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Saturday, April 19, 2014

John WIlliams -- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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When I was a kid, I had another name for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That name was "The One I Can't Watch." For some reason, my mom had a problem with a seven-year old viewing human sacrifice, ten year olds knife-fighting, and a guy ripping out another dude's heart with his bare hand. She would allow me to watch Indy and his allies' adventures until they made it to the antechamber before the titular Temple. As soon as the far off sound of chanting whispered through the TV speakers, the TV went off. She'd turn it on an hour later, just as Indy and his crew were bursting out of the temple caves to a sunny, precarious cliffside. I didn't see that middle chunk of the film until the eighth grade. By that point, I had nearly forgotten about Temple of Doom, despite the fact that I had seen its siblings many, many times. Instead, it was out of sight, out of mind, until a late-night cable airing. I noticed the movie was on, thought, oh yeah, I've never seen this whole thing, and watched it to my heart's content. I then immediately purchased it on VHS and watched it again and again and again to make up for lost time. I watched it so many times, I created a ritual where when I did, I turned off every light, except a desk-lamp that I made at 4-H camp out of a Pepsi can, which I placed on the floor next to me, underneath an inverted laundry basket. I was an exceptional child.
Anyway, while Temple of Doom is usually regarded as both the wildest and weakest of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, I tend to side closer to Roger Ebert's view of the film (though I wouldn't quite give it a four-star rating, as he does.) Spielberg and Lucas were both recovering from the end of long-term romantic relationships when they made the film, and their "I hate everybody right now, but I'm still at the top of my Saturday-serial game" attitudes are palpable. Every set piece is ingeniously and breathlessly executed, and this film contains a looooooot of set-pieces. Speaking of sets, the set-design is unmatched. On top of that, the special effects are superb, the villain is excellent, the settings are exotic and exciting, and Harrison Ford embodies the role of the globetrotting archaeologist as well as he ever has. Temple of Doom might not be as perfect as Raiders of the Lost Ark, as absolutely no action-adventure film is as perfect as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it is an incredibly fun and entertaining film, even if it has the mean streak of a crocodile-loaded river mile. It even edges out Raiders of the Lost Ark in one category: its John Williams composed film score.
Yes, I just said that Temple of Doom features a better soundtrack than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Get out the stones, I guess. Raiders of the Lost Ark's score is flawless, but Temple of Doom's score is not only flawless, but bigger and better than Raiders. While Spielberg and Lucas set out to not repeat the same film twice, Williams set out to write even better music. He begins with Indiana Jones' classic "Raiders March" as a foundation, then rolls out theme after memorable theme until the end credits roll.
Everything gets a theme in this film.
A wall of water featured in the film for under two minutes? You get your own distinct theme! British Soldiers who pop up to save the day for about 90-seconds of screen time? You get your own theme! None of this would matter if Williams music wasn't so magnificently evocative. He puts the listener in a 1930's Chinese Nightclub, on the seedy streets of Shanghai, in the air over the Himalayas, in the steamy jungles of India, in a luxurious but unnerving hilltop palace, in cramped, bug-infested caves, into the ninth circle of hell, though the mine-shaft out of it, to a rope bridge between life and death, to a sheer cliff side above the river Styx, to escape and freedom. Through these evocations, Williams creates three new major themes that are repeated with variation throughout the film (NUMBERS!!!): 1) An exotic, percussive, and lively theme for the titular temple, which brings to mind children rising up out of chains. 2) A swooning theme for Indy's love-interest, who is often criticized for being far less tough and often more terrified than Marion from the first Indiana Jones film. After showing the original Indiana Jones trilogy to my wife, I asked her which film was her favorite. She said Temple of Doom by a mile because "the girl in that one actually acted like a girl." My wife is not a fan of the outdoors. 3)An Asian-inspired, childlike, but adventurous theme for Indy's young sidekick "Short Round." (NUMBERS END :(). Around these major themes, Williams weaves loads of the equally memorable minor ones I referenced above. Anything on the screen for more than thirty seconds, and every one of the film's numerous action beats gets its own theme. Williams also uses more choral work to score Temple of Doom than perhaps any other soundtrack he has composed (excluding Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and to great effect. The resultant work is staggering. That Williams could create such an imaginative, expansive score for a film some regard as merely trifling is yet more proof of his creative genius. As it stands, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is one of the finest film scores all time.

NOTE: This is a review of Concord Records' near complete 2008 re-release of Temple of Doom's score, NOT the 1984 release, which omits most of this music. Also, to nitpick something I gave a perfect score to, I can't understand why the percussive rope-bridge scene music has yet to be released. The few major cues left off of this 2008 release can be found on a bonus disc if one buy's Concord's box set of the entire trilogy score, but that particular cue is still missing. Make it happen, somebody!

1984/2008 Concord Records
1. Anything Goes (performed by Kate Capshaw) 2:51
2. Indy Negotiates 3:59
3. The Nightclub Brawl 2:32
4. Fast Streets of Shanghai 3:39
5. Map/Out of Fuel 3:22
6. Slalom on Mt. Humol 2:24
7. Short Round's Theme 2:29
8. The Scroll/To Pankot Palace 4:26
9. Nocturnal Activities 5:54
10. Bug Tunnel/Death Trap 3:31
11. Approaching the Stones* 2:39
12. Children in Chains 2:42
13. The Temple of Doom 2:58
14. Short Round Escapes 2:22
15. Saving Willie* 3:35
16. Slave Children's Crusade 3:23
17. Short Round Helps 4:49
18. The Mine Car Chase 3:41
19. Water! 1:55
20. The Sword Trick 1:05
21. The Broken Bridge/British Relief 4:47
22. End Credits 6:19

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