the film, and a rehash of a debate that was of the utmost importance when I was eleven years old. First, the review:

Remember when skittish featherweights didn't entirely run the film industry? When people knew that kiddies deserved immaculately-crafted works of morbid exuberance that were, in part, designed expressly for them? Today, the 10 year-old looking for some cheap n' scary thrills has to bring some 'adult' type to the movies with them to get into the PG-13 stuff, which is totally killin' my theoretical 10 year-old's buzz. So he sticks around at home, watches his older brother's copy of SAW 6, and gets scarred for life––and not even in a good, artsy way, like if it was THE SHINING. Anyway, my point is that a healthy dose of the macabre is essential to a kid's creative development.

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM is all about matte paintings, miniatures, fearless stuntmen, trick photography- ideas that originated in artists' minds and were executed with their hands.

This is, in fact, a kickass matte painting.

This is a film of impeccable choreography (and I'm speaking beyond the sparkly, Busby Berkeley inspired "Anything Goes" opening) hearkening back to the likes of Buster Keaton, Howard Hawks, or George Stevens: observe the rhythm in the editing, the visual storytelling, the way that one thing leads to another and to another... Look at the beautifully orchestrated urgency in the madcap nightclub riot, where a crucial antidote and a priceless diamond are breathlessly sought in the midst of carefully concocted chaos:

the "nocturnal activities" scene, where silly sexual innuendos give way to sight gags, which give way to life-or-death situations, the John Williams score elegantly taking us from point A to B to C in the grand tradition of old Hollywood:

or the painstakingly devised sacrifice sequence, where Willie travels toward and away from the lava pit over and over again as increasingly preposterous events take place up on the surface.

This is how you spin an adventure yarn– the old-fashioned way. Five stars.

And now, my top ten favorite TEMPLE OF DOOM minutiae:

#1. Silly kid on kid violence.

I love it. You love it. Maybe you won't admit that you love it, but you do. I mean, you can't watch something like this (from REVENGE OF THE NINJA) and not have a dumb grin plastered on your face. Well, the same goes for the long awaited kiddie duel between the (brainwashed) Maharajah and Short Round.

#2. Roy Orbison.

Is that him, hidden amongst Lao Che's henchmen?

#3. These alligators are hungry. Hungry for clothes.

Well, the fact that there are Florida alligators in India is beside the point. You hear the screams of the unlucky henchmen, but I guess they're screaming because the alligators are voraciously devouring their clothes?

#4. Evil Indy.

Harrison Ford doesn't get to do evil very often, and apparently he loves it. After convulsing about like he's trying to kick heroin, Harrison sits up and delivers this utterly macabre smile which curdled the blood and tingled the spines of millions upon millions of easily frightened youngsters.

#5. Bugs, bugs, bugs!

For those of you who have not, in fact, experienced the miracle of cockroach birth in your shower as you're about to step in while you're completely naked and you forgot to wear your sandals––this scene is kinda what it's like.

#6. God bless Ben Burtt.

The whirring, undulating metallic plink-plink-plunk as machine gun fire (directed at Indy) instead hits a giant, rotating, runaway gong/makeshift shield is the stuff that sound designer's dreams are made of.

#7. Blocking the main title.

Since IMDB is always fiercely protective of the title exactly as it appears in the opening credits instead of common or poster usage (i.e., BEETLE JUICE or GHOST BUSTERS or Olivier's THE CHRONICLE HISTORY OF KING HENRY THE FIFT WITH HIS BATTELL FOUGHT AT AGINCOURT IN FRANCE which is really just HENRY V for fuck's sake), I think they should change the listing for this to INDIAIA JONES AND THE TEMPLE DOOM. It would be more accurate. Regardless, it takes balls to block your own title. And it takes even bigger balls to make it look aesthetically pleasing. And besides, I think that everybody watching this already knows the title, so who cares. Anything goes, indeed!

#8. Indy's frustration during the spike room scene.


I mean, you'd be frustrated, too, if your survival were dependent on an insect-encrusted Kate Capshaw, but the way Harrison plays it (even thrusting his fist through the hole in exasperation) is pitch-perfect. This is exactly the sort of scene that Tom Selleck wouldn't have been able to pull off.

#9. This fantastic plummet.

And all done without CGI.

And #10, which became something of a playground argument circa the fifth grade: Indiana Jones vs. The Chief Guard (played by Pat Roach, who played a Giant Sherpa and the Hulking Nazi Mechanic in RAIDERS and a bit part as a Gestapo in LAST CRUSADE, not to mention General Kael in WILLOW, Man-Ape and Toth-Amon in CONAN THE DESTROYER, Hephaestus in CLASH OF THE TITANS, and a bouncer in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE). Anyway, Indy and the Chief Guard are in the midst of some serious brawlin', and they are beating the hell out of one another. They're playin' for keeps. The fisticuffs lead to a conveyor belt, where an enormous stone grinder is smashing rocks and such. After an excruciatingly long descent, they're at the grinder. Indy turns the tables, and next thing you know, the Chief Guard's clothes are stuck in the machine.

The guard looks to Indy in horror, and grabs a rope affixed to a pulley.

Indy grabs the other end, but the force exerted by the apparatus is stronger than Indy, and Indy is hoisted upward to a catwalk as the Guard is dragged to a grisly death.

Now, the argument was thus: I posited that Indy, despite the life-or-death struggle, was overwhelmed with empathy and at the last moment actually tried to save the Guard's life, despite the fact that this conflicted with prior behavioral patterns (for example, during the truck chase in RAIDERS, Indy briefly bonds with the driver as they survive a ludicrous aqueduct crash––they share a 'Holy shit that was a close one!" smile, but Indy immediately thereafter punches him in the face and flings him from the truck). So my friends argued that Indy merely was taking advantage of the Guard's plight just to get a free ride up to the catwalk. Now, Indiana Jones is a dick, to be sure, but I don't think he's that big of a dick, to––in the midst of incredible human suffering––think, 'Wow- I can totally leverage this into a free ride up to this catwalk up there- niiiice!' But, then again, maybe he can. Rewatching it, I still stand by my prior position, but I can certainly see the other side of it as well. You are free to resuscitate this age-old playground dispute in the comments section.

-Sean Gill


Jason said...

Nice review! But I gotta say I don't think he was trying to save the guard. And Roy Orbison- HAHAHAH!

J.D. said...

I hafta say you do make some good arguments on the merits of this often-maligned film of the franchise (that honor now goes to the KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS). My main problems with TEMPLE OF DOOM are this:

Short Round: The Jar Jar Binks of ihs time. Annoying and useless except to nag Indy constantly and provide an offensive cultural stereotype. Sure, he does help out Indy towards the end but still.

Willie Scott: Easily the most trying and annoying character in the entire film. All she seems to do is annoy Indy and scream at various things. That's it! Aigh. I was kinda hoping she wouldn't have survived the fall from the plane early in the film but alas, no. Of course, it is interesting to note that Lucas was going through a messy divorce at the time and seemed to project his frustrations with his significant other on the character of Willie.

Still, once Indy starts freeing the children, the film really gets rolling and never lets up. Plus, I do like the sight gag variation on the showdown with swordsman from RAIDERS.

HK Fanatic said...

I really want/need to revisit this film in the near future. This is actually my most-viewed Indy flick, despite it being my least favorite growing up, simply because it was the only one that my parents owned on VHS growing up (for some strange reason).

Actually, to give you an idea of how warped my parents' conservative Protestant thinking was...for my 7th birthday party, my mom rented "Bad News Bears" for us kids to watch, only to later be mortified by how much language was in the movie. So she turned it off less than 20 minutes in and then popped in Temple of Doom to entertain us kiddies. Yes, because ritualistic sacrifices, shishkabob impalements, and clothes-eating crocs are so much less harmful to a young child's mind than a foul-mouthed junior baseball team.

In a roundabout way, though, I do think that Temple of Doom is probably the most "kid-friendly" Indy movie, despite the screenwriters saying they wanted it to be the "Empire Strikes Back" of the Indiana trilogy. I say this only because it's packed to the gills with stuff that first graders love - like hearts being ripped out, that room full of bugs, and MONKEY BRAINS. The love interest is also a lot easier to follow than Raiders, since Willie doesn't have a past with Indy.

And while I agree with J.D. that Short Round is a bit much to take at times, he does get one of the best lines of the entire series - "No time for love, Dr. Jones" - and Spielberg gives him a lot more to do than "Mutt" in the unfortunate Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Sean Gill said...

Short Round and Willie certainly try one's patience, but I feel as if I've just seen the film so many times that it doesn't matter anymore. In a way, there are things so corny ("Hold on to your potatoes", "I thought archeologists went around looking for their mommies") that they should be indefensible, yet I feel as if I've come to a point where I can bask in subtle appreciation of "Hold on to your potatoes." Maybe I can overlook the flaws because of the immaculate action setpieces, or perhaps repeated viewings of TEMPLE OF DOOM since childhood have simply warped my sense of quality. Now it's like an old, dear friend that can coax a smile no matter what the circumstance. Also, it cannot be denied that 'hearts getting ripped out' trumps 'annoying woman.'


Same here- this was never the Indiana Jones that I liked the most, but, for whatever reason, it was the one I saw the most.

Wow, I had not been informed of THE BAD NEWS BEARS' morality-corrupting powers- I'll have to keep in mind.

And I agree that TOD is the most kid-friendly of the series- I mean, the first one could never really be balls-out monkey-brain, room o' bugs, human sacrifice scary because it had Nazis, and, like it or not, it's going to give the proceedings some weight (i.e., the scene where the Ark is thrumming in the ship's hold and it burns off the swastika on the crate). It has the gross out factor- like the snakes for example- but they had Biblical connotations and aided in Indy's character development. There were some silly setpieces in the original script (a samurai swordfight for a medallion piece that resulted in the gong gag later used in TOD and the mine car chase), things that were just a little tooooo Buster Keaton to properly fit the mood of RAIDERS (though, of course, RAIDERS still has a lot of humor, just not quite to the absurdist extent of, say, 'hold on to your potatoes').

And to you all:
I'm not sure what this CRYSTAL SKULL movie is that you both reference. It sounds vaguely familiar. Perhaps I blocked it from my mind for some reason...

J.D. said...

I think my childhood nostalgia for Indy has clouded my objectivity for CRYSTAL SKULLS. That, and seeing Karen Allen reunited with Ford was pretty damn moving to this long-time fan.

As fer TEMPLE OF DOOM, yeah, I will concede that the heart-ripping scene was pretty bad-ass. Also, the flaming kabob to the chest at the beginning was also very cool. I dig where you're coming from about childhood memories clouding your judgment. I guess I'm so harsh on this film because I love the franchise so much. Ah, I really need to watch this film again. it's been too damn long.

Sean Gill said...


Well, not to touch on CRYSTAL SKULL too much, but I do agree that there was a certain power to the Marion/Indy reunion, just by virtue of the performers themselves and the nostalgic resonance of the earlier films. If only zany, eighth-rate pseudo-Tarzan CGI antics hadn't occurred so quickly thereafter. Throughout the film I sort of teetered on the edge of being 'okay' with the festering Lucas-isms and hideous CGI wankfest which continually swatted the series' legacy in the balls, and it certainly had its moments (I like seeing Indy reverse a blow dart's trajectory as much as the next guy) but ultimately, the (shall we say 'extraterrestrial?') payoff determined quite definitively which side of the fence I would fall upon.

J.D. said...

I certainly agree with your assessment of CRYSTAL SKULLS. Way too much CGI, esp. when Lucas/Spielberg claimed that they were going to keep it as old school as possible. Perhaps they were speaking of the stunts only? If so, holy shit, Harrison Ford is in great shape.

But I think a lot of people got all hysterical about the Indy surviving a nuclear blast via a fridge. Have they've seen TEMPLE OF DOOM's falling from an insane height with only an inflatable raft scene? The Indy films are hardly grounded in realism (well, RAIDERS seems the most grounded if you could say that). But anyways...

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, the refrigerator was probably the least of SKULL's problems!