By Jessic O’Byrne
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – 1984 – Steven Spielberg
It would be easy to pick on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for its outdated and grandiose special effects or its condescending treatment of women, children, minorities, and essentially every other character in the film that is not played by Harrison Ford. It would be equally simple to write the film off as pure, unsubstantiated kitsch filled to the brim with unrealistic depictions of, sex, foreign cultures and academia. To do so, however, would be to stomp on the cavaliering dreams of the millions of little boys (and girls too, myself among them) who grew up in an era when our first glimpses of the outside world were broadcast to us in our cribs via TV and movies and our fictional heroes had to somehow be more grandiose than the already larger-than-life celebrities depicting them. The world has changed a lot since this film was originally released in 1984: we’ve all become a little older, a little fatter, and a little more politically correct. Temple of Doom offers viewers a chance to travel back to a simpler time when we could be satisfied with a tub of popcorn, and orange soda, and an entertaining (if not always fully engaging) adventure story. And so, as responsible stewards of our younger, less cynical (more easily amused) selves, we must throw aside our super PC mantles for a couple of hours in order to bask in the glory of all that is Indiana.
The film begins, as all proper adventure films should, inside of an upscale nightclub in Shanghai where Indiana Jones escapes the clutches of a ruthless crime boss. From there, he and his sidekick Short Round (as well as American lounge singer Willie Scott, but don’t pay too much attention to her) are a mere airborne assassination attempt away from arriving just in the nick of time to save a rural Indian village from destruction that is somehow tied in to some mysterious rocks that have gone missing. A few transition scenes later, the fabulous trio ends up in the palace of the Maharaja (which translates roughly from ancient Sanskrit to mean “sassy androgynous boy”) where things really start to get hairy. The women are scantily clad, Indiana transitions in and out of his leather fedora more frequently than Madonna would, and Short Round is always nearby to provide frequent comedic, albeit rather annoying, relief. The movie progresses from here at a clip swift enough to keep even the most ADD-addled viewer complacent, hop scotching from scrape to seemingly impossible scrape with very little down time to focus on silly things like narrative complexity. Still, nobody goes to an Indiana Jones film looking for an intellectual challenge, and you and I both know it.
With regards to the apparently groundbreaking visual effects present, watching this movie recently for the first time in the better part of ten years made the now-amateur nature of these “special fx” difficult to ignore. I know, I know…kids these days. While it is impossible for me to know whether or not these effects seemed believable to the deliciously untainted 1984 theater audiences (having been nothing more than a twinkle in my father’s eye at this point), it is fun to imagine my (as yet unborn) children smirking knowingly when I try to convey the utter awesome that is, say, “Planet Earth” in High Definition. But I digress. The bottom line is that viewers who are willing and able to shake the feeling that they are waiting in line to see a show at Universal Studios will find themselves swept away by the sheer sincerity with which Harrison Ford delivers his stoic one-liners. And if for some reason that doesn’t do it for you, the shooting magma and frequent explosions certainly will.