I recently decided to see the Indiana Jones movie trilogy again. It's amazing that after eighteen years, the plot, the effects, and the action scenes are superior to most movies being put out today. The movie is an incredible testament to the directoral skills of Steven Spielberg and the writing skills of George Lucas and Philip Kaufman.
The plot is simple, but involves elaborate twists and turns in terms of execution: set in a pre-World War II era, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), "professor of archaeology, expert on the occult" and "obtainer of rare antiquities", must find the mystical and powerful Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. The Ark is the chest the Hebrews originally carried around containing the Ten Commandments, the original stone tables that Moses bought down from Mt. Heron and smashed. The Nazis want the Ark because it is infused with the invincible powers of the Jewish God (irony). Led by Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), Indiana Jones' arch rival, and aided by the sadistic Toht (Ronald Lacey), the Nazis represent a formidable threat to U.S. Government if they succeed in their efforts. Needless to say, Indiana Jones must get to the Ark first.
The opening sequence, which is simply fodder for the action-starved among us, is brilliant and is one of the most memorable movie scenes I've seen (it's also my favourite sequence of the film). Besides watching it, I highly recommend experiencing it through the Indiana Jones stunt show at Walt Disney World or the Indiana Jones adventure ride in Disneyland. As you watch the sequence, you're on the edge of your seat as Indy brushes off tarantulas, dances around traps that shoot out poisoned darts, and dodges a giant spherical boulder to obtain his prize---only to have it taken away.
One of the reasons that Raiders of the Lost Ark works is because of the reason I mention above: combining a simple plot with suspense and intrigue works wonders. This way, the suspension of disbelief required is low and the audience can easily follow the plot, but at the same time there's a great deal of mystery about what will happen next. This can only work if the movie has a strong momentum between and during the action sequences, which drive the simple plot. This is achieved in Raiders of the Lost Ark by crafting each action scene exceptionally well, mixing the right amount of tension and anticipation without making us wait too long. There's also a decent amount of good humour involved. The acting by Harrison Ford is just right---they don't make heroes like him any more. The supporting cast, including John Rhys-Davies playing Indy's friend Sallah, and Karen Allen playing Indy's love-interest Marion, are good as well.
However, what makes Indiana Jones so perfect, beyond the superlative plot, the breathless and break neck pacing, and the charisma of its stars, is the marvelous score by John Williams. Like with Star Wars, the Indiana Jones theme resonates long after you've left the movie.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is probably the weakest offering of the Indiana Jones movie series. Yet, it is still better than most movies out there. Although a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the events in the film are set prior to the ones depicted in the first film. As such, if you're watching the films for the first time, you may want to consider watching it in a chronological order.
Once again, Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones. And once again, the opening sequence, where he tries to steal a diamond from Chinese gangsters in Shangai, has little to do with the rest of the film except to set the stage for a crash landing somewhere in India. There, Indy, his kid companion Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), and cabaret singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), encounter a group of villagers lamenting their lost children who have taken from them by the Thuggees. (The Thuggees were (are?) a cult based on robbery and murder, worshipping the Hindu goddess Kali and conducting human sacrifices in her name. They are responsible for perfecting the art of strangulation as one their religious edicts forbade them to spill blood (this goes back to Kali and Hindu mythology).)
The Thuggees also have taken a sacred mystical "Shankara stone" which the villagers worshipped (incidentally, the stone, which represents a "linga" happens to be a phallic symbol). The leader of the Thuggees, Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), is interested in the stones because whoever acquires all five of them will possess great power. To that end, Mola Ram has put the child labourers to work digging for the remaining two stones he does not possess. Kind-hearted, Jones decides to help the villagers out and goes after Mola Ram.
The action sequences are brilliant. In terms of pure effects, they're superior to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film successfully projects an aura of surrealist mysticism with regards to the Thuggees which is highly convincing given the subject matter, more so than in the previous film with the myth about the mystical Ark of the Covenant. The atmosphere is dark and fascinating. The problem with this film lies in the fact that it is mostly Harrison Ford who is in charge. Unlike the first film of the series where we had a strong and worthy companion, to match Indiana Jones, in Karen Allen, we're stuck with the whiny Willie Scott who behaves more like the stereotype. The Short Round character is also annoying. The final action sequence involving a roller coaster-like ride would nicely complement the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Disneyland. The sound track (by John Williams) is memorable as ever, though the music is too happy and is over used at certain key points when silence would've been better.
If you're going for the Saturday afternoon matinee feel from decades ago, these deficiencies can be easily overlooked. This is the movie that caused the MPAA to instigate the PG-13 rating, and it's worth it to check out why!