...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Temple of Cloverfield

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come not to praise Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but instead to freaking bury it.

I will admit that consumer culture got the better of me as I was led to purchase the Indy trilogy a couple weeks back. We watched Raiders first. Most of it still holds up, especially the humor, the action, and the editing. And Karen Allen.

Then I watched its sequel (but actually a prequel), T.O.D. -- as the fanboys call it. And now I almost regret it. 32 hours after watching it, I still feel like I need an enema.

Maybe that says more about me than the movie.

Watching T.O.D. was almost like watching the Star Wars prequels after viewing the original SW trilogy. You know, it looks like an Indy movie. It kinda moves like an Indy movie. And there's the "Indiana Jones" in the title. But it's not the same.

Gone is any hint of the occasionally shy scholar, who could talk and charm his way out of things, who would almost rather talk and charm, before cracking heads. Unless the situation involves Nazis. The Indy of the first and third films had room to muse and think. And gave H. Ford an opportunity to hone his patented sly humor. But in T.O.D. the script allows no humor, subtle or otherwise, from Dr. Jones. He's more sinister (and George-Hamil-tan) from the start. Why would he trade an artifact for a big diamond? Why does he talk about "fortune and glory" like he actually wants it? Where'd that come from?

Since this serious butt-kicker has no room for humor it's left to his stereotyped sidekicks. Young Jon Ke Quan is used for the same "it's so funny how he talks in his broken English" hoots that he would later bring to Goonies. But to be honest, he knows what works and does provide some great moments during the poker game and the bridge scene.

(Full Disclosure: I used to work with Jonathan's brother at an agency in Santa Monica. He was very cool, very fun, and laid back.)

Then there's Willie. I think that the bashing of Kate Capshaw has to stop for the most part. Much of the fault is in the script and direction. Why would one choose to have an ultra independent, hard living, strong willed woman as Indy's love interest in one movie, then have a whiny, ditzy, needy, spoiled tag-along for his lady in the next? Lining Marion and Willie side-by-side is not complimentary to the latter at all. On top of all her grating flaws, she's also supposed to be the comedy relief. I think. She's supposed to funny, right? That anachronistic perm she wields is a riot. Some ponder if she was given the part due to possible romantic entanglements with Steven S. (her future husband). But I'll be honest, he really didn't set her up to succeed. So I care not to shovel anymore dirt on her. You might want to reference the filmmakers there.

Like the other Indy flicks there's little or no character behind the characters. Sometimes that works well. But in T.O.D. everyone is sort of a blank meat puppet waiting to get beaten down. Even the bad guy -- Telly Savalas? -- is only scary because he rips hearts out of chests. Okay that's scary, but so is the fact that Indy suddenly knows a bunch of Thuggee fire chants at the end of the movie and I didn't catch that plot hiccup (nor the one where Short Round somehow knows how to wake up a Thuggee slave with fire) until 24 years later.

The violence is the goriest here. And often unnecessarily so. It wasn't the heart-ripping that bothered me, but rather the length of time spent on detailing the suffering and burning to death of the innocent victim. It was so intricately executed, that it became a strange sort of sadism on the part of the viewer to keep watching.

And speaking of exploitation, how about them Spielberg children? Indiana's going into the temple, partially, to free the exploited children from the Nike factory, er, rock mine. But yet, aren't the beaten children being exploited by the filmmakers so that their peril creates pathos? Something struck me as hypocritical when the single escapee collapses in Indy's arms at the beginning of the movie. We see his bone skinny arms and malnourished face. Don't tell me he wasn't especially chosen by Casting for his for his real starved, sickened features. I hope you Vultures actually fed these people after you exploited their conditions in order to show the Great White Man saving their lives.

I'm done with my bit here. Writing this is pissing me off.

On a more positive note, I watched Cloverfield this weekend too. Not as bad as the critics tried to paint it. Not sure what they were expecting. It's Godzilla shot Blair Witch-style. The execution of the idea was entertaining and as unique as a hybrid-ized stolen thesis can be. Ignoring the bland, generally unlikeable (weren't you just waiting for --- to die?) characters who do the ridiculous things that only monster-movie-people do, the ride was fun. And graciously short. It can also be seen as a study of our culture's need to experience things not with our eyes but with our gadgets. Note all the cell phones and cameras taking pics throughout the video. Whether it's believable that someone would keep running the video camera through the entire ordeal, or that the battery didn't die, or that a 300-foot monster who's being bombed by the Air Force could just sneak up on someone......well, there it is. That sentence fragment speaks for itself.


  1. Let's see, I have to respectfully disagree with you on Indiana. I find TLC to be schmaltzy and self-important, while I enjoy the campy, over-the-top TOD. I think your complaints are valid, I just have more fun watching TOD.

    I want to see Cloverfield - I'm a big J.J. Abrams fan, LOST enthusiast.

  2. I agree with you on the TLC schmaltz. The late eighties was a bad period for American film. Most flicks from that time are aging poorly. I think everyone in the biz was sobering up from the 10 years of coca.

    And let me know what you think of Cloverfield. I'm still trying to figure out if I was infatuated with the idea and that blinded me to its many faults.