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The American Astronaut

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Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Reviled and dismissed by many, The Temple of Doom is a textbook example of why sequels are such a tricky proposition. This one dares to stray from many of the elements that made Raiders of the Lost Ark such a triumphant success, but for those who stick with it and think about it, it’s easily the pulpiest of the original three and, even if you’ve already had bugs for lunch, it has more than its share of savory delights.

1935: The Sankara Stones

The menus are virtually identical to the previous edition, but it bridges the gap to Crystal Skull
The menus are virtually identical to the previous edition, but it bridges the gap to Crystal Skull

The action starts in Shanghai. Indy’s working out a transaction with Lao Che involving the remains of Nurhachi, the last emperor of the Manchu Dynasty, when things go terribly sour. Indy is poisoned, a waiter is murdered, and chaos ensues.

Making a quick escape with his ticket to life, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw, Dreamscape), a singer who holds the antidote Indy needs as her own bargaining chip, Indy is carted off by Short Round (Ke Huy Quan, The Goonies), a boy Indy befriended after he caught him trying to pick his pockets while walking the streets of Shanghai.

Thinking they’ve escaped Lao Che and his Chinese mafia, the trio unwittingly board one of Lao’s freight planes and the action simply doesn’t let up from there. An impromptu escape via a rubber raft brings them in contact with an Indian shaman who instructs them to go to Pankot Palace and retrieve the village’s Sankara stone in order to restore life to the community.

Even though Indy really wants to get to Delhi and head back home, he sees the people are in drastic need of help and takes on the challenge. In doing so, Indy comes face to face with pure evil incarnate: a cult of child-enslaving Kali worshippers who rip their victims’ hearts out before sacrificing them in a fiery pit.

So Why Is It Great?

Think of this one as Indiana Jones Goes to Hell. After being saddled with a showgirl / singer (with lungs all the better to belt out all those screams) and a street urchin, Indy’s thrust into a mission that essentially entails saving the lifeline of an entire Indian village. It’s clear from the get-go that there are far greater forces directing Indy’s life and he has little control over the situation. He simply has no choice but to go with the flow and hope for the best.

Temple of Doom is a really slick piece of storytelling in which the opening adventure blurs seamlessly into the main plot.

But more importantly, Indy really gets to show off his multicultural and multilingual savvy, more so than in the other two original adventures, as he negotiates with Chinese gangsters and Indian villagers. Plus, not only does he get to wear his trademark leather jacket and fedora as well as his ever-so-intellectual eyeglasses and tweed jacket, but he also shows up in the opening frames in a sharp white tuxedo jacket and black pants.

He is, by every conceivable standard, a man’s man.

Nonetheless, even as Indy’s character gets further defined, what seems to tick people off the most about this movie are actually some of its strengths. It is much darker than the other two, the leading lady is far more obnoxious, and Nazis are nowhere to be found.

On the darker front, oh yes, it is a grand, mystical kind of darkness that is simply perfect for the larger world of Indiana Jones, the globetrotter. Here he’s facing voodoo, human sacrifice, and a high priest who can literally tear a person’s beating heart right out from his chest. That is sweet, sweet pulp right there and Temple of Doom serves it up in huge portions.

As for the girl, well, she’s there to start things off in grand style and belt out Anything Goes in Chinese. She’s not supposed to go on any sort of adventure; she’s supposed to stay in Shanghai and look pretty. But, given how one thing leads to another, there’s no opportunity for the two to part company. After Indy finally guzzles the antidote Willie had confiscated, tucked away in the not-entirely-friendly confines of her sequined gown, it’s in Willie’s best interest to avoid lingering around the airport with Lao Che and his Chinese mafia, or so Indy thinks.

Regarding those Nazis, in their place is an evil cult that enslaves children. And this time the action set pieces include a brisk mine car chase and a superb conclusion on a rope suspension bridge.

George and Steven, stop feeling the need to apologize for this one. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s thrill-a-minute. It’s also the dark middle chapter that makes the lighter tone of Raiders, and to an even greater degree, Last Crusade, work even better.

Indyfacts: Recollections from the Mattsonian Archives

  • Uproar over the movie’s heart-wrenching (literally) action led to the institution of the PG-13 rating. While Spielberg argued that he did not make R-rated movies and the movie ultimately retained its PG rating, later that summer Red Dawn became the first PG-13 release.
  • The gong shield scene in Club Obi-Wan and the mine car chase were holdovers from Raiders.
  • The Thuggee cult really was real. Really.
  • Temple of Doom was presented at the Century 21 in Denver using the new-fangled Tom Holman Crossover Sound System (better known as THX).
  • This was the only Indy adventure that did not face off against a superhero movie at the box office. Nonetheless, 1984 saw many memorable flicks, including Romancing the Stone, The Natural, Gremlins, and Buckaroo Banzai.
  • Indy took second to Ghostbusters in the summer box office derby.

DVD Extras

The first surprise: the new Special Edition DVDs, which are available for the first time as individual titles or in a new box set, kick off with the first Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull trailer. Unfortunately, it’s not readily accessible as a menu option.

The first disappointment: the menus are virtually identical to the previous edition, with the main exception of a new Special Features option.

The next surprise: a splendid new THX prelude that has eye-popping CGI and house-thumping surround sound.

Unlike the Raiders and Last Crusade Special Editions, the Temple of Doom Special Edition actually has some cool supplemental features. And, as mentioned in the other reviews, while a yak track with Spielberg, Ford, and Lucas, is what everybody really wants, at least this one does something different with the supplemental materials.

There is a new Introduction by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (6 minutes) that, as expected, thoroughly acknowledges the movie’s different tone and harsh critical reaction, but this time George and Steven stop short of apologizing for what they did (good for them!).

Creepy Crawlies (12 minutes) is where the real surprises begin. This one offers an optional pop-up trivia track that supplements the supplement with some often-times scientific information. This is actually an entertaining and informative look at the madness entailed in creating each movie’s gross-out quotient.

Discover Adventure on Location with Indy (10 minutes) also offers a pop-up track with bits of trivia, including the minutiae of the hotel names where many on the production stayed at various locations. On the down side, a lot of the footage is from Robert Watts’ interview included in the previous box set.

Hold Onto Your Hat! The Mine Cart Chase Storyboards (2.5 minutes) follows suit with the other discs and offers up storyboard-to-screen comparisons of the titular sequence.

The disc also includes an extensive set of photo galleries broken out in groups as Illustrations and Props; Production Photographs & Portraits; Effects/ILM; and Marketing. In all fairness, these are actually more fun to page through than the typical assemblage of images, although in this case a little more time could’ve been spent on all those intricately-detailed props in the Temple of Doom.

Also on tap is LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures Game Demo. Well, there’s a difference between a “special feature” and a “commercial.” This is clearly the latter. On the disc is the video game trailer and, via DVD-ROM, a link to the Lucas Arts Web site for access to the game demo download which, at press time, was still listed as “coming soon.”

Picture and Sound

The audio and video are virtually identical to the previous box set, released in 2003. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. Both are exceptional. The video is pristine; the movies have never looked better at home than on the DVD format. And they’ve never sounded better, either, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track providing plenty of definition to John Williams’ score, the screeching of the mine cars, and the screaming of Willie Scott.

The audio is also available in French and Spanish 2.0 Surround. Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish are also on tap.

How to Use This DVD

Watch the introduction by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas then dig right into the movie (pun intended).

After that, check out Creepy Crawlies and Discover Adventure on Location with Indy. Both are worth a look — and be sure to turn on the pop-up trivia track. Then start hoping the Indy gang gets it together for a much more comprehensive Blu-ray set some time down the road.