The Ninjabot

Nerd-Off: What’s the best Indiana Jones film? The Mighty Jerd says it’s TEMPLE OF DOOM.

Posted on March 29, 2013 at 12:00 pm by Jeff Mueller

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So once again the writers here at Geek Legacy have decided to do a Nerd-Off. More specifically a Nerd-Off debating the very best of the Indiana Jones franchise. (Randy made his case earlier for Raiders of the Lost Ark.)  Now for those of you who don’t know, a “Nerd-Off” is where a few of the regular writers get together and desperately try, yet fail, to adequately refute my flawless insight and analyses. While I am sure the others will try and justify their incorrect choices, do not be fooled because there is only one king of this franchise and it is undeniable. So without further adieu let’s dive right into the goodness that is…

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!

While chronologically the first Indiana Jones story (set one year before “Raiders of the Lost Ark) this second installment of the franchise is the bar which all the other films should be compared against. This film fully embracing that which the first film dabbled in, a theatrical return to the pulp stories of yesterday, without succumbing to parodying itself like “The Last Crusade” did. I feel that when examining these movies it is best to remember Spielberg’s original intent for the character, a pulp era project that was something fun, like a James Bond film; and that is exactly what we get with Temple of Doom, a very theatrical James Bond style movie!

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Everything from the title, through the opening song and dance sequence in a casino, to the villain just scream James Bond. Much more so than any of the other entries into the franchise, that’s for sure! Also like Bond, we have a slightly more cold and calculating version of Indy than in the other movies. Of course this makes sense being that it is supposed to represent the beginning of the hero’s spiritual awakening (I could go into how each movie represented a chronological path of religious history: Hinduism -> Old Testament -> New Testament -> Some sort of New Age alien bullsh*t but that would get kind of dry and boring methinks), so we get an Indy that is a bit rough around the edges and through the course of the movie shows some character growth. Again, something not really found in the other installments of the series.

I think it is important to also examine this movie in relation to other films around the same period it was released, 1984. The trend in movies then was very long scenes and shots, with little camera cuts. People acclimated to the current trends in movie-making, where the director will cut the scene multiple times within a minute, sometimes view movies from this time period as slow paced or even boring. While the mine-cart chase scene does feel like it drags on a little too long the overall pace and feel of the movie is very crisp when compared to both the other films in the franchise as well as other movies from that time period. Spielberg hit his stride with this movie and perfected his formula! What made this movie so successful was how that formula appealed to people of all ages. So what was the magic blueprint that gelled so perfectly with this film?

  • Humor – It walks the fine line between cartoon and camp. Just enough so that kids are engaged and amused but not taking it so far as to turn adults off by becoming ridiculous (I am looking directly at you “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”). In a lot of ways it is very similar to a live action Bugs Bunny cartoon. There is something there for all ages!
  • Well Balanced Violence – In keeping with the family oriented theme, it didn’t ignore the consequences of violence but didn’t glorify it either. It was the pinnacle of balance for a family oriented action movie.
  • Perfect pacing – Never slowing down too much to take us out of the action feel of its pulp fiction predecessors but not barreling ahead so fast as to lose out on characterization.
  • A Compelling Protagonist – A flawed hero that everyone can relate to.

It is that last point that elevates Indiana Jones above the likes of James Bond, and what cements this movie as one of the greats. Unlike the impeccable British secret agent, Indy was fallible (hell, let’s be honest… he was a bit unlikeable at times) and oft-times an unwitting participant in the situations he often found himself in. While there was a glimmer of that in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was in this film that he became the blueprint for the weary, beaten down everyman hero. Without this movie there would be no “Die Hard”! It was this movie that proved that a hero doesn’t have to win every fight, he doesn’t have to outsmart every villain, he doesn’t have to be the one to find a way out of the life-threatening situation he has found himself in. I believe this was the movie where Harrison Ford really locked down the formula that made him a star, and this character so iconic; a perfect mix of charm, wit, and vulnerability. Seriously, watch Temple of Doom and then go watch the first “Die Hard” movie and tell me that Bruce Willis isn’t just imitating Harrison Ford.

Now while it can be said (although it would be wrong) that these same qualities can be found in the other movies in the franchise as well, there is one differentiator that cements this movie as the greatest of all the incarnations of this beloved hero. No, it isn’t the fact that a Hindu witch-doctor pulled a still beating heart out of someone (although that is pretty damned rad, even to this day!); no this is simpler than that. I give you these two words that stop any debate of franchise superiority dead in their tracks.

Short.

Round.

Short RoundThat’s right, end of debate! Mother-flipping Short Round! The Robin to Indy’s Batman. The wise cracking kid sidekick who on more than one occasion stole the show from the main character. It was wise for Spielberg to add someone to the story that kids could more easily relate to, and he was able to do so here without resorting to painful, eye-rolling “Home Alone” style theatrics like he did with River Phoenix in “The Last Crusade.”

So to sum this up, Temple of Doom perfects the tone and feel that Raiders of the Lost Ark started and introduced new layers to the character by adding something new to the story instead of just trying to rehash the same old, same old like was done with The Last Crusade. It also did not, at any point, involve hiding in a refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast.

Boom! I win.

Feel free to gloat with me in the comments below!

If you don’t already own the movies, now is the perfect time to remedy that. Buy Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures on Blu-Ray or Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventure on DVD at Amazon through Geek Legacy’s affiliate links right there in order to support the site.

Be sure to follow @TheMightyJerd on Twitter for insightful comic book thoughts, incoherent rage fests and hilarious retweets!

Make sure to check out Randy’s case for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and keep coming back the during the weekend for the rest of the saga.

    • Pablo

      Mine Cart = win!!!

    • As offensive as the character is, I gotta admit that I really like Short Round. Still super racist, though.

      • Oh I agree, but *every* ethnicity in *all* the movies ends up being a borderline offensive racist stereotype. Egyptians, Germans, Indians, etc…

    • Monkey Man

      He's probably great BECAUSE he's racist. 🙂

    • Jess Hicks

      Hands down this has always been and will always be my favorite Indy movie.

    • Brian

      Okay, I'll bite.

      There are three fatal flaws of ToD, one was unfairly unavoidable, the other two self inflicted.

      1 – it came after Raiders, and everything in this film (fairly or unfairly) has to be viewed in that context. Everything seems derivative – from the girl (Marion to Willie), the companion (Sallah to Short Round), the gross out (snakes to insects), the weird bad guy (Toth to Mola Ram). We. just. saw. that. If Temple of Doom had been our introduction to Indiana Jones, I could get behind your argument.

      2 – Characterization – you fail to mention Willie Scott – you did that on purpose. The character is so grating you wish she fell off the bridge into the waiting crocodiles. In the LEGO video game her special gimmick is an annoying scream. Indy has a whip, Sallah beats the crap out of people with a shovel, and Willie Scott….has an annoying scream. Yes, an annoying scream. That's the best they could come up with. And that is all she does in the movie, complain and scream. I also disagree with the praise of Short Round. In 1984 when the film was released, I was about the same age as Short Round was in the film. If he is the character kids were supposed to relate to, then it missed the mark, as I could not stand that kid.

      3 – There is no significant crisis. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, we had the backdrop of World War II and the threat of an unstoppable evil power if Indiana failed. The Last Crusade gave us the grail quest. These are pretty significant things. In Temple of Doom Indy saves a poor village from being … a little more poor. I can't get invested in the low stakes of this premise.

      Now, there are some great things. The scenes in Shanghai are great. Dropping out of an airplane in the Himalayas was awesome. The mine cart chase is pure cinematic joy. I can't decide if it is better than the Last Crusade, but it definitely is not the best Indiana Jones film.

      Note that the Crystal Skull was not mentioned. And never should be.

      • Freddie Follower

        I'm with this guy. ^^^^

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