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The Indiana Jones Films on DVD: Raiders of the Lost Ark • Temple of Doom • Last Crusade • Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (The Adventure Collection) DVD Review

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Theatrical Release: May 23, 1984 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Steven Spielberg / Writers: Willard Hyuck, Gloria Katz (screenplay); George Lucas (story)

Cast: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Kate Capshaw (Willie Scott), Ke Huy Quan (Short Round), Amrish Puri (Mola Ram), Roshan Seth (Chattar Lal), Philip Stone (Captain Blumburtt), Roy Chiao (Lao Che), David Yip (Wu Han), Ric Young (Kao Kan), Chua Kah Joo (Chen), Rex Ngui (Maitre d'), Philip Tann (Chief Henchman), Dan Aykroyd (Earl Weber), Akio Mitamura (Chinese Pilot), Michael Yama (Chinese Co-Pilot), D.R. Nanayakkara (Shaman), Dharmadasa Kuruppu (Chieftain)

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I strongly believe that Steven Spielberg is quite likely the greatest film director the world has yet to see. I say that not merely based on his acclaimed historical dramas like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, but on his reliable crowd-pleasing adventures such as Jurassic Park and Jaws.
I have some trouble figuring out why, then, unlike the majority of movie viewers, I am unable to see the outstanding merit in the Indiana Jones movies, directed by Spielberg and partially crafted by Star Wars genius George Lucas.

In recent years, it's been pretty easy to distinguish the popcorn fare (War of the Worlds) from the Oscar bait (Munich). But in the early days of his filmmaking career, Spielberg's efforts seemed to reside in a middle ground that could both draw big audiences and satisfy critics.

The Indy series began with 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, the fifth theatrical film to credit Spielberg as director. Raiders was given an incredibly warm reception from critics and moviegoers. Earning more than $200 million, it was easily the highest-grossing film of its year and on par with the previous summer's big hit, Lucas' Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences honored Raiders with eight Oscar nominations (resulting in four technical category wins) and an uncontested special achievement award for sound effects editing.

It is not a film that time has forgotten. The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry. The American Film Institute included it in both incarnations of its attention-garnering Top 100 movie lists, also naming Indiana Jones the second greatest hero in cinema history. By the time its inevitable sequel reached theaters in May of 1984, Raiders had already made two return engagements to theaters, predictably profitable in the absence of a VHS release.

"Temple of Doom", the first sequel/prequel, opens with a life-and-death test of wits, as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) holds Shanghai lounge singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) hostage with a gun-toting "waiter" on his side. This weakened Indian village puts plenty of hope in Dr. Jones being able to make things right for them.

That sequel was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and though easy not to notice, it is actually a prequel, taking place in 1935, a year prior to the events of Raiders. The film opens in a Shanghai nightclub, with a mostly Mandarin rendition of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" that seems to be more a statement than a song.
Of course, anything went in the previous film too, so our first brush with excitement -- involving a surreptitious poisoning and an elusive antidote vial feels somewhat familiar.

It doesn't take too long for the bustling betrayal to settle, at which point archaeologist-adventurer Dr. "Indiana" Jones (Harrison Ford) is clearly accompanied by two: whiny American lounge singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and a spirited Asian boy called Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). The relief provided by the trio's narrow escape from Shanghai disappears when they realize their getaway airplane is unpiloted, low on fuel, and heading for disaster in a snowy mountain range.

Forgive this spoiler: they don't die. Instead, Indy, Willie, and Short Round brave an assortment of peril before winding up in a small village in India. Some thoughtful exposition from the local folk supplies a change in plans for our three protagonists. To aid the impoverished community, they reluctantly agree to an attempted retrieval of a sacred stone. The immense hardship its theft has caused is believed to be linked to the Pankot Palace, where they head.

At the halfway mark, after a surprising abundance of moments meant to be comical and plenty more close calls, Indy and his two companions discover the darkness and evil lurking beneath the Palace's sociable surface. It involves that stolen stone, as well as a ritualistic cult into human sacrifice and child slavery.

Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), Willie, and Indy take a dramatic look at the eponymous Temple of Doom. There's not a redeeming characteristic to Mola Ram (Indian actor Amrish Puri), the head-tattooed, bone-necklaced villain of the film.

As I said in my opening, the appeal of the Indiana Jones series that is near-universally celebrated somewhat eludes me. It's not that I consider them bad films, but ones that hardly seem to deserve classic status based on their content. I don't rank Indy's adventures too highly among Spielberg's expansive rιsumι or among other popular movies of their time.

I can think of two reasons I might be at blame for not appreciating the films. Firstly, I don't have fond, vivid memories of a grand communal theater experience back in the 1980s nor of wearing out a videocassette with routine viewings. I saw the films and remember caring about them to a degree, but my ambivalent viewings at the start of this decade and now stand out much more. The second and less convincing explanation is that I don't particularly care much for or about the '30s and '40s hero serials that apparently inspired Spielberg and Lucas to a large degree.

Frankly, I think more than my tastes and background the films are responsible for my underwhelming view of the trilogy. Though composed of numerous memorable set pieces, Raiders is slight on characterization and plot. It unfolds as a series of improbable sequences in which the hero, a college professor back home, repeatedly cheats death with little rhyme or reason. The fuzzily-defined Good Guy beats long odds so handily, smoothly, and far-fetchedly that it's tough to find any suspense in the nonetheless skillfully-weaved action sequences. Even though the stakes are about as high as they can be -- the titular ark is a sacred bridge between the Judeo-Christian God and mankind, the bad guys are those wretched Nazis -- the religious and historical aspects are merely an excuse for the bullwhip-wielding Jones to outsmart and outfight Middle Easterners, sinister socialist soldiers, and snakes.

Kate Capshaw has trouble selling her character Willie Scott as either broad comic relief or, here, believable love interest. Tracy and Hepburn, it's not. Indiana Jones gets to add to his rope-swinging resumι while also participating in the roller coaster finale of "Temple of Doom."

Temple of Doom actually gives us more plot and further insight into its characters. However, that plot is bendy and convoluted, and the characters reveal themselves to be silly and shallow. This second Indy film takes many strides in the name of humor and falls flat in most of them. Though straight-faced through and through, Jones had already been established as someone who can crack a joke in the face of danger. Temple attempts to contrast Indy's low-key wit with the extremely broad tone of love interest Willie.
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The character, a gold-digging prima donna, feels out of place and Kate Capshaw's deservedly much-panned performance calls into question Spielberg's casting intentions and whether pity somehow drove the two to wed. (Regardless of how it came to be, Spielberg and Capshaw celebrate their 17th anniversary this year, making them stalwarts among Hollywood marriages.) The supposedly witty banter that Temple runs Indy and Willie through shines light on a lack of chemistry, but then romance is doubtlessly a side dish for globe-trotting adventurers. The time spent trying to get laughs out of gross food and wild animals also approaches painfully forced.

There's one thing for which the Indiana Jones films do earn their rampant praise: entertainment value. This is a concept at the heart of the word "movie" and it's important to recognize how well these adventures fare in this regard. Fast, fun, and imaginative, the films are easy to watch. That's true of Temple even as jokes miss their mark and sidekick Short Round provides enjoyment in the vain of fellow summer of 1984 multiplex subject Long Duk Dong (the iconic -- some would dub stereotypical -- supporting character in Sixteen Candles).

Tonally, Temple does a rather remarkable about-face at the one-hour mark, turning from clear comedy to dark drama with little in the way of transition. Especially on a first viewing, the dreary imagery seems overly disturbing for a film that is largely enjoyed by children. This is not a new observation; complaints over the material would lead to the creation of a PG-13 rating within weeks.

Smiling with the enemy -- has Indiana Jones gone bad? Say it ain't so, Indy! With opposition clearly approaching from both directions of this rope bridge, all Indiana Jones can do is wield a sword, flex, and look tough. Juggling the three is sure to make the short wait feel even shorter.

The troubling center portions do let up and the mood lightens for a final act that's almost pure action, taking place mostly in a roller-coaster-like wild mine train ride and culminating on a long, high rope bridge. These closing sequences are as compelling as anything else in the film, though a few of the blue screen effects show their age. Nonetheless, Visual Effects were the source of Temple's only Oscar win, for which it defeated 2010 and Ghostbusters.

Though the lowest-grossing entry to the series, Temple of Doom's $180 million domestic intake (nearly matched in overseas markets) still made it one of the biggest earners of 1984 or any year to date. Critical and audience reaction, however, was a little cooler. But the room left for improvement would be claimed five years later with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film which would offer a noticeable rebound and a satisfying air of closure.

One of those treasured franchises that studios deliberately took their time to bring to the now-prevalent home video format, the Indiana Jones Trilogy came to DVD in the fall of 2003 exclusively in a 4-disc Complete Movie Collection. Four and a half years later, with that moniker on the verge of being inaccurate, Paramount revisits the first three films in their first standalone DVDs. Simultaneously, the three discs are bundled together in The Adventure Collection, an attractively-priced set. Fans' feathers were ruffled at the announcement of the new releases, with cries of an unjust "double dip" resonating -- where else? -- on the Internet. But of course, the diehard Indy enthusiasts are just as likely as non-owners to take note of the new DVDs, which just so happen to reach stores ten days before the long-developed fourth film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens in theaters.

Buy Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.20:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish;
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 13, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $26.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
THX-Certified
Black Slimcase (The Adventure Collection in Holographic Cardboard Box)
Buy Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection 3-DVD Set from Amazon.com

VIDEO and AUDIO

Those like me accustomed to seeing the Indiana Jones films in the wonder of degraded pan-and-scan videocassettes should rejoice at the sight of these DVDs, which offer higher resolution and preserve the considerable frame width in anamorphic widescreen transfers nearer to 2.35:1 than the 2.20:1 aspect ratios widely cited. Unable to compare this new Temple of Doom disc to its 2003 counterpart, I can only guess that this presentation is quite similar to the movie's original DVD release.
Happily, the element is immaculate; I couldn't spot a single foreign intrusion in the picture. I was, however, slightly taken aback in the sharpness department; certain shots and parts of shots looked soft to me and the film never seemed as crisp as Raiders. The dark palette of many scenes in the film are handled well, showcasing enough range to distinguish elements with ease. Considering the film's age as well as its series' fan following, my expectations were met but not exceeded.

From the genre, makers, and budget of Temple of Doom, one reasonably expects to be treated to a dynamic aural experience. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack may not reach that, but it also doesn't disappoint. Various locations are brought to life with crisp effects that don't drown out the dialogue. The rear channels are used sparingly, generally being reserved for bombastic flares of John Williams' unforgettable themes more than atmospheric directional use.

The packaging makes no claim of new restoration work. Between that and what I see and hear, I doubt that improvement major or minor is to be found here in the picture and sound departments.

Everyone loves an Asian boy. Producer Frank Marshall, director Steven Spielberg, and producer/creator George Lucas are all smiles in the company of (Jonathan) Ke Huy Quan, in vintage production footage seen in Temple of Doom's new introduction. In "The Creepy Crawlies", animal wrangler Jules Sylvester shows off one of his snakes while "pop-up" trivia provides a semi-random fun fact. Trilogy producer Robert Watts does the lion's share of the talking in "Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Like its surrounding films, Temple of Doom is treated to a DVD that's fairly modest supplementally, at least in relation to the series' popularity.

Extras begin with "Temple of Doom: An Introduction" (5:50), which is more of a short two-person retrospective than your typically disposable welcome.
Here, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas reflect on their second collaboration, interestingly commenting on its setting, dark tone, climax, and reception.

"The Creepy Crawlies" (11:45) discusses snakes, insects, and rats -- the critters seen in hair-raising sequences from the three films. Much of the piece lets animal wrangler Jules Sylvester talk about working with the different animals. There is an option to view the feature with "pop-up trivia", which frequently provides long text blocks that share mildly relevant tidbits pertaining to the species and the Indy filmmaking experiences with them.

The third and last featurette, "Travel with Indy: Locations" (10:30), covers the scattered spots around the globe where Indiana Jones movies have been filmed. Relying chiefly on comments by producer Robert Watts, it is moderately enlightening and so is the pop-up trivia offered here.

Like nearly all the featurettes on the films' 2008 DVDs, these ones mix new interview clips of Crystal Skull cast & crew (including Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, and producer Frank Marshall) with vintage production footage and the occasional trilogy film clip.

This snapshot of Ke Huy Quan and Harrison Ford is... A) a tender moment, B) one of over 200 images found in the DVD's Galleries, C) NAMBLA's dream celebrity endorsement, or D) all of the above. See how the climactic Mine Chase Sequence was originally envisioned. Storyboards, yes. Comparison, not so much. Indy's smug getaway smile shares the screen with a vacant mine car in the filtered animated main menu.

Four stills galleries are provided. "Illustrations and Props" (52 images) looks primarily at set and costume design, with a few storyboards and production shots thrown in. The largest and most interesting, "Production Photographs & Portraits" (118 images) holds a mix of color and black & white, spontaneous and posed shots, most arranged by the focal cast or crew member.
"Effects/ILM" (40 images) supplies pictures of crew members toiling over miniature sets and character models. "Marketing" (34 images) gives us posters from around the globe and a handful of black & white premiere photos.

Sensibly, the disc's selection for a storyboard-to-film comparison (a staple of the set) is an excerpt of the "Mine Cart Chase Sequence" (2:30). The more storyboards I see, the less interesting I find them. It's tough to get too excited here, as the visuals don't really align and the film clip plays in a window that's about the size of a credit card on an average TV.

Finally, there is a 75-second ad for Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures, a video game that looks both ridiculous and promising. The "game trailer" and URL to (not yet) download a demo are identical to what's offered on the other two films' discs.

Naturally, the disc opens with a trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which isn't available from the menu. It's disappointing to have this be the only Indy movie trailer on the set, but at least it ensures it's on DVD, whether or not it's preserved for its inevitable holiday season release.

Trailers for the trilogy films aren't all that haven't made their way over to this set. In fact, none of the extras that claimed Disc 4 of the original Indiana Jones Trilogy DVD set resurface here. Not the two-hour three-part "Making the Trilogy" documentary and not the four other topical featurettes on stunts, sound, music, and effects.

Matching the other DVDs, the main menu alternates between a film-specific action montage given texture effect and a world map. In both instances, excerpts of John Williams score reflect the intended mood. Submenus feature additional music excerpts and mild animation with the racing mine car serving as a transitional vehicle.

In the Adventure Collection at least, Temple and its neighbors are treated to slim black keepcases holding nothing but the disc inside. I would imagine the same space-saving packaging is also employed for the individual release, which boast the same poster-inspired covers. But going that way, you'd miss out on the sturdy white cardboard box which features the famous fedora and whip on the spine and a holographic world map behind Indy on the front cover.

Our three leads -- The Good, The Young, and The Whiny -- are greeted at the film's central location, Pankot Palace. A bold and deliberate lens flare serves to emphasize the heroism already present in this low-angle shot of Indy on an elephant.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Reviewers and audiences have decided that Temple of Doom is the weakest of the first three Indiana Jones films. As someone who's not as adoring as most members of either class, I would have to agree. That said, this second adventure does provide a passable degree of entertainment and some unique charms. Its strengths, however, are equaled and likely surpassed by its problems, which include comedic ineptitude, a dreary and off-putting central location, and a lacking leading lady.

For being proclaimed a Special Edition (in advertising materials, if not on the case), Temple's new DVD is none too special and neither are those afforded its kin. It's a tiny demographic who should be really excited by the set: those who haven't sprung for the trilogy and value the new supplements over the formidable ones on the earlier collection (which can still be had... and for less). The real target must be the casual DVD section browser, who prompted by the hype over the new sequel, will look to get acquainted or reacquainted with the series. Retailer promotion, snazzy packaging, and a reasonable list price should be enough to sell this customer.

I suppose those looking to own just one of the Indy movies might benefit as well, but any more than that and the complete Adventure Collection is your better bet monetarily. For those who already own the 2003 Indy trilogy DVD set, another purchase probably isn't justifiable. Although you do get a considerable amount of interesting new bonus material here, you've already got more than it on your shelf. And the fact that the franchise is just days away from being expanded, another set seems possible somewhere down the line.

Buy from Amazon.com: The Temple of Doom / Indiana Jones: 3-DVD The Adventure Collection

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Related Reviews:
Raiders of the Lost Ark • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
National Treasure • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
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1980s Films: Red Dawn • Tron • Cujo • Something Wicked This Way Comes • The Shining • Tex • Flight of the Navigator

Indiana Jones Adventure, The Disneyland Attraction:
Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic • A Musical History of Disneyland • Interview with Tony Baxter, Senior VP Disney Imagineering

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Reviewed May 12, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1984 Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd., 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.