You know, all my life, I'd been longing to see a film where a guy is pursued by an army of sword-waving Thuggees up the side of a sheer mountain cliff on a rickety old bridge that has been cut in half right over the top of a thundering torrent full of ravenous crocodiles, and also with the forces of the British Raj thundering up the other side of the mountain to rescue him by shooting down the sword-waving Thuggees and not to mention as well the arrow-shooting Thuggees on the opposite cliff, but only if that guy is being attacked from right above him by a powerful priest of Kali who is attempting to rip his heart out by means of an eldritch magical spell uttered in an ancient Indian dialect. Just for the novelty value.
Well tonight, I realised that I'd already seen that film. And loved it; it had long been one of my favourite films as a kid: it was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Only tonight I couldn't really see the point of all that sword-waving-arrow-firing-spell-chanting-hungry-crocodilian activity. It really did seem like a lot of superfluous detail at once. Get a camera, shoot an action movie, and confront a hero with a sword-waving enemy: there you've got danger, thrills, terror, and adventure, in one handy shot. Then confront that hero with a hundred sword-waving enemies, and you don't have more danger, thrills, terror, and adventure: you compound the ridiculousness without increasing the enjoyment.
And the whole last quarter of Temple of Doom is like that, concluding with a chase scene that is not only incredible, but interminable. What was Spielberg thinking?
It's not all bad though. I still love the lurid, fabulous, and gorgeous scene-setting that leads up to the proto-comic-book chase scene. There is a great set piece right at the start of the film, with a Cole Porter song being sung in a combination of Chinese, French, and English, and Chinese dancers. The central idea - of a kind of descent into, and escape from, hell - is strong. The banquet scene (with live snakes being devoured by gigantic turbaned guards, and grotesque, grilled, gargantuan beetles, and chilled monkey brains) still works (I think it's that scene that really stuck in my memory from my childhood, a kind of Babette's feast for little-boys-who-like-eating.)
Yes, but were my snorts ripped? Were my buckles swashed? Were my spills chilled and thrilled? Oh, all right then, yes. I just wish the film had been shorter. Only half an hour or so.
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