Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Alternate Take On "Temple of Doom"

Kevin’s recent post regarding Temple of Doom inspired me to watch it again, for it is a film that I have been known to hate on when discussing the Indiana Jones films. My first memories of the film were negative and somewhat scary as I mainly remember hearing kids at school talk about the famous scene where the evil antagonist rips some poor sap’s heart from his chest with his bare hand. I was what one might call a sensitive movie watcher as a child and I hated the sight of blood and gore and found horror movies absolutely terrifying. Needless to say, the description of this scene was enough to keep me away for years. Finally, it aired on network television and I knew they edited those movies so I was fairly comfortable watching it as they edited that part to be less gruesome. At the end, I didn’t get why my friends seemed to like it so much. It just didn’t seem that good to me.

That feeling never really left me, even when I watched it again a number of years ago when my sister bought me the trilogy DVD pack. It just didn’t hold up as much as the other two did. I do remember getting into a friendly argument with Kevin and his buddy Lee about it at Kevin’s bachelor party in New York City and as soon as I mentioned that I thought it sucked, they jumped all over me. Clearly I had hit a nerve. I also felt bad as they seemed to be much more learned in the film than I did. So while they were dissecting its greatness, I was left with the intense, yet poorly defended lone sentiment that it ‘sucked’. I pretty much never thought of it again until reading Kevin’s blog defending it and it caused me to think more about why I disliked it so. In the end, I came up with two major reasons: a plotline surrounded by biblical references and archives, and Nazis.

I realized that my favorite scenes in these movies have to be in the first and third films when the plotlines are laid out. In Raiders some government agents visit Indy at his University and request that he find the Ark of the Covenant. In this scene, the myths and lore of the Ark are explored and explained and the look on Indy’s face at the realization of what such a find could mean is exciting, fascinating, and curiously eerie. It draws you in the movie right away and is a phenomenal plotline. In Crusade a similar approach is taken. (And I readily admit, the third film borrows heavily from the first, but for me it deviates enough for it to still be its own film, as opposed to many sequels that follow the exact plotline of the predecessor. I don’t know why but the films that stand out the most when this idea comes to mind are the first two Home Alone movies.) In this film the plot is laid out in a similar fashion as the story of the Holy Grail unfolds and it is determined that there are enough clues available to lead our hero to its location. Again, one feels excited, fascinated, and a little eerie with this scene, but it’s what I find so amazing about these films in the first place.

Temple’s plotline is much less interesting to me. Indy’s journey is more of an accident and the item he sets out to find happens to be a magic rock. If I understood Hinduism more, maybe I’d appreciate this film more, but I don’t. In fact, I’m not even sure if the story they tell in regards to this stone is actually taken from Hinduism or if it’s just loosely based on it. Either way, it is unfamiliar to me and thus, less interesting than the search for the Ark and the Holy Grail. This may highlight my ignorance of world religions, but what can I say? It’s just how I feel.
The bad guys are the other main difference I have noticed and I’ll take a good Nazi fight over a fight with the Thuggee cult who sacrifices humans to Kali. Again, this feeling mainly stems from my familiarity with the Nazis and lack of understanding of the Thuggee cult. Incidentally, it wasn’t until Kevin’s post caused me to look into it more that I realized that Kali, the Thuggee cult, are actually real aspects of Hinduism and not just made up by George Lucas. So that in and of itself makes me appreciate Temple more. However, I’d much rather see the Nazis as the bad guys in these films than anyone else.

One final thing worth noting is the role of the woman in each film. I like Miriam and Elsa from the first and third movies more than I do Willie in Temple. For those other two women are strong characters. They delve right into Indy’s adventures and do not appear to be afraid of anything. Willie is a showgirl in the wrong place at the wrong time and throughout the film she is complaining and screaming which gets slightly annoying. Simply put, she just doesn’t fit in like the other two women do.

Having said all this, I feel I have to defend Crusade for it is my favorite of the three. It’s the most entertaining, has the coolest plot, includes twists and deception more than the other two films, and includes a deeper look at Indy’s character as his father is brought into the scene. Normally, I could see how many would not like this exploration of our hero’s childhood and relationship with his father, but that role is played and handled so well by Sean Connery that they somehow make it work really well.

One thing I will say that Temple has above the other two is the inclusion of the best side kick in all of the films. Short Round is great. It provided a different feel to the films that was never really matched and it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at him when he’s driving the cab in the beginning, turns around to Indy and Willie and says: “Hey, Dr. Jones! No time for love!” Actually, just about everything he says makes me laugh.

Watching Temple the other night, I found myself liking it more than I ever remember. Maybe it’s because I started realizing why I liked the others better and then I could let go and try to appreciate it on it’s own for what it was. It’s not a bad movie. In fact, I can now say that I think it’s pretty good. It’s just that when I think of the Indiana Jones series, my heart will always drift towards the first and third films. But no matter which of the three films any Indy fan likes the most or likes the least, I think we can all agree that all three of them are light years beyond Crystal Skull. Now that was a bad movie.


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