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Cinema: Keeping the Customer Satisfied

6 minute read
Richard Corliss


Directed by Steven Spielberg; Screenplay by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz

May 25, 1990. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg today announced plans to build a giant theme park called Star World, with attractions based on scenes from their films. Between them, Spielberg and Lucas have directed or produced the dozen top-grossing movies of all time: Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Return of the Jedi 0983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Gremlins (1984), Close Encounters: The Final Edition (1985), Indiana Jones Phones Home (1987), 1942 (1988) and The Gremlins Eat Princess Leia (1989).

A spokesman for the film makers’ corporation, Luke Spielberger Ltd., said that the attractions will include a Poltergeist funhouse, a scuba dive through shark-infested waters, an American Graffiti drag strip, a Millennium Falcon journey through the Twilight Zone, an E. T. flying-bike ride and an Indiana Jones snake pit. The restaurants, or cantinas, will feature gremlins serving popcorn and candy bars. Each afternoon the Ewoks Marching Band will parade through the park playing the works of John Williams.

The spokesman would not confirm reports that Lucas and Spielberg intended to buy all six major Hollywood studios, and then raze the back lot as sites for Star World. But he struck fear into moguls’ hearts when he asked, “Why settle for the Force when you can have the Empire too?”

For now they are content to make movies—movies that career from thrill to giggle and back to thrill again at 24 frames per second. Nobody does it better; no one has ever done it with quite so much relentless ingenuity. They broke out by going back. Lucas proved with the Star Wars trilogy that the Old Hollywood formula of moviemaking, cagily updated, could work wonders at the box office and in the toy store. His movies are Hardy Boys tales for the space age: they shine like Plexiglas, are as durable as Teflon and have the aftertaste of Tang. Spielberg has tapped into the moviegoer’s childlike imagination with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, E.T. and his upcoming production of Gremlins—fables of the sort that touch every eight-year-old just before he falls asleep. Or just after.

Put it this way: the boys have credentials. So of course Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (glorious, goofy title) will be a summer smash. Of course this new adventure, second in the series that Executive Producer Lucas and Director Spielberg began with Raiders of the Lost Ark, will provide sophisticated, if largely familiar pleasures to a few hundred million moviegoers. Of course Temple of Doom, a crackerjack swash of voodoo and derring-do, will create demand for another sequel.

Some things are just written.

D.W. Griffith could have written this: always begin your movies with a bang. Or, as in Temple of Doom, a Chinese gong. This one is rung to signal the beginning of tonight’s floor show at the Obi Wan Club in Shanghai, 1935. Presenting Miss Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and her pan-Asian chorus line in a delicious rendition of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes—in Mandarin Chinese! At a nearby table, Professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is haggling for his life with a trio of Chinese gangsters: the diamond in his possession in return for a vial containing the antidote to a poison he has just swallowed. Gong! another production number commences, with Indy and Willie scrambling on the floor to find the antidote and the diamond among flying ice cubes, bullets, balloons and feet as the chorus giddily scatters through the chaos. Wow!

There is plenty more in store for Indy, Willie and Indy’s pre-teen sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) before the end of reel one. A hairbreadth escape through the bustling back streets of Shanghai! A scarifying ride in a pilotless plane! A midair bailout in a raft that bounces them onto a steep mountain slope for a wild toboggan ride off a cliff and into a raging river whose rapids carry them to … But you get the idea. An army of professionals—439 listed in the credits—has set the narrative motor purring in high gear.

The main plot, about the search for a sacred stone stolen by a coven of Indian thugs and used to augment sadistic black-magic rituals in the bowels of the temple of doom, need not concern us here. Suffice it to say that the new film is more an embellishment than an improvement on the snazzy Raiders. If you enjoyed seeing skeletons rise on spikes, or Indy snap his trusty bullwhip around a steel-willed woman, or the two of them trapped in a cave with uggy crawling things, you should be amused to see them again. Again you will savor the Indiana Jones schizophrenia: by day a bow-tied, bespectacled archaeologist; by night a resourceful swaggerer, whom Ford brings to life as a modern blend of Bogie and the Duke, with just a glint of misfit psychopathy in his eyes.

Again you will slip easily into the care of some expert masseurs, now stroking, now pummeling, as Temple of Doom heads for a climax that is a literal cliffhanger.

Snaking through the movie is a familiar Spielberg theme: the disappearance, and then the welcome return, of children. It illuminates his three most personal movies (Close Encounters, Poltergeist and E.T.) and affirms his belief in movies as a Mechanized Fountain of Youth. Toward the end of Temple of Doom, Indiana leads hundreds of enslaved Indian children out of an underground quarry and into the light. Spielberg means to be another kind of Pied Piper: leading grownups into the darkness of a moviehouse to restore, for a couple of hours at least, the innocence of childhood in all its wonder and terror. The wonder may reach as deep as E. T; the terror may be as slick and exhilarating as Temple of Doom’s climactic underground tram ride. If Lucas and Spielberg ever do open a Star World, this combo of Disney World’s Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railway rides should be the hottest attraction.

This is brilliance that rides on narrow-gauge tracks. One is tempted to demand of these two spectacularly talented film makers that they raise their sights beyond the Saturday-matinee refreshment stand. Lucas seems happy to produce pictures that affect the heart rate but not the heart; and Spielberg, when working with Lucas, concentrates his nonpareil directorial gifts on energizing each frame, keeping his boss and the customer satisfied. But perhaps the young moguls can brush aside such criticism. They know what sort of edifice they want to build. You don’t fault a theme park for not being a cathedral.

—By Richard Corliss

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