Thursday, November 8, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Here's a flashback for you. Once upon a time in East Cobb there was a store called Zany Brainy, which was basically an educational toy super-store. And once upon a time, the first movie I remember purchasing for myself (as opposed to asking someone to buy it for me) was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Which I bought on VHS. Yes, it was that long ago.

This was when I was in middle school probably, since Zany Brainy folded in 2001 and this was well before it closed. I remember watching it several times, but it's been many, many years since I saw it. And so when Myopia: Defend Your Childhood did its poll and Indiana Jones won for the November series month, I was ready to review and enjoy. Here's the podcast.

And now for the review...

The Plot

Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) begins this adventure in Shanghai in 1935, cutting a deal with Chinese gangster Lao Che (Roy Chiao) for a diamond. Lao tries to backstab him as one might expect, and he flees Shanghai with singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and his Chinese orphan helper Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan)...aboard a plane owned by Lao Che.

Lao Che's men abandon the plane in the Himalayas--still in the air--forcing our heroes to land it themselves (for a certain value of "land") in India, where they find themselves facing off against a murderous cult. Who will lose their beating hearts or their everlasting souls to the dreaded Kali-Ma? Only one way to find out...

The Good

*Once we get beyond the annoyingly-long showgirl number, the opening sequence is quite a lot of fun. And it stays fun for around twenty minutes. Gunfights, car chases, a plane crash. Never boring. The movie in general is very fast-paced and quite a lot of fun.

*The acting is generally good. Kate Capshaw is good as Willie, while Amish Puri does scary-intense well as the sinister Mola Ram.

*The depiction of the British Raj's political system is accurate. Around 1/3 of British India was ruled by Indian princes who were once Britain's allies but were eventually reduced to vassalage. Nominally independent royal courts subject to British inspection is something you'd see. You'd also see British-educated Indian officials like the young raja's prime minister.

*However annoying Willie is, seeing Indiana troll her is always good for a laugh. The extended "five minutes" scene stands out as particularly funny.

*There are some very impressive set-pieces, like the hidden temple of Kali and the gigantic idol therein and the mines.

*Although this isn't strictly part of the movie, it did inspire one of my favorite sequences of Family Guy, in which Stewie is enslaved in It's a Small World.

The Bad

*I really didn't like the opening several minutes. We don't see Indiana Jones movies for the showgirl sequences, and we had to suffer through a three-minute-long dance number whose whole purpose is to introduce Willie and the situation with Lao Che. At the very least they could have axed the second dance number and kept the first, or showed Indiana coming into the club when the music starts and watching it (and Willie).

*Willie is incredibly high-maintenance and annoying. Raiders of the Lost Ark love interest Marion was pretty cool and Elsa from The Last Crusade has some complexity, but Willie just got on my nerves. As Indiana explains to Short Round, the problem with her is the noise, and she makes quite a lot of it. Fortunately the events of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull showed that Indiana had better taste in the long run.

Nic sent me this Family Guy video that mocks how obnoxious Willie is, although in Kate Capshaw's defense, she only got involved with Spielberg AFTER getting the part.

*I can understand why the government of India got so pissy about the movie that they banned it (they also got pissy about Clone High and got it removed from MTV--shame on India for hyping up how they're the largest democracy while engaging in petty censorship) when we see the villagers cringing before Indiana and friends. This is improved somewhat when it's revealed that the village priest believes they've been sent by the god Shiva to save their children and sacred stone (i.e. they're sacred-by-association), but the optics are very White Savior-y. And then there's the dinner sequence that has to be seen to be believed. :)

*There are a bunch of obvious callbacks to Raiders, like a big minion who gives Indiana a run for his money in hand-to-hand combat and a flight through a tunnel chased by an oncoming natural feature. Could be a little more original.

*Can any of the villains actually hit what they're shooting at? Even though the fact this is a prequel undermines the suspense, if Indiana or any of the other heroic characters get winged or injured but not killed (maybe an arrow in a limb that doesn't damage anything vital but slows them down or causes lots of pain), it might up the suspense a bit. Hell, one reason I liked Valkyrie so much is that even though I knew the coup against Hitler would fail, there's a big chunk of the movie where it looks like it actually worked.

*For someone who is at least nominally a Christian, a character gets rather indignant about some practitioners of Thuggee having "betrayed Shiva."

The Verdict

9.0 out of 10. Quite a lot of fun.

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