Saturday, April 24, 2010

Prepare to enter the temple of poorly-thought-out plot devices doom!

You know, all my life, I'd been longing to see a film where a guy is pursued by an army of sword-waving Thuggees up the side of a sheer mountain cliff on a rickety old bridge that has been cut in half right over the top of a thundering torrent full of ravenous crocodiles, and also with the forces of the British Raj thundering up the other side of the mountain to rescue him by shooting down the sword-waving Thuggees and not to mention as well the arrow-shooting Thuggees on the opposite cliff, but only if that guy is being attacked from right above him by a powerful priest of Kali who is attempting to rip his heart out by means of an eldritch magical spell uttered in an ancient Indian dialect. Just for the novelty value.

Well tonight, I realised that I'd already seen that film. And loved it; it had long been one of my favourite films as a kid: it was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Only tonight I couldn't really see the point of all that sword-waving-arrow-firing-spell-chanting-hungry-crocodilian activity. It really did seem like a lot of superfluous detail at once. Get a camera, shoot an action movie, and confront a hero with a sword-waving enemy: there you've got danger, thrills, terror, and adventure, in one handy shot. Then confront that hero with a hundred sword-waving enemies, and you don't have more danger, thrills, terror, and adventure: you compound the ridiculousness without increasing the enjoyment.

And the whole last quarter of Temple of Doom is like that, concluding with a chase scene that is not only incredible, but interminable. What was Spielberg thinking?

It's not all bad though. I still love the lurid, fabulous, and gorgeous scene-setting that leads up to the proto-comic-book chase scene. There is a great set piece right at the start of the film, with a Cole Porter song being sung in a combination of Chinese, French, and English, and Chinese dancers. The central idea - of a kind of descent into, and escape from, hell - is strong. The banquet scene (with live snakes being devoured by gigantic turbaned guards, and grotesque, grilled, gargantuan beetles, and chilled monkey brains) still works (I think it's that scene that really stuck in my memory from my childhood, a kind of Babette's feast for little-boys-who-like-eating.)

Yes, but were my snorts ripped? Were my buckles swashed? Were my spills chilled and thrilled? Oh, all right then, yes. I just wish the film had been shorter. Only half an hour or so.


Steve said...

Oh no no, Tim. I was in my early 20's when it came out. Now I have re-watched it with my kids. I still love the giddy effect of one crisis piling on top of another in the last half hour (well, it's probably more like 45 minutes, I suspect,) and it's all done without the extremely irritating "let's make the action exciting by jiggling the camera and editing each to shot to no longer than 1.5 seconds" of the last 10 years.

TimT said...

Knew you'd comment. I know I said on your blog sometime that Temple of Doom is one of my favourites so it was frustrating to sit down, watch the whole film again, and find that I disagreed with my childhood self. And it really is that chase sequence - at some point early on it really does become ridiculous, and you nothing that happens after matters. But it's got to be long, I suspect, to wipe out the lurid death and sacrifice scenes that happen before. I wish it could have been... better though.

The first half will still remain one of my favourites though, for the banquet scene if nothing else.

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

D'ya know, that movie is still - to this day - my 83yr old grandfather's favourite :)

Steve said...

Most of the movie is, of course, meant to be both exciting and a bit slap-stick funny at the same time. It's the funniest of the Indiana Jones, by far. The roller coaster escape in the mine has one main over-the-top scene - the jump over the gap - but its not dwelt on and I could forgive it in the rush of events.

Some people I knew rolled their eyes about how there are crocodiles in the river waiting for flesh: I just thought that was part of the funny piling on of danger. But the actual sequence on the bridge is still handled with just the right degree of realism to still be exciting, I reckon.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

The crocodiles were a high point for me, and offered a moment of comparative realism after:

* vampire bats in Asia (why not? if they can fly, then surely they can fly from South America to India)
* insights into Indian cuisine: chilled monkey brains and live reptiles
* Hindus practising voodoo
* forty minutes in a city, in which time we see no women, except the vapid, squealing, finger-nail-obsessed lounge-singer Indiana has brought with him

Steve said...

Oh Alexis, taking a realist attitude to Temple of Doom is not fair. It's silly, definitely. But it's funny, exciting silly.

Steve said...

By the way, what city do you refer to? Pancott (?) palace is not a city. I assume the Kali sect that controlled it might have had a thing against women.

As for Shanghai, there were lots of women in the chorus behind Ms Spielberg-to-be. Maybe other female guests too, if I recall correctly.

Which reminds me, I always took the opening number, in which the chorus line does the splits (and then gets back up in a reverse in an obvious reverse film trick) as a big hint that this was a film where realism was not going to be a priority.

Dan the VespaMan said...

The only criticism I have for the TOD is the complete lack of Nazi's involved. Lost Ark and Last Crusade were just soooo much fun watching Indiana get the better of the swastika clad goons.

TimT said...

I think the movie has got to have a slapstick and cartoon quality to it because the middle scenes (in the Temple of Doom itself) is just so grotesque and gory. If you actually cared about what was happening to the characters you'd be wincing and weeping every minute at some of the stuff happening to them. That said, I still think the first two parts - the arrival in India and the banquet in Panqot work so much better.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

All good points, Steve - it's just that my inner natural historian pedant couldn't see past the trans-Pacific vampire bats. You're right, though, that there are lots of clues that the film doesn't set itself up as a National Geographic south Asia special.

TimT said...

On another pedantic point, and I know I'm obsessed by this film, but bear with me, how about recent release Kick Ass, which is offending people, but only for a swear word/graphic violence in the film?

My inner pedant is more likely to get uptight about the blatant mispelling of 'arse' in the title. I mean, what, are they suggesting we go out and abuse donkeys? For shame!

TimT said...

Jolly good, looks like I've got a blog post for today. Pedanticism rules, okay!

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...


Pedantry, more like.

TimT said...

I may be just a pedant, but one day I hope to grow up into a glorious pedantelope.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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