Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ★★★★★

Purely in terms of entertainment value, this is probably my favorite Indiana Jones movie. Raiders has the eloquent construction, and The Last Crusade packs the emotional punch, but this is the most fun to watch, and one of my favorite action movies ever. The first twenty minutes are spectacular, and I love everything about it, from the pre-credits musical number to the James Bond-style opening scene to the car chase to the plane crash. Nothing in this ever feels particularly beholden to realism, nor should it, and, while the scenes that follow do lag a bit, the dinner scene is extremely entertaining and everything once they actually get to the temple is outstanding. The second half of this movie contains some of my favorite bits of cinema ever, and I love just how dark it gets. The Thuggee ritual is terrific, and set the stakes appropriately high for the rest of the film, and I also love when they turn Indiana Jones evil. The moment when he holds Short Round over the lava pit and then winks at him before the two of them start beating the shit out of the Thuggee guards to the triumphant main theme never fails to bring a smile to my face, and one of the things that's so great about this second half is that the action scenes never really end. There's never any real breathing room; they just continue into one another to the point where you can't even clearly break the sequences up. This is one of the movie's great joys; it doesn't follow the conventional, rigid structure of most action films -- including its predecessor and successors -- and just follows its own rhythm.

The cross-cutting between Indiana Jones in the conveyor belt fight and Short Round climbing up the waterfall to stop the kid with the voodoo doll (typing out that sentence made me realize just how weird this movie really is) is terrific, especially once Short Round stops the kid and we see both him and Indy fighting their separate fights to the same classic John Williams score. What follows is the mine cart chase, a sequence that even this movie's detractors must admit is brilliant, but there is a moment before that chase that has always been one of my favorites in all of cinema. Short Round and Willie board the mine cart and start it down the track, but Indiana Jones is still fighting the guards on the catwalk. They call for him to get in, he jumps onto a rope, and he slides all the way down toward the cart as the guards shoot at him. This small, twenty-second sequence packs so much in cinematically, and represents everything about cinema working at the very top of its form -- action, direction, editing, lighting, set design, sound design, musical score, and stunt work. It is one of the few moments in film that brings me on the verge of tears not because of its storytelling or emotional beats, but because of just how great it is on a cinematic level.

I won't delve too deeply into the mine cart chase itself because so many others have, but it is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and the fact that a lot of it was pulled off with models is astounding to me, given that it looks more real than a CGI recreation of it would today. As if the movie hasn't already offered enough in terms of entertainment, the climax on the bridge scene is masterful, and could be my favorite whole sequence in the movie. It, like so many other parts of Temple of Doom, is unique, creative, and unpredictable, crafting an action scene like you've never seen before with no indication of where it could go or how it's going to end. My problem with the next film in the series, The Last Crusade -- despite how great that movie is in its own way -- is that most of the action scenes involve two vehicles chasing each other, and you pretty much know where it's going from the outset. Nothing in that film even approaches the wonderful unpredictability of Temple of Doom, and it's a great shame that I'll never get to experience watching this movie for the first time again, because I can only imagine how much of a thrill ride that would be. When Mola Ram and Indy fight on the bridge-ladder and Mola Ram starts reaching for his heart, bringing back the insane ritualistic music of the infamous heart-ripping sequence from before, I realized on this viewing that it was one of my favorite Chekov's guns to ever go off, and I love how intense Indy gets as he decries Mola Ram for betraying his own gods, before sending him hurdling to his death.

Anyway, I've probably gushed over this film enough by now, but this is one of my favorite movies to gush over. I've used the word "favorite" a lot in this review, because so much of what this movie does is at the absolute peak of its craft. As far as action/adventure movies go, this is the best of its kind, and, while I understand some of the problems people have with it, I simply don't have those same problems. I've never found the side characters annoying, nor the movie too dark, nor the pace too breakneck, or whatever else people complain about. This may not be the best Indiana Jones movie, but it does remain the freshest, something I can't say about the other two in the trilogy.

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