19 May 2008

Pre-Crystal Skull comments

I need to get this out of the way before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hits the theaters.

Where do I stand on the relative quality of the second and third of the Indiana Jones films? In other words, do I prefer Last Crusade or Temple of Doom? (Everyone knows Raiders of the Lost Ark is the apex of the series. Someone who tells you otherwise is lying or is a paid Nazi spy.)

The answer might surprise you, since it’s the minority opinion. The answer surprised me when I finally admitted it. However, here it is: I think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is superior to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. To put it another way, I prefer bug-food, hearts getting ripped from chests, and big rollers crushing Indian swordsmen to goofy humor about Hitler, an out-of-control tank, and Sean Connery blowing apart the back of his own airplane.

No, I don’t think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a poor film. I enjoy it. But its comic shenanigans are the most forced of the three, the jokey elements interfere with what should be serious action sequences, its plot plays out over too wide a canvas, and it seems more aware of itself than the purer first two. I’m afraid that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will take on those titles in a few days. With nearly nineteen years of hindsight, the new movie can only get more self-conscious and comedic, especially if Lucas’s hand is as obtrusive as I hear.

As for Temple of Doom, it has the strongest connection to pulp literature of the three: that’s why it’s brazen anti-PC attitude actually works for me. Imagine trying to make a film today where the Imperial British are the heroes in India. Ludicrous! But that’s what a pulp author of the 1930s would have done in the pages of Adventure. The mysterious Thugee cult planning to rule the world with zombies from their ancient temple—that’s great, that’s honest-to-goodness Norvell Page or Lester Dent nuttiness. It’s the most Doc Savage of the films, especially that mine cart chase and the flood of icky insects. The bridge battle and the conveyor belt fight? As close to the old serials as any of the films ever got, and both very exciting. And it’s nicely telescoped into one location, with the exception of the opening in the Chinese nightclub. (And I love that for its jazzy style and art deco.) Okay, female lead Capshaw is disposable. And really annoying. Really really annoying. It’s a lesser film than Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I must admit I like more than the unfocused Last Crusade.