01 March, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

These two movies are what I watched…
October 2011

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (on DVD)
Why is Temple of Doom so much less satisfying than the other two Indiana Jones movies of the original run? I guess that question already states my feelings about the movie — that it seems less satisfying, less fun. I don't think it's actually a bad movie. In fact I think it may be more maligned than it should be, but there's definitely a consensus that it's not as "good" as the other two. It's pretty hard to be as good as Raiders, sure, but I thought I'd try to figure out, for me at least, why that is.
Firstly, Doom already seems to be a caricature/parody of what the first Indy film was. This is best exemplified by the use of formulaic-feeling, 'classic' traps, animals, insects and other exotic esoterica similar to Raiders. In Raiders it all seemed to be part of the actual journey through the story, helping to push the narrative, while here they seem to be put in when convenient because they're necessary to embellish the Indiana Jones brand — because the tropes and clichés of the genre require it, not necessarily because the story does.
This is ironic too since Raiders owes so much of itself to homage, rip-off and caricature/parody of cliffhanger serials and adventure movies. Maybe because it seemed fresh, and had a different kind of verve in Raiders it was easily forgiven? Then again, if Doom had been the first of the Indiana Jones movies, I still don't think it would have been quite as successful as Raiders was.
I think the storytelling is slightly more clumsy in Doom as well. Or maybe it's that they're using similar expository methods, some of which weren't exactly smooth in Raiders either. It does feel laboured and overly long in places, becoming almost tedious.
I think my main issue with Doom is that its characters are much less likeable, including this version of Indy himself. He has tipped too far from rascal and loveable rogue into unlikeable selfish heel. Don't get me wrong, I don't want Indy to be a knight in shining armour saint — in fact I like his selfish streaks, his ability to kill, his single-mindedness, etc. Here though, these traits seem to present only their unappealing aspects. Willie of course is also too selfish and money-grubbing to be likeable. I could handle her being sooky or a bit of a princess, but these other parts of her personality are simply a turn-off.
I quite like Short Round though. Some true heroics from the boy, some great warm emotions, and some good action and slapstick. The relationship between he and Indy is the one nice one in the story.
The relationship between Indy and Willie on the other hand is possibly one of the main failings/differences between Raiders and Doom. This one has no romance in it whatsoever. It's tawdry, overtly and not subtly sexualised, and charmless. This adds up to a major part of the story leaving me completely cold.
Doom, being the sequel to a very successful film, I would assume had a larger budget, and I wonder if some of Raiders' charm came from having to do some guerilla filmmaking, while Doom didn't have to be so inventive in getting things done and looking good/real. Doom also doesn't seem to quite have the same sense of place and time that Raiders had. Perhaps due to the lack of Nazis and the war backdrop, but maybe also due to Willie's hair looking particularly 80s throughout.
Something in Raiders I always liked and found interesting was the depiction of magic or the supernatural. To we the audience, it was never hidden or coyly alluded that it may not be real — it was fully presented to us and we had to accept its existence. On the other hand though, I'm pretty sure that Marion and Indy never actually witness anything supernatural — they see its consequences, but never its action. I appreciated the way this made a scenario of 'plausible deniability' in the story — that even though we the audience saw the magic, maybe it actually was somehow a figment of our imagination or something. Doom flies on the face of that, giving our protagonists no doubt of the supernatural power they were facing during the scene with the removal of the still beating heart from the human sacrifice. Even prior to this Indy never questions the stories being told to him by the Indian elder, while in Raiders there's an air or hint of scepticism from him. Once again, a subtle thing that takes away some of the charm that Raiders had.
Lastly, and generally, Doom is much darker and crueler, which I don't have anything against per sé, but it must have an impact in expectation and therefore satisfaction. Raiders seemed much more fun.
That all being said, it's not a bad movie, just disappointing in light of the classic it has to follow.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (on DVD)
Again, I didn't find Crusade as satisfying or fun as Raiders, and in this recent viewing, the first in a very long time and probably the third ever, I didn't find it as satisfying or as fun as I remembered it either.
One of its biggest failings is that it doesn't have any strong villains, visually, thematically or in personality/character. Even the femme fatale is not really exceptional. This causes the villains to be less memorable and lessens their impact on the story and the audience greatly.
There's a related issue to this and that's the relationships generally, both between the heroes and between the heroes and their opponents. Doom suffered from the exact same issue too. That being that just about all of the main relationships in Raiders already had quite a history and backstory before we even meet any of the players (Indy with both Belloq and Marion most notably and importantly). Because of this all the relationships automatically carry more weight and importance, immediately having much more importance for the audience without even trying. We have a deeper feeling for, and higher investment in, the development of Indy's relationships with these people, and the consequences coming from their actions. In Crusade and Doom there are almost no relationships other than those built during the film, so the story has to work harder to make us care.
The notable exception in Crusade of course is the introduction of Dr. Jones Snr. I really enjoyed the father/son relationship and its presentation. I quite liked Dr. Jones' character as well and the perfect delivery from Sean Connery. The comedy derived from the Snr.'s presence, and the banter from his relationship with Jnr., are probably the most memorable and endearing aspects of Crusade.
Despite one of the seeming issues with The Temple of Doom being the lack of Nazis, their inclusion here only seems to feel repetitive for me anyway. As does the inclusion of John Rhys-Davies' Sallah character. There's also the return to Judaeo-Christian mythology as the basis for the caper. Again, for me, feeling repetitive.
The most innovative thing in the movie I found very appealing, and that was the 'Young Indiana Jones' opening scenes. A wonderful encapsulation of an 'origin'. Sure, a little too convenient that a lot of the most iconic things about Indy were introduced in one afternoon (hat, whip, fear of snakes, scar), but way fun nonetheless.
So we're not getting enough original feel and action to keep me happy, too little memorable characters and scenario to hang on to, and too much 'seen-it-before' to keep me interested. It all adds up to another less satisfying sequel.

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