Monday, June 14, 2004

Hold Onto Your Potatoes

Am I the only one who doesn't think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the weak link in the Indiana Jones trilogy? The answer is no; Pauline Kael, who didn't like Raiders of the Lost Ark or that third movie that shamelessly rehashed Raiders, adored Temple of Doom, calling it "one of the most sheerly pleasurable physical comedies ever made." I think Kael had it about right.

What Kael liked about Temple of Doom is that it seemed more like a real Spielberg movie than the first movie, or for that matter than the hideously solemn The Color Purple, which Spielberg made right after Temple. In a sense, it's weird to talk about Temple as a Spielberg movie when the story is by George Lucas and most of its faults -- ripped-off story (it's i>Gunga Din), silly dialogue, unquestioning acceptance of the racism and sexism of the old serials he grew up watching. But still, Temple is closer than Raiders to the stuff I like best in Spielberg movies: The sense of wonder and fun, the goofiness, the nastiness, the emphasis on children and childhood. Basically it's the sort of movie Spielberg used to make all the time; the cruelty and violence is no surprise from the guy who did Poltergeist. The fact that Spielberg now disowns Temple doesn't surprise me in view of the fact that he's become so tame, respectable and "grown-up." He should be disowning Color Purple instead.

Temple of Doom, as I once wrote in a usenet post, is basically a kids' movie. I mean that as a compliment. The scary stuff appeals to kids (ironic that it was attacked as being inappropriate for children, since if anything it's inappropriate for adults), as does the presence of a kid who gets to tag along with Indy on his adventures and even kick some ass on his own, the relative lack of emphasis on romance, the story of kids being liberated from the horrors of childhood by a sympathetic father figure. This is stuff that appeals to kids and the kid in us, whereas Raiders is more of a story about adults doing grown-up stuff like religion and war. The scary stuff in Temple mostly plays on childhood fears; whereas the Thuggees in Gunga Din are more or less plausible fanatics avenging their grievances, their equivalents in Temple are quasi-supernatural sickos who are seen as a child sees someone who makes his or her life miserable: big, frightening, incomprehensible. The business with the "black sleep" -- the spell that makes people act just like the bad guys -- plays on the childhood fear that your friends will abandon you and join up with the bullies: whereas Indiana Jones was a Bogart-type adult in the first movie, here he's more of a big kid, and when he falls under the spell, the horror is in seeing our favorite big kid turn into a zombie-like, kid-hating adult.

Raiders is the superior movie, but in some ways Temple of Doom is the more emotionally resonant movie, as long as you approach it in a childlike spirit... and overlook the childlike dialogue.

Best bit in ToD is when the kid is driving the car, and as the chase heats up he yells: "Wow!" and then adds in a hushed, awed voice: "Wow." Say what you will about Spielberg, no one else could bring off a moment like that in quite the same way.

By the way, do you realize that Temple of Doom is as old now as My Fair Lady was in 1984, or as The Ten Commandments was the year I was born. It hardly seems like it because the "blockbuster" genre George Lucas spawned is still going strong, but I guess it's now what the kids (I don't know what's wrong with these kids today) would describe as an "old" movie

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