Fortune and Glory: Doctah Jones! Or, How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love 'Temple of Doom' by Moriarty
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Temple of Doom works many miracles. The latest and greatest of which is that it has resurrected Moriarty! I received this message via an email from a Drew McWeeny, an obviously fake identity, but after making this McWeeny fellow repeat a few key phrases the real Moriarty made me memorize before he went over the falls I have proven that it is really him.
The good professor was willing to reveal his still-aliveness to the world in order to put some words down about his personal relationship with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Before I turn the floor over to Moriarty, I should mention that I tracked down his current alias to a site called Hitfix that is pretty rad. You should check it out, especially the "Drew McWeeny" run Motion Captured section.
Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen prepare your eyes for the triumphant return of the dastardly clever Moriarty.
By 1983, it is safe to say that I was already a rabid movie fan.
I had already started to break the year up in terms of what was coming out and when I would get to see it. Or, in the case of R-rated films, how I was going to get to see it. I strategized about those. I ran carefully calibrated campaigns to get the right to see the things I wanted to see. Some fights were easier than others. Sometimes, it would involve getting certain grades for a certain period of time, and sometimes it would be about playing to what I knew were their interests, making sure I asked the right person to take me to the right film. There were also some names which were just accepted as givens by my parents.
New "Star Wars" movie? Opening day. First show. Non-negotiable.
New Steven Spielberg movie? Same deal. No question about it.
1983 was when I first started reading news about the upcoming movies for 1984, and in particular, we got our first concrete news about a sequel to "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," and I was manic about it.
"Star Wars" may have been the thing that first got me interested in movies, but "Raiders" was nearer and dearer to me. I thought the pulp adventure flavor of "Raiders" was amazing. It sent me down a huge rabbit hole of watching and reading the things that were inspirations for it, and it felt more dangerous than the "Star Wars" films to me, especially that summer as I tried to cope with seeing killer teddy bears in a "Star Wars" film.
These days, I'm fairly blasé about marketing materials, but at the age of 13, it was still possible for a piece of marketing to become a lightning bolt moment for me, as it was during the countdown to "Temple Of Doom." Remember... this was before films automatically came out on video four months after they were in theaters. "Raiders" seemed to take forever to make it to video, but when it did, it showed up with a promise attached: the first trailer for "Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom."
As titles go, you've got to give it up for what may well be the best balance of pulp throwback and sequel-savvy marketing ever. Until I heard that title, I presumed the titles would all use "Raiders" in some way. "Raiders of Atlantis." "Raiders of the Holy Grail." "Raiders of Shangri-La." I liked that the title described both Indiana Jones and the bad guys. They were all equally guilty of being the raiders of the Lost Ark. Lucas and Spielberg decided to make it all about Indiana Jones, though. He was the draw. They would make him the franchise.
So the announcement comes. "Raiders" will be on home video finally, and as a special added bonus, there would be an actual trailer for the sequel right there on the videotape. For my friends and I, that was huge news. It was already set to be an event, this ability to watch "Raiders" any time we wanted and as many times as we chose, and to have that trailer to watch every time to get revved up for the sequel? It seemed too cool to be true.
And, of course, it was. The "teaser trailer" was completely built out of map graphics and tease. It didn't reveal anything about the actual film. I didn't want giant spoilers, but this was just nothing. This was "tease" taken to a new extreme.
By the time the film finally came out in the summer of '84, I was more than ready. It was a big summer, and the competition was fierce. I was falling in love with something once a week, it felt like. I'll be writing more about that year as part of a special Summer Movies Flashback series that we're doing on HitFix, but it felt like another summer tailored to my particular interests, with films made by all my favorite filmmakers. In the middle of a run like that, how could a new Indiana Jones movie, especially one with a title that damned good, be anything less than the icing on the cake?
I'm not sure I can do justice to the feeling of disappointment that landed on me as the film played that first time. Or if I can fully convey the mixed reactions I had as each scene played out. There were these amazing moments all the way through, but mixed right in with some terrible scenes. This Indy wasn't the same Indy that won me over three years earlier. A big part of my love for "Raiders" was because of my deep, abiding love for Marion Ravenwood, and her absence was only compounded by the presence of Willie Scott, who I haaaaaaaaated right away. It was a shock, and part of what made it hard to swallow was that I hadn't had much in the way of disappointment as a film fan. So far, my second time around with things tended to be at least somewhat satisfying. "Superman 2," "The Empire Strikes Back." "Rocky 3." The various Harryhausen "Sinbad" movies. "Star Trek 2." I'd been conditioned to hope for the best with sequels. Even "Return Of The Jedi," which I wasn't completely in love with, had enough great stuff for me to simply brush off the bad.
It took me weeks to really get my head around "Temple Of Doom," and I went to see it at least five times in that first month of release. I had learned how to talk all the moms of all of my friends into each taking us at least one time, and because I knew how long different people liked to wait to avoid opening weekend crowds, I could schedule repeat viewings of anything, and I was happy at that age to go over and over and over to see something I liked so I could figure out how the magic trick worked.
Until "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," though, I'd never gone back to watch something I didn't like in that same way, over and over. I felt like if I could figure out why I didn't like it, I'd learn some important truth about filmmaking in general.
When the film finally arrived on home video, it got more frequent play than films I knew I liked much more. Again, it was almost a compulsive thing. One thing that became clear to me is that "Doom" was much more of a collection of pieces than "Raiders," which felt like one linear and propulsive narrative. And while that gave "Doom" a very different rhythm, identifying it let me start to grapple more with those individual pieces.
One afternoon, as I was watching the sequences where Indiana Jones is under the hypnotic/mystical influence of Mola Ram, I realized I was never going to reconcile all of it, and I just gave up on it. Didn't help that Lucas and Spielberg both threw the film under the bus while doing publicity for "Last Crusade" five years later. After all, if the filmmakers themselves had decided that "Temple of Doom" was something they needed to apologize for, why I should I expend any extra effort on this awful orphaned sequel?
I didn't see "Doom" again until the mid-'90s, and one of the biggest changes I went through was that I had finally been able to fully indulge my voracious appetite for classic pulp fiction. I mainlined all the Street & Smith that I could get my hands on, and I found out just how much I loved that breathless style of storytelling. By the time I ended up seeing "Doom" again, I had grown totally sick of the pale "Raiders" carbon copy of "Last Crusade," and I'd started to suspect that "Doom" had more going on than I'd given it credit for in the first place.
Taking at least five or six years away from it made "Doom" feel like a totally different film when I did finally go back to it. And in the years since, I've never overplayed the film. I'll watch it, then set it aside for years at a time, and each time I've gone back to it, I've found myself more impressed and more onboard with many of the choices that threw me at first. At this point, I think the only Indiana Jones film I like more is "Raiders," and I love that they are very different movies overall.
So what changed? How did I go from hating the film to loving it?
First, I made peace with Willie Scott. Or, to be more precise, I let go of the idea that she was supposed to compare to Marion Ravenwood in any way. Marion is the love of Indy's life, and she is every bit his equal. Marion was raised the same way Indy was raised, traveling around the world with her archaeologist father, and she grew up tough. Their history may be complicated, but that often happens when you have two people who are so similar. Willie Scott, on the other hand, has nothing in common with Indiana Jones, nor was she supposed to. She is pampered, protected, a performer. She is not suited for a life of adventure, and it is only circumstance that throws her into the path of Indiana Jones. She complains, she whines, she makes bad situations worse because she has no idea what she's doing.
And, yes, she is a nightmare on the road… and that is the design. She's not meant to be a good match for Indy. In the grand screwball tradition, she is one more obstacle for Indy to overcome. Capshaw may be shrill and annoying in the part, but that's not because she's a bad actress. That's exactly what Willie Scott was designed to be. One of the biggest laughs in the film for me comes when Indy and Short Round are trapped in the room where the ceiling is descending and the spikes are going to impale them, and Willie, on the outside of the room, can't quite bring herself to do what Indy needs her to do. At one point, frustrated to the point of mania, Indy thrusts his fist out so she can see it, and every single time I see it, that move makes me cackle.
More significantly, there's the idea that this is not the same Indiana Jones. That bothered me for years, until one day, finally, the import of this being a prequel instead of a sequel suddenly became clear. At the start of the film, Indy is basically Belloq. He's a guy who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty to get what he wants, and he seems perfectly comfortable dealing with the shady side of life. This film chronicles his development from a tomb raider who is mercifully light on ethics into a hero, a guy who sees a bigger picture. I felt like they undid much of this in "Last Crusade" with Indy's "origin story," where he was shown as a Boy Scout who already had a fully developed sense of outrage at anyone who would choose to profit off of the past. That's fine, and by itself, the sequence works, but it completely disregards the journey that Indy faces in "Temple Of Doom."
In the film, Indy not only starts in a morally shaky place, he also eventually gets pushed to a place of total darkness, where he cares about no one. It is only when Short Round, the orphaned street kid who views Indy as his best friend and his family, finally manages to break through whatever has a hold on Indy that we see our first glimmers of the hero that he eventually becomes. When Indiana Jones finally puts someone else's safety ahead of his own, it is a big deal, and considering that most of the film feels like a combination between a roller coaster and a haunted house, it's intense to see how naked Ke Huy Quan's plea to Indiana Jones to wake up becomes. He's about to kill this kid who he took under his wing, and the only thing that shakes him out of it is this completely blunt, unsparing declaration of love. The older I get, the harder that moment hits me, and it's the single best moment of Quan's performing career. It might also be near the top of Ford's list as well.
Once Indy is awake, though, he is filled with a fire we haven't seen in him yet in "Doom," and he finally begins to fight for something bigger than himself, bigger than the glory of treasure, bigger than preserving history for some museum. He fights to free children from slavery, and considering how often movies seem to set the stakes for their hero no lower than the destruction of the entire world, it seems more genuinely heroic to see someone face death and brutal punishment to free children from the bonds of forced labor. The treasure he returns to the village at the end of the movie isn't the magic glowing rock… it is the children, and when we see those parents who had all given up hope suddenly realize that their lives are able to continue once more, I find it deeply moving.
Are there missteps? Sure. I think the dinner sequence is the worst kind of "Aren't people in foreign countries weird? LOOK AT WHAT THEY EAT!", but it's not like the Indiana Jones series is distinguished by its nuanced portrayals of cultural differences from around the world. But even some of the most egregious moments in the film have grown on me over time. The escape from the plane via life raft recalls all of the most preposterous moments of the old movie serials, and it is staged wonderfully, even if it is silly.
And for every misstep, there are a dozen things I adore. That opening musical number and the entire gunfight in Club Obi-Wan is about as expertly staged and shot as anything in Spielberg's career, and when we talk about why "Doom" is great, you cannot tell me that Steven Spielberg was anything less than 100% committed to the material. He directs the film like he's being chased, with this non-stop energy, and he seems practically drunk on invention throughout. One of the things I've learned in recent years is that both Spielberg and Lucas were going through divorces as they were making this movie, and as I face the same milestone in my own life, I finally understand why there are parts of "Doom" that just feel fucking mean. It is more than just a money-grab of a sequel. It is an act of pop art as survival for both these guys, and their later turn on the film makes me sad now.
I'm not telling any of you who hate "Temple Of Doom" that you are wrong. But I am telling you that I've had 30 years now to wrestle with it, and any film that can make me think about it with the same intensity of passion for three decades, my opinion constantly shifting as I re-approach the material, is a film that deserves some attention. "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" may remain the untouchable gold standard for the series, but "Temple Of Doom" is the only one of the sequels that feels genuine and honest to me, and I thank god it's not just a carbon copy of the original film. I wish more sequels would dare to break the mold instead of just repeating things that have already worked. So you can keep your "Last Crusade" with its broad sitcom antics and "Crystal Skull" with its wildly misguided take on Marion.
Make mine "Doom."
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