Tuesday, November 08, 2005

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

I'll admit it: I'm an apologist. When people wanted Dennis Miller off Monday Night Football, I said his humor was misunderstood. When the new BMW 5-series came out, I was one of the few people who said 'it's still a BMW.' I only honk the horn on my car unless it's absolutely necessary. But when people say 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' is terrible and the worst of the series, I say 'WAIT ONE GODDAMN MINUTE!'

Before you repeat the same line to your screen whilst reading this post, another allowance: I view 'Temple of Doom' different than most people. I've been passionate about this movie since I first saw it at the age of 5 and was literally the first real movie I had ever seen. I remember the night vividly: my parents trying to hook up the VCR they had RENTED, the opening Paramount logo, and the gradual realization that not all movies were like Lady and the Tramp or The Song of the South (the latter a grave understatement). So I started out worshipping this movie, but I still believe that it does not deserve all the negativity that is consistently heaped on it.

But before we get to Apologist Frank's defense of one of his favorite adventure movies, let's look at what is working against 'Temple of Doom,' what makes it an easy target for criticism.

It's not 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'
Oh man, it is about as far from 'Raiders' as you can get. 'Raiders' is truly one of the greatest films of its era, with timeless stunts, memorable characters and an engaging and engrossing story. There was no way 'Temple' was going to top it, because the only greater treasure Indy could hunt for would be the Holy Grail (and who would want to make a movie about that?)

He's not saving the world
No, this is the only entry in the trilogy that does not include Nazis, nor does it have any enormous consequences if Indy does not succeed (sure it's talked about, but you never really feel any danger).

Kate Capshaw is in it
This is probably complaint No. 1 among 'Temple' bashers: Kate Capshaw is not funny, Kate Capshaw is annoying, Kate Capshaw cannot act. All three are popular battle cries when denouncing her role in 'Temple.'

Since you asked, I would be so kind as to point you to the above three bullets. It is these very three main complaints about the movie that make it one of my favorites.

Not exactly, but I understand why she's in the movie and who Lucas and Spielberg were thinking about when they wrote her part: Deborah Kerr in King Solomon's Mines. 'Temple' is at its core a tribute to the best moments in 'King Solomon's Mines,' using culture shock and an expedition through fabulous locales as a backdrop to the adventure tale. Willie Scott is Kerr's character in 'Mines,' the high society vixen comedically trying to cope with the outrageous elements around her. The most obvious nod to 'Mines' in fact is the give and take between Willie and Indy, which is nearly identical to the I-hate-you-no-I-love-you antics that Stewart Granger goes through with Kerr. But while Kerr wasn't exactly a dunce in 'Mines,' the popularity of dumb blonde characters in the 80s made it a no-brainer.

And while 'Temple' naturally must be compared (and subsequently knocked down a few pegs) to 'Raiders,' I welcome the drastic change in direction. Let's not forget that The Last Crusade is an obvious attempt to recreate the glory of 'Raiders' by using a similar story (complete with religious themes), thus making 'Temple' the true black sheep of the Indy family. But to me, that's what makes it so special. In the Indiana Jones world, his adventures with the Ark and the Holy Grail would be what he was known for, but his little adventure in India would be a story he would relay with a fellow archaeologist at a bar. Or maybe he wouldn't talk about it at all: he didn't have anything to show for it, and no one else was there besides Short Round a lounge singer from Missouri.

And yes, there are those misguided souls in this world who don't appreciate Short Round, which I will never understand. Sure his lines may be groan-inducing early on (but 'You call him Docta Jones, doll!' always gets a laugh out of me), but by the end, Short Round (or 'Mr. Round') is a perfect complement to Indy's physical comedy, especially in the mine scene when they are both fighting off adversaries (a wonderful shot where their punches are in synch) before Indy yells at him to 'quit playing around with that kid!' Also, Short Round's theme is second only to the main overture, it's a great melody that suits his character perfectly.

The aforementioned mine scene has to go down as one of the all-time best action set pieces of all time. Lucas and Spielberg cram every kind of stunt and effect into the last half hour of the film (including some of the best live-action miniature work ever seen with the mine chase), culminating in the signature scene of the movie.

You know what scene I'm talking about, in fact I've already written about it. But what I didn't mention in that post was the how the terrifying performance from Amrish Puri, who played Mola (or 'the heart-ripper-outter'). Puri, who died last year, was a giant in Indian cinema, known as Bollywood's Al Pacino. It's easy to see how he could have well over 200 roles to his credit when he shouts 'Stones will be found Doctor Jones ... You won't!'

Well it's certainly not better than 'Raiders,' but there's no way you can put 'Last Crusade' above it. 'Temple' does have its problems, but nothing like the at-times plodding pace of 'Last Crusade,' the near absence of any kind of villain (face it, nobody's afraid of Julian Glover) and the sometimes ridiculous lengths it goes for comedy (the Hitler bit is the most aggregious offender).

It's not the best, and it does have one 'I know kung fu'-level quote: At the very end, when Indy returns the sacred rock to the village, its leader says 'Now you see the magic of the rock!' Harrison Ford then does his best cheesy smile and squinted eyes to show some kind of emotion and replies: 'Yes, I understand its power now.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw Temple of Doom when I was, I think, just a tad older than you were. The experience didn't make me want to see it again. I wasn't scared or thrilled, or anything; I just have this memory of the movie being ... unpleasant. On the other hand, I have to agree that the scenes in the mine are top notch ... from what I remember.