Saturday, July 23, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) #review

A skirmish in Shanghai puts archaeologist Indiana Jones, his partner Short Round and singer Willie Scott crossing paths with an Indian village desperate to reclaim a rock stolen by a secret cult beneath the catacombs of an ancient palace.

I was six when my sister dragged me off to the cinema to watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (directed by Steven Spielberg). I’m sorry to report that I spent nearly ¾ of the film with my back to the screen. I was petrified, and after that I had nightmares about evil priests in horned headdresses who tried to haul my heart out of my ribcage with their bare hands.

Yet over the years this has been one of those films that I have rewatched several times (I’ve lost count), and as I’ve grown older, I’ve enjoyed Temple of Doom, because the Indiana Jones films are somewhat silly yet incredible fun. And, of course, because Harrison Ford makes my heart beat a little faster now that I’m a big person.

Okay, I lie, I kinda never really grew up. I’m only pretending to be a big person.

But I digress.

The Indiana Jones films hark from that glorious, pulpy era of Hollywood action heroes. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and combine hair-raising stunts with equal doses of humour. And, of course, SFX that have dated horribly. But that’s okay, because I often feel that contemporary cinema relies too heavily on the CGI to make up for poor writing and cinematography.

Viewed through a contemporary, regressive left lens, the Indiana Jones films can probably be regarded as problematic with the portrayals of gender and race, but they inhabit such a fond, nostalgic place in my childhood, when such concerns weren’t even discussed, that I’m not going to waste my energy. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of SJWs who’re going to froth and have already done so at great length.

Indiana Jones is one of my favourite characters. He’s got the brawn where it counts, but he’s a professor – the ultimate in geeks – and a lady’s man. And he can crack a one-liner like he cracks his trademark whip. We meet him in Shanghai, where a deal goes wrong, and he and the singer Willie Scott and intrepid pint-sized sidekick Short Round end up in India. From there they get dragged into a quest to retrieve a village’s sacred stones where they run into an evil Kali cult complete with human sacrifice. In defeating an evil priest and retrieving the sacred stones, they also free the village’s children, and everyone goes merrily on their way. Oh, and let's not forget the grossest dinner party ever, that involves monkey brain soup with floating eyeballs, and a main dish that features baby snakes wriggling out of a steaming cooked momma snake. That's after the bugs for starters – this elicited a huge eewwwwwww from six-year-old Nerine.

This film is all about the action and adventure. The bad guys are really bad, greedy and ambitious. Indy is no less ambitious, but his motives are more altruistic – he seeks treasure for his university (how noble) so that they can be preserved for posterity.

Though this story is supposed to be a prequel to the events that transpire in the preceding Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, I found that it lacked some of the dynamics that made Raiders a much stronger film. I suspect it was because Willie and Short Round as characters, weren’t developed fully. Willie seems to exist to solely act as the Damsel and comic relief while Short Round adds to the general hilarity (which didn't really blow my hair back as an adult, if I'm quite honest). When I was six, I found the dynamics highly entertaining (what 6yo won’t laugh at slapstick?) but now I even found myself slightly annoyed. Write Willie and Short Stuff out, and it wouldn’t harm the plot in the least bit. If the writers had bothered to up the stakes with these two with a bit more development, it would have been another thing entirely and may have elevated the film somewhat.

But apart from this, the Temple of Doom is what it is – a silly, fun film to watch. The villains are Disney-esque in their badness, and yes, if you’re offended by everything under the sun, you’ll most likely make a long list of things that are problematic about the Temple of Doom. Maybe I’m viewing Indy through the rosy lenses of nostalgia, but I always did dream of one day being an explorer, and seeking lost mysteries, and Indy remains a character who inspires me to write the things I do.

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