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May 21, 2008

HOW INDIANA JONES CHANGED MY LIFE

Let’s face it, we all have some piece of entertainment or artwork that has affected us in ways we never thought possible whether it be a book, a comic, a magazine article, a painting, a song or piece of music, a TV show or even a single TV episode and of course….there are a large number of us (an EXTREMELY large number of us) who can attribute a life changing moment to a feature length motion picture.

I grew up in the age of STAR WARS, and like most kids during that time; STAR WARS was the center of my being. We all know that era -- just shortly after the birth of the blockbuster (JAWS), and a time where special effects and the magic of the cinema and story-telling were changed forever. I spent most of my time in front of the Television watching almost everything, and obsessing about a few shows (THE A-TEAM and original STAR TREK were prominent ones…just ask my former schoolmates from that time period), and films – primarily classics such as NORTH BY NORTHWEST and PSYCHO (there was also a slight pre-occupation with GHOSTBUSTERS in there somewhere). But while I spent many hours (actually, the majority of my hours) devouring all these entertainment delights, I never once thought that it could be a career choice (actually, in my case, it’s a lifestyle choice), that was the case until I saw INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.



Ok so there it is, the shocker. I’m sure most people thought I would say RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK because for a lot of people, TEMPLE OF DOOM is considered the weak link in the series. But let’s look at the stats. In 1981 when RAIDERS was released, I was 8, and my parents thought I was a little young to see it. In 1984 when TEMPLE OF DOOM came out, I was 11, and when I first saw the movie on a VHS tape in 1988, I was 15, an age where I was reading more “grown-up” books, and watching a lot more “mature” films. I liked the darker more menacing edge of TEMPLE OF DOOM which clashed with the many PG rated more family friendly fare I had been subjected to at the time (remember that TEMPLE OF DOOM inspired the PG-13 rating which was officially introduced with 1985’s DREAMSCAPE). I had seen RAIDERS before, a few times in fact from (again) a VHS recording, but TEMPLE OF DOOM has a moment that really captured for me all the various aspects of filmmaking working together to make magic. It’s the scene where Indy having been being awoken from a zombie-like state, having saved Willie (Kate Capshaw) from getting her heart ripped out, turns to her after being asked “so let’s get out of here” and responds after putting on that iconic hat in a cool and pissed-off determined way “right…. all of us.” (Note: the pause is a key factor). It’s at that moment that the John Williams score kicks into high gear (track on the score album is entitled THE SLAVE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE) and after a shot or two where kids are being beaten, you see the figure of Indy standing defiantly in the dark, towering menacingly. As the light from a mine car moves in, slowly we see Indy, looking like he’s been put through a meat grinder and with an angry look that would intimidate the devil himself followed by him fighting his way through nasty guards to rescue the kids from their bonds of slavery. After completing the movie the first time, I went back to that moment, and would watch, rewind and then repeat that several times trying to figure out what made that moment so cool and finally after about 50 times of watching the scene I realized it was a combination of things. It wasn’t just Harrison’s look (which by the way is one of my favorites), but the score, the camera angles, the lighting, the costume design, the cuts, etc. etc. all working together to give me goose-bumps and get my adrenaline pumping. It was from this (although perhaps not so clear at that exact moment) that I decided that I was going to learn everything I could about the entertainment business. I started collecting pre-recorded movies with TEMPLE OF DOOM and RAIDERS (along with STAR TREK II and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS) being among the first titles, and it also inspired a sub-obsession with the art of the film score as I went out of my way to hunt down that soundtrack, and I still have that record to this day (and am listening to it as I type this) all of which later has resulted in my passion for the art and the business of entertainment, and inspired the career which I love so much, and know I’ll be involved in until he day I die – which will probably happen while I’m watching something (maybe TEMPLE OF DOOM? I’ll have to remember to keep the DVD on hand if I ever find myself on my death bed). During high school, I would come home and watch that scene along with the truck fight from RAIDERS (as well as the Kirk Vs. Khan space battle in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) almost every night which would explain my sub-standard grades since homework always came second.

If Biff Tannen from the BACK THE FUTURE movies were to steal the time-traveling DeLorean like he did in Part II, go back in time and steal my copy of TEMPLE OF DOOM before that fateful day, would my life-path turned out differently? I doubt it. I’m sure I would have seen something else that would have had the same effect on me…but while I rate MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON as my all-time favorite movie, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM will always be the movie that opened my eyes.

Of course what has inspired me to write this is that in a few hours, I will be heading off to my local multiplex to see INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (for the first of 2 times on opening day alone). It’s 2008, 27 years after 1981’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and 19 years after 1989’s INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE and you can see from what people are writing on the Internet that a lot of people are setting aside this weekend to see KINGDOM where in many cases they’d probably not even go to a movie theater to see anything opting instead to stay home with a DVD. Of course the last time this kind of buzz happened was in 1999 for STAR WARS – EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE, and the atmosphere at those early screenings was like that of a rock concert, and not just any rock concert, but as if the Beatles (Lennon included) had reunited for a grand once-in-a-lifetime tour. 19 years ago when LAST CRUSADE was released, I was still in high school, so I had a lot more time on my hands to see a film multiple times, and I did it right. That first week I saw the 7 & 9pm showings of LAST CRUSADE for 3 days straight, then saw it again on the following Sunday (I later went to see it twice at a local repertory theater, at a drive-in on a Paramount triple bill with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII and PET SEMETARY, and on a 35mm IMAX blow-up at an annual winter film festival) that’s 11 times on the big screen alone! So now I’m (censored) years old in a “grown-up” job, and am taking the day off tomorrow to see KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS (I reiterate, twice!), and am almost treating this like a national holiday – which leads me to my next confession, I like the INDIANA JONES series more than I like the original STAR WARS trilogy!

BLASPHEMY some may say. Even better than THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK others of you are now gasping? Why yes, even better than EMPIRE (but just to be clear, I absolutely love THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), but here’s why I think the INDIANA JONES series works so well. First off, there is Jones himself. He’s smart, he’s passionate about his subject (as Alison Doody points out in LAST CRUSADE when Indy is literally drooling over the fact he may have found clues that lead to the Holy Grail, “…giddy as a schoolboy.”), and while others are after these artifacts for fortune, glory and power, he respects the items and in turn, they respect him back (more on that later). But the best part is that Indiana Jones is flawed. In each and every film, he literally gets the tar beaten out of him. Look in any still from TEMPLE OF DOOM and Indy stands with his jacket gone, he’s battered and bloody and his shirt is literally torn to shreds (hat of course is still there) and he’s got a kryptonite in the form of snakes – he’s terrified of them! Then there is the fact that Indy doesn’t always win. His adversaries often get the better of him, and in each film, it’s actually the artifact, or more specifically, the "bad guy's" handling of the artifacts that ends up saving him. In RAIDERS, Indy is bound and helpless as the Nazis, led by Belloq, stupidly opens the chest which wipes them all out. In TEMPLE OF DOOM, Mola Ram, after beating the crap out of Indy hanging from the cliff on a fallen rope ladder, falls to his death into the mouths of some hungry crocodiles below when he grabs the scorching hot Sankara stone. And in LAST CRUSADE, the lead Nazi dies horribly when he drinks from the cup that is not the Holy Grail, and the duplicitous Nazi female falls to her death trying to obtain the real Grail while Jones watches on helplessly.



Then there’s the fact that Indiana Jones is not living in outer space, nor a futuristic society, but in a semi-real 1930s where he has to make a living as a college professor, the world is at war and the bad guys, well….you can’t get any worse than the Nazis or a ruthless third world cult (in this new film the time period is the 1950s, and the villains are cold war Russians). I also love the fact that in RAIDERS, the object everyone is after is The Ark of the Covenant, a not exactly super-popular relic with a heavy religious significance. I, coming from a heavy religious background (with a father who is a pastor) am very familiar with the chapters of the Bible dealing with the Ark, and love that Spielberg even takes care to have Indy and Sallah NOT touch the Ark at all (they lift it up using poles) remembering that in the Bible, anyone who touched it met with instant death from God – which of course Belloq and the Nazis later discover in full face-melting splendor. And of course, any discussion of Indiana Jones has to include the intricately choreographed, roller coaster adventure sequences that just keep going with our lead characters plight becoming more precarious moment by moment.

So tonight I sit and contemplate the fact that after 19 years, I get to see a character I love in an all-new adventure. What’s Indy going to be like with CGI effects being so prominent now (barely used, if at all in 1989). There are shots of Indy in the warehouse from the end of RAIDERS, so does the Ark of the Covenant make an appearance? And what about cameos, we know Marion (Karen Allen) returns but what of Willie, Short Round or Sallah? I can’t wait to hear those familiar strains of that iconic John Williams composed theme music, so classic yet renewed once again for another action packed roller coaster ride, ready to go back to that moment where I truly began to love motion pictures, and the art and business of creating them.