Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Body is a Temple... OF DOOM!!!

This post is in coordination with the Indiana Jones Blog-a-thon at Cerebral Mastication.

The Indiana Jones films are generally held among the top three greatest film franchises in history. While the movies never received the critical acclaim and Academy Awards like the Godfather films or the widespread cult following and expanded universe of the Star Wars series, Indiana Jones remains one of America’s favorite heroes. Growing up, I was enamored of Harrison Ford and the dual roles of Han Solo/Indiana Jones. And my favorite film of the three remains to this day, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Whenever I have shared my secret in the past, people ask me if I’m nuts. I reply, “I no nuts, I crazy!” Crazy for Temple of Doom, that is.

I do not understand the universal dislike for this entry in the series. It seems that people who don’t like Temple of Doom are the same people who don’t like Last Crusade, so why would they bother sticking around for a fourth film when they have been let down over sixty percent of the time? Are they Star Trek fans? Perhaps my disgruntled contemporaries are looking at the films with a far too critical eye. Personally, I choose to think of the movies of my youth with fonder memories, remembering how they impacted me then and how they influence me now. In fact, as I write this, I purposefully failed to watch the movie again, relying solely on my memory.

I’m sure now, as I think back, that my main attraction to Temple of Doom was the character of Short Round. Johnathon Ke Quan was living out my dream on screen as a tiny brown kid, running around with Indy and providing the comic relief. His presence draws kids in by being the only kid in a movie aimed at kids, yet he is now widely held in contempt as some kind if predecessor to Jar Jar Binks. One of the most remarkable things about the movie is that it IS a kid’s movie, yet it never feels like one. For a movie that people call ‘too dark’, it has more comedy in it, I think, than Raiders. Speaking of dialogue, isn’t Temple of Doom the most quotable of the Indy films? I contend that while Last Crusade is the basis for most Sean Connery impressions (including mine) and Raiders has the better script, the second movie aims for a serious tone, but is unintentionally hilarious and instead of enjoying it, I think most would prefer to criticize it. The lighter moments strive to ease the tension of the overall theme of child slavery and ritual sacrifice. Who can take any of the action and danger seriously when there’s a bunch of kids running around the place? Although the children are forced into hard labor against their will, they are never really shown being brutalized. For a mine, the place is run like boys only summer camp. It is precisely because children are the motivating element, yet removed from any real sense of harm that may rebuff adults, but attracts children. As kids, my brother and I used to love to throw the tag ‘of DOOM!’ at the end of things. Cafeteria…of DOOM! Three ring binder… of DOOM! Monthly assembly… of DOOM! Admittedly, we held few things in as much contempt as school, but we longed for fortune and glory, had no time for love and whenever we got in the car with my mother, we would tell her, “Hang on lady, we going for a ride.”

I remember watching Temple of Doom at a family gathering once when I must have been around eight. It might have been the first time I saw the film because when the servants pulled the lids of the monkey skulls and the entire table began to dig into the brains, I cracked like a whip to the bathroom and threw up dinner. After brushing my teeth, I returned, undaunted, to finish watching the movie. It was the first time a movie ever made me vomit, but certainly not the last, thank you very much Patch Adams.

Playing devil’s advocate, I understand that while I may romanticize Temple of Doom, I feel that far too many people over-romanticize Raiders. It was intended as a B movie and it generally does not try to swing for the fences. I think of it now as one of those movies that are great, but it is really just a series of scenes. Idol switching, rolling boulder, natives, plane, map, Karen Allen, baskets, pistol, bad dates, Nazis, trucks, staff room, snakes, melting face and a warehouse, there’s your movie. Sure, there’s history, pathos, action, but does Indy get possessed by the Nazis? You get a good face melting, but its Disney Channel compared to a man getting his heart ripped from his chest! The violence in this film is almost sprung from necessity as the Thugee cult is more of a religious zealotry than the fascist government of the National Socialists. Nazis hurt people for wealth and gain, while Thugees hurt people on the path to spiritual fulfillment. Complaints that the movie is too dark baffle me. Does anybody remember Empire Strikes Back? The sequel to the wildly successful Harrison Ford movie that explores real human emotions and it regarded as the best film in that series? It ends horribly with the Rebels on the run, Luke’s faith in the world shattered and no Han Solo for like the last twenty minutes! Godfather Part II was intentionally darker in nature to offset the notion that the first film glamorized the Mafia lifestyle. That movie ended up being Best Picture of the year. So, why then does Temple of Doom have such a negative stigma of being a dark movie? Perhaps, during the time of its release, only a year after Return of the Jedi, people were truly into the Eighties and growing weary of the depressing, dreary movies that had dominated the Seventies and early Eighties. They were ready for their Beverly Hills Cop, their Ghostbusters and such lighter fare that had better jokes and lighter, campy action. They would have enjoyed Raiders 2, but the filmmakers went another way, only to try to tweak the formula further in 1989.

The movies are amazingly interconnected of more levels than merely a timeline. The fact that characters rarely repeat is as significant as those who do. Karen Allen was the favorite Indy paramour and a no-brainer to return for the fourth film. However, her character in the first movie seems like an extension of Princess Leia and slightly out of place. The scenes between her and Indy are good, but they do not have the pop of the classic 1940’s film couples they were inspired by, like Bogart and Bacall. Kate Capshaw’s Willie character falls into the more established damsel in distress role with her sexual advances towards Indy, her singing career and her inability to ever save herself from peril. Their relationship has much more conflict to me, a very Moonlighting, love-hate, ‘let’s yell and slam doors when we really want to scream and tear each other apart’ dynamic. For me, the real love story in the movie is not even between Indy and Willie, but between Indy and Short Round. Foreshadowing the direction that the third movie would take, the father-son angle is obvious between the two, with Short Round idolizing Indy and Indy reluctant to embrace the father figure role, preferring Short Round as a partner and treating him like an equal. It pays off in Last Crusade when we learn of the relationship between Indy and his father, Henry and discover his father issues and most certainly will have repercussions in Crystal Skull with the reveal of his own son.

Before I seal this cavern up again, one question still perplexes me. Why does Temple of Doom play so well with animation? On my favorite cartoon Family Guy, there have been many references to Raiders, but in the Courtship of Stewie’s Father episode they end with a Temple of Doom bit that has everything from Peter and Stewie as Indy and Shirt Round and Michael Eisner falling to his DOOM! as alligator food. And let us not forget, let us not forget dude, the short lived Clerks cartoon made half of an episode a Temple of Doom homage with Randal finding himself enslaved in a underground rock quarry and held captive until Dante manages to free him and the other children.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will always hold a special place in my heart, alongside other sentimental classics from my formative childhood years, such as The Right Stuff, Beetlejuice and Full Metal Jacket. I can appreciate other people’s opinions and tastes. I only wish they could do the same and understand some people like movies with lava pits, elephants and car chases that occur on rails. Don’t trash a movie because it’s not as good as you remember or expected it to be. Especially when it’s something you used to cherish and hold dear. If everybody thought like that, there would still be fist fights breaking out over the new Star Wars movies. Ok, maybe just serious showing matches, but can we not let go of our anger, realize there are more movies for us to watch, worse movies for us to get upset about and that the lightsaber fights in I, II and III are WAY cooler? I implore you, dear readers. For as a wise Chinaman once said, “You listen to me, you live longer!”

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is available on DVD from Paramount. Don't be a schmuck, wait until Christmas and buy all four on Blu-Ray.


Ali Arikan said...

This is a great review to kick off the whole thing. Thanks for participating in the blog-a-thon, Mike.

Anonymous said...

My body is a temple of jello ...

great post, welcome to the Lamb!

Michael J. Mendez said...

Thanks for the comments gents and thank for the LAMB love!

I love the Indy blog-a-thon idea. It could be my greatest adventure!

Daniel G. said...

Wow, this is a fantastic post. Welcome to LAMB - I'll definitely be back here.

Michael J. Mendez said...

Thanks for the comment Daniel. I read your blog too and love your focus on independent and foreign films. Although I was in a discussion the other day with a friend who said they should be called 'non-English language films'.

Andrew Wyatt said...

Nice appreciation. I, too, am a ToD lover, and I defend it vigorously against its haters. For me, the slow, swooping pan of Indy as he emerges from the shadows to rescue the children in ToD is *the* iconic image of Indy, more prominent in my mind than anything in RotLA or LC.

Reema said...

The film is totally offensive to Indians especially dinner scene and this I m saying without comparing any other Indy movie. I think Spielberg and Lucas should apologize to Indians for showing such crap. This movie sucks!