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Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:

Final Thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:

Colin:

Temple of Doom is a bit like Charles Martin Smith in American Graffiti. It’s clearly less cool, it has some pretty major issues, it compares unfavorably with others around it, but it’s one of the gang so you let it hang around. I imagine Raiders and Last Crusade on their way to the diner to hang out and talk to girls, and Temple of Doom is running behind them, like, “Hey guys wait up!” I guess that in this analogy, by coincidence, Harrison Ford’s character would be Crystal Skull – up to no good, too self-confident and culminating in burning wreckage and disappointment.  

In many ways, I’m grateful for Templebecause it was an outlet for a lot of the stuff that wasn’t good enough to make it into Raiders. They originally thought of the Shanghai club scene, the raft drop, the mine chase, and several other things during development for the first movie, but ended up cutting them all because of time and budgetary concerns. Think of a mine chase during Raiders. Maybe I’m only thinking about it this way because the mine chase was in Temple – there’s a distinct possibility that it was being in Temple that made the mine chase bad, as opposed to the mine chase making Temple bad. But after the fact, I can say that it wouldn’t feel right, and I’m glad there was a second movie to suck up all the things I would have disliked in the first. 

I think the filmmakers were going through some shit during this movie, cause it got dark. Never mind that Lucas AND Spielberg were being paid money hand over fist to live out their dreams and do what most people would murder to do for a living, or that both of them were icons at this point. I think it’s telling that Kasdan jumped ship on this one because it was too dark. In many ways, it’s the darkest film of the four.  

First, let’s cover what wasn’t dark. There is a child sidekick. I’m sorry, but the child sidekick has to be the laziest storytelling technique in the book. You’ve got a character in Jones that people have responded to, but their thinking was probably that if you want to really lock in a key demographic, we need a kid to pal around with him and provide comic relief. What about this story would have suffered without Short Round? Please don’t tell me you were invested when he yells, “INDY! YOU MY BEST FRIEND!” It’s weak writing, it’s sad pandering, and it never feels natural to just add a kid into the mix to change the way we look at the hero. This is also why, sitting in the theater for Iron Man 3 (yeah, I gave it that much of a chance to win me over, I PAID to see it) I was thinking, for shit’s sake, did we need a Short Round for Tony Stark? Nobody wants an action franchise crossed with About a Boy

Then there’s Kate Capshaw. That’s actually all I think I have to say about her. Just let that sink in. 

I know I mentioned this on several occasions, but did you guys notice how badly they failed at making this movie look like it took place in the 1930s? There are reasons for that, the setting most prominent among them. But even when there were opportunities to show off setting and time period (as in, anything not in a jungle or a cave), they failed. The Shanghai club, with its neon lights and powder-white walls, looked a lot more Al Pacino than Paul Muni. Capshaw’s feathery hair would have been more appropriate in a Van Halen video than a period piece. Everyone else was either a weird ethnic stereotype or someone in a tiny village, whose corresponding costumes put them anywhere between the Iron Age and…1990. 

This wasn’t really a proper adventure serial, was it? Temple was more of a weird horror movie than anything, and Crystal Skull was the sci-fi movie. I’m not religious, but once you remove the Bible lore from this franchise, it gets horrible. Same for Nazis. Let’s remind ourselves of what the goals were in this movie: save village by bringing back a rock; oh, and the children; remove the spell over the locals who drank weird blood; defeat Mola Ram. Now consider that once we’re in the temple, the stone is right there and most of the weird stuff that happens over the course of the movie is dark rituals and fire stuff. When they walk into the temple, they literally point at it and go, “Well, shit, there it is.” But we have to sit through blood drinking and malnourished children and Chinese leitmotif for another hour. Ultimately, the stone is almost a total MacGuffin. It sort of contributes to Mola Ram’s death, but it’s pretty much just baggage and by the time they’re hanging from the broken bridge, you’ve had 20 minutes of action that don’t involve it in the least; plenty of time for us to forget what the hell we were even here for.

Compare this with the two good movies. Raiders begins with a lengthy search for the Ark, and then once they get it, they’re fighting to get it back from one another for the rest of the movie, which then ends with it fucking up the bad guys. Crusade is also built around the search, and the movie unfolds with more clues and reveals. The Grail itself plays a major role in the final scenes, and is still a major plot device driving characters’ behavior, development and demise. Note that Crystal Skull fails differently in that we don’t really know WHAT we’re after for the whole movie until the end when we find that our reward was disappointment all along. 

Now, I’ll admit it. I love Mola Ram. They made a fantastic choice casting Amrish Puri, and most of the redeeming moments in this film come from his delivery, and from shots of his face lit up with wild colors. We can all freely admit that the whole “Kali ma” routine was one we were intimately familiar with and probably used on the playground at least once a week. As a villain, he is fantastically effective. 

The greater group that he leads, as well as their main goal, remains elusive. The Thuggee are explained in some dialogue during the most boring part of the movie, cross-cut with reaction shots of a white woman with gross food. I can say that if they had stuck to a simpler, more focused scene, like explaining the Ark and Tanis or Donovan talking about the Grail, we might have had some better idea of what was going on with this cult, who they were and why we should be on board to dislike them. Instead, we got a half-assed introduction that was largely overshadowed by a blonde expressing disgust over eyeball soup. Once again, the good two films gave us Nazis. Do we really need to pay attention to the finer details to understand THAT dynamic? Hitler wants something with magical powers to use it for evil. Well, shit, we’d better stop that from happening.

Is anyone keeping score? We have a poorly stitched-together prequel film featuring a hero, his comic relief/love [dis]interest and their ethnic stereotype sidekick child off to defeat a group we’re not familiar with and recover a relic whose powers are vague and forgettable. Because those Indian children were just so darn skinny. So obviously you care.

In spite of all this, we watch this movie and don’t hate it. We’d rent this on VHS once for every 3 or 4 times we rented either Raiders or Crusade, and that ratio held once we owned it. That should stand as a testament to the character and the franchise as a whole, not to the story or the execution. It’s very clear that without Indiana Jones in the lead role here, we wouldn’t buy into any of this story at all. But we only have two really good movies of his to watch, and sometimes you’re left wanting when you’ve just watched those two and don’t feel like shelving the franchise until you’re ready to watch again. That’s what this movie is. “I just want more of what those two movies are, and this is probably the closest thing.”

My Final Thoughts:

I consider this the Matrix Reloaded of sequels. Not as good, pretty bad as a sequel, but a wholly watchable movie on its own that’s better than you think. Know what I mean? Compare it to the first one — not great. On its own — totally watchable and entertaining. And it’s not so bad. Because, like The Matrix, the franchise has a sequel that’s so bad that the one that should be the worst gets off with a warning.

Which goes back to the idea that a lot of franchises shouldn’t be more than one movie. Which defeats the purpose, I know. But you get the idea. Once they have to adhere to a format, or try to broaden their franchise horizons, there’s such potential for failure.

What made the first movie great was how Spielberg directed it. The way he picked his shots and played and set up visual motifs that many viewers wouldn’t even catch. This movie doesn’t feel like that. When you watch it slowed down, as I do when I take screenshots (constantly pausing and really paying attention to everything), you can see it. In Raiders, I must have stopped to say, “This is brilliant direction” at least a dozen times. Here, the only time I stopped and went, “Whoa, that looks good,” is for shots. Raiders had shots too. This didn’t have the direction. The one time I actually stopped to go, “Oh, that’s a nice way to frame it,” is when the fist comes out of the camera to punch him in the face. Otherwise, the direction is more standard than anything. It’s not enhancing the movie, which is what this movie needs.

This is a weirdly disconnected film. I don’t mind the dark elements. I mind dumb comedy and I mind supernatural bullshit. Him drinking some shit and being evil? Not my favorite. But acceptable, if you wanna go there. But the shrieking woman was too much. And Short Round — don’t need him, but I don’t mind him so much. He works. I know Colin doesn’t like the idea, but I like the moments of Jones being able to talk to him in Chinese and the cheating at cards exchange. I don’t think he detracts from the movie, and I like the father/son dynamic that happens. I think they could have played it a little differently and it would have come off better, but I don’t think it detracts from the movie at all. I think the real problem is that there’s just too extremes working together that hurt each other. Either go dark or go comic. Not both. Raiders doesn’t go particularly in either extreme. That’s why it works.

I think, though, the other thing that hurts this movie is that Spielberg and Lucas had to think about it. The first movie came about while they were building sand castles on vacation. “You know… I always wanted to make a Bond movie.” “Forget that. I’ve got someone better.” And they’re playing. That’s where the best ideas come from. When you play. This movie, they had a brand and they had something that worked. So now they’re like, “How can we do it again?” And once they thought about it, it was over. Because they’re thinking, “Let’s go Empire, because that worked,” but then, “Let’s appeal to the kids, and the women,” and it just dilutes the product. The sense of joy wasn’t there. Put it this way — remember back during the first set of Fun with Franchise articles when Colin and I did Harry Potter? And we kept coming up with all those Harry Potter TV Series ideas? That was just us fucking around. And yet, those ideas would undoubtedly be better than most stuff they came up with if they actually developed an actual show, because once they start — “We need an ethnically diverse cast. Gotta have a love angle,” this and that. Rather than going from the inside out.

It’s funny how this franchise started as an adventure serial, and then… wasn’t. Colin mentioned how this was more horror and Crystal Skull was sci-fi. And Last Crusade was more of a western. Which I’m okay with. I like trying out genres. But I really think they needed to focus on the genre aspect than the overall product. They could have done more with the tropes. Or at least kept some of the adventure part to it. He doesn’t even follow a map. He goes to a house, and the rocks are there, and then he has to essentially get out of the haunted house. This is basically a haunted house movie. I don’t need Bible artifacts, but at least let there be some sort of search for an artifact.

It’s hard for me to pay attention to a lot of the expository stuff in this movie. It’s just not interesting. I’m down for the opening, completely. It gets ridiculous, but at least I can follow it. He gets remains, he wants diamond. They try to kill him and not pay him. Twice. He gets away, gets on a plane, but it’s their plane, and they try to crash it. Totally on board. The raft thing is just crazy enough to go with in this kind of movie. After that — do not care. The cart chase is a nice sequence, but it feels tacked on. Otherwise, none of the stuff outside of the first and last twenty minutes is interesting.

Overall, we get a watchable movie, but when you compare it to the franchise and what is thought of as the crux of the franchise — it’s just not there. The worst of the original trilogy, though some people will have an affinity for it. Colin had it right — it’s not really one that you go to first, but it’s an acceptable movie if you’re going to watch it. As a Jones film, it’s not as good as two of the other four, but if you put it next to a bunch of the movies that came out that same year, it’s clearly one of the ones you watch first. So you have to put things in perspective.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we start Last Crusade.

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