Monday, 27 August 2012

How to Make "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" Good.

It's a bold statement for a title. Everyone has a soft spot for the film in their hearts'. It's got interesting special effects and visuals, some of the sequences are downright classic, the mine-cart chase influenced a whole generation of neck-cruntching theme-park rides, and the freeing of the slaves just makes you want to scream "FUCK YEAH" at the top of your lungs because it's such a Big Damn Heroes moment. On the other hand it's regarded as the worst of the "classic" Jones' films since, frankly, the script is a goddamn mess. Things just seem to... happen, regardless of narrative flow or basic logic, usually just to artificially escalate conflict that isn't present. Characters seem to just be supplementary and superfluous. I'm not even sure Indy has anything to learn, or has any character developments that don't seem tacked on. Also, there's some, just awful racism in there. Like, Seriously.
So, here's a few idea's of mine that I thought that add to the overall tone of the picture. You can still have all the loveable sequences (plus a few extra), you can make the secondary characters interesting, by adding some extra traits here and there, and you can still have the Thuggee exist in the quasi-realistic nature of the Indy Canon without fucking everything up completely (which they totally did). The beauty is, the whole story remains intact and we get a movie that remains on par with "Raiders" and "The Last Crusade".
Okay, so first off, don't start with the fade in on the Paramount mountain to a mountain on a gong, because, really, who puts a mountain on a giant gong unless you're making a movie for Paramount. Secondly, don't jump into the whole "Anything Goes" number. at least, not right away. Like in the other films, Indiana is front and centre to the action. I suggest starting out on the street outside the club, fading in from a picture of a mountain on a poster or a newspaper or whatever, maybe with a a picture of "The Beautiful Willie Scott performs at Club Obi-Wan!" it's a much more organic fade in and sets us up with a feeling of anticipation for Willie's introduction.
Fan-Made of fucking course.

 Secondly, until Indy jumps out the window in a few minutes, we have no idea where this is set. In a club somewhere (perhaps just generally in Asia) leaves things too vague. So, we begin through the streets to the club, Indy hops out of a taxi, dressed to the nines in his tux, maybe he straightens his bow-tie instead of straightening his fedora. We see a few swanky types enter the building in the fancy phantom convertible we see a little later (I'd like to see Short-Round, dressed a little more pauper-ish, and not like a suspiciously Americanised child, maybe hang close to the valet, we don't know what he's up to... just yet)  He get's out a ticket to the club, but the doorman can see through the scratches and the tan that he's not the regular sort of patron. There's a suspicious question regarding how much money Indiana has and he quips something like, "Not a lot, but ask me again when I get out." This not only tells us what brings him to here in the first place, but also it gives us his motivations for the entire movie. Capital Gain, baby.
So anyway, he enters the club, is ushered to his seat and then we get into "Anything Goes". This way you get to have your cake and eat it too. We don't follow Willie to the table, we just get back to Indy, enjoying the show a little, nodding to his friend/plant/waiter as he passes by. and finally Lao arrives at the table, fashionably late, with his hired muscle at his side. Everything is more or less identical, except without Willie, who's only there to (ineffectually) to diffuse the tension with comedic relief. Instead we can have the odd quip that alludes to more of Indy's motivation ("You could get enough money from that diamond to buy anything." "Or just another wing for the museum.") and Lao's, which I imagine would be quite complicated for a Mob-Boss who's city is about to be invaded by the Japanese (Indy even mentions it in regard to Short Round's origin, so it's a real and present danger). Maybe the remains of Nurhachi are rumoured to have special powers that grant you protection or something.
Anyway, trade, poison, stand-off, but this time, Indy doesn't throw a flaming sword through someone. The whole point is, Lao doesn't want a kerfuffle with Indy in a public place, which explains why he poisoned him instead of shooting him, and waiting until the champagne corks were flying before shooting It's obviously hiss private club and he wouldn't like it's reputation to be tarnished.. But Indy is dying and has a gun from his martyr/assistant, so why not threaten Lao with it? He get's his antidote and causes and dashes behind stage (where he's followed by the mooks, since he can now be taken care of out of the public eye).
Here we finally meet Willie. And she isn't the prissy, terrified, pliable girl we were introduced to in the original. Here she's relaxing in between sets, wrapped in a fur coat, acting pompous, and arrogant to everyone beneath her, which is pretty much everyone. I want this Willie to hate doing the things she does in the movie not because she's grossed out or scared, but because it's so beneath her own status to do such a thing. Marion Ravenwood was gruff, flaky, and obtuse, but in a sense, that's why she was such a good character. She was interesting. And Willie needs to be interesting too.
Indy has the mandatory entertaining fight scene backstage using props, costumes, scaffolding, whatever's lying around. Willie save Indy by hitting one of the mooks or something, and Indiana sweeps her off her feet to save her in turn for saving him. They jump out the window behind the stage, and this time the jump makes sense. because  Indiana moved towards the back of the stage intentionally and that meant he probably scoped the place out beforehand for an appropriate exit. But still, they're about to be surrounded before Short round pulls up near them. He's either pick-pocketed the car keys from the valet, or he's hot-wired the car, either way, that makes him Awesome,  because literally anyone can sit in a car, waiting for someone to show up, rather than quickly steal it. Anyway, car chase through Shanghai, with the Wilhelm scream put in if you want. Don't have Willie drop the gun because it's hot and she "cracked a nail" she already fell through about ten different awnings for christ-sake. have her misfire because she's inexperienced or refuses to kill someone. I realise that right after this scene, they hop into a plane, and they don't need the car anymore. So it makes sense for them to do something awesome with it since it no longer serves a purpose to the plot. Ram it into the other car or something. Give them time to escape to the airport on foot.
It makes sense for Indiana to have bought a plane beforehand for a quick escape, and you know, not get one owned by the guy he was trying to escape from. Also, we've just been introduced to a man who is anchored to Shanghai, and it makes very little sense that he has international ties. This explains why Indiana believes escaping Shanghai would make him safe (and not leaving him open to reprisal for escaping like he would normally in the original film). Have Indiana know they're heading to India immediately. So, there's a hasty escape, an the plane is shot by a few stray bullets from the gangsters as it leaves the runway.
While you have a (seemingly) quiet moment, use it to build character dynamics. Willie sees Short Round as a peasant, and is infuriated by saving Indiana and leaving Shanghai prematurely. I can see her practically roll her eyes when she learns he's an Archeologist ("*Sigh*, An academic. Just what I need." "Not exactly, m'am."). Short Round is more of an accomplice than a surrogate child, and he's maybe a bit pissed that they didn't get the diamond. Indy mediates between them, suggesting he'll drop off Willie at Delhi where she can contact her manager and He and Short Round can pull a few short cons while they're there to be able to afford a few more plane tickets back to America. So we're beginning to see more of a symbiosis between the two, a partnership instead of Indy pulling around a kid for no reason. Also, now short Round has a realistic motivation, live safely in America instead of a crime-ridden cess-hole (His words, not mine).
The Plane begins to show problems after they pass over the Himalaya's, the pilots are frantically trying to do everything they can, but realise the whole plane's going down, they take the cowards way out and take the only two parachutes. Indy wakes up just before they're about to jump out, and they have a comedic punch-up with Indy trying to drag them back in while they're trying to get out.  He manages to knock one of them out but not before one escapes. Unfortunately, the engine catches on fire as he jumps, and he's subsequently enveloped in flames. Add another Wilhelm scream. So, at this point, when Indy goes to the cock-pit, it's not to try and fly the plane, since he doesn't know how and despite it being an okay joke, is kind of stupid. Have Short Round once again prove his usefulness by killing the engines and stopping the geyser of flame melt them when they try and hop out. Now, you can either    
have them parachute out using the sole parachute into some trees, or you can still use the raft bit, but use the raft and parachute in conjunction with each other so you don't press the suspension of belief so much. So now they're in India, but not where they're supposed to be, but it's at least kind of possible that they meet a strange old man who leads him to his village.
I'm in the camp that's credulous that Indiana can somehow understand enough Hindi to have entire conversations with natives, but not speak a word of German. So don't have him fluent. he seems to rely on other people speaking english in other scenes, so have someone who credibly speaks english when he arrives at the village as well. My money is on the soldiers encamped around Pankot hearing about bandit rounding kidnapping children and maybe sending a small detachment investigating it. You have everything else the same, because it's a pretty good info-dump scene. All the way up to the child with the scrap of scroll. He should ask for it to be translated, and have it say there's definitely another Sankara Stone over in Pankot. And maybe another weird, cryptic phrase like "all those who betray Shiva, beware". Have Indy reveal the diamond core in the Sankara Stones centre early on, to entice Short Round and him to go to Pankot. The attache from the army go to report to their immediate superiors about the rumours of Slavery at Pankot, but leave a note with Indy to deliver to Captain Blumburt who is stationed closer to there.
We get the Elephant Ride and camping scenes, but with less slapstick. Willie doesn't scream at everything that moves in the camp-site, at best she's nauseated and stand-offish. Indiana and Short Round hang out with their guides, because they're good sports about being taken to Pankot. And maybe they play a minor hustle with them regarding their card game that was in the original. There are no "Giant Vampire Bats" because vampire bats only live in South America, and the idea that a genus somehow thrived in India is unbeleivable. Do your research.
I pretty much like the movie at this point. There's that appropriate sense of dread when they find the shrine to Kali, and the way they enter the palace seems natural enough. But frankly, there should be more fan-fare with Willie's arrival, she is an international celebrity after all.
The dinner scene is great for exposition as well, touching on Indiana's notoriety but also the deal behind the Thuggee in the area. Have the Prime Minster be more sociable, not shooting down everything Indiana says. Comedically it falls a little flat. You could remedy this with the status obsessed Willie attempting to eat the rancid feast to fit in, while it then doing a reversal, with the entire feast being ceremonial or a prank for the new guests before the real food comes in. What would you rather have, indian savages cheerfully eating chilled monkey-brains while the girl with the weak stomach faints, or the determined woman who take "local customs" seriously being fooled by a table full of incurable pranksters. Less mean spirited, see?

"Hey George, I just wondered, should we degrade the Indian people even more with this scene? I mean, we've already shown that they're bloodthirsty, primitive zealots, isn't this going a bit far?"
"You mean they don't eat chilled monkey brains?!"

When you need to press sexual chemistry with hokey dialogue, your relationship doubtlessly feels forced. They don't need to have an overt romance at the moment. Maybe it's one sided. Indiana is feeling sleuthy and paranoid, and watching the shadows for clues or whatnot. And Willie still thinks he's a prideful jerk ass, but is maybe slowly warming to him. Use this scene with them together to maybe gloss over Willie's globe-trotting and the fact that she's actually pretty worldly. Maybe as much as Indy is.
So anyway, assassination scene, yadda yadda. Except this time, Indy tells someone about it. Since he, you know, has no reason to distrust anyone at the palace yet. The Prime Minister acts empathetic, and stations more guards around them. Indy secretly talks to the Captain, flashes his note from the soldiers and tells him about the kidnappings, the rumours of the Thuggee amongst the villages and the fact that Indiana's assassination attempt was probably orchestrated by someone at the dinner table who didn't want the army interfering. The Captain wakes the fuck up at this point and justifies his appearance as something other than a deux ex machina and decides to "rouse the troops", giving him a reason to be separated from the action for so long. Indy feeds his guards something about "feeling safer sleeping in one room tonight" and goes into Willies room, discovering the secret passage which is not hidden behind a statue with enormous breasts.
Willie stays behind because, come on, really? You're actually going to investigate a creepy tunnel with no firepower and a ten year old for back-up? The Tablet that shows the epic history of the Sankara Stones really could have been elaborated on further. At this point we should hear that they do some crazy magic or something, which to a layman, would justify hoarding a bunch of diamond filled rocks rather than, you know, selling them. If you have Short Round compare the insects on the ground to fortune cookies, I will cut you. The crushing chamber trap happens with a few adjustments: Short Round and Indy are more proactive at blocking up the gears and crap, and when they call out to Willie for help, she shouldn't be petrified by the insects. Disgusted, sure. I think the lever system that helps them reset/deactivate the trap should be complicated, or maybe even have a secondary trap attached, which would show Willie being smart and justify more of the tension since it's a life or death trap for all of them.
So, yeah, The Thuggee ritual is so classic, I wouldn't want to change it. It's spellbinding, horrifying and damn if it isn't gorgeous to watch. But as soon as it's over, have Willie call bullshit on the whole thing. She's seen magic acts all around the world and they're all impressive until you get up close. Short Round's half traumatised, and Indy's transfixed on the Sankara Stones which are just sort of lying there in the giant Kali Statue. He goes to get them, but, of course, it's a trap! Because you would otherwise never leave your priceless, ceremonial artefacts just lying around, no matter how loyal your henchmen might be. Before he get's caught though, he lifts one of the glowing stones off the pedestal, and it turns out it's being illuminated via a panel in the bottom. The stones aren't magical after all, just deceptively opaque. The Prime Minister is a actually working for the Thuggee, but his deception is at least slightly surprising, since he didn't seem like an overly antagonist dick the whole time.
They get rounded up and are forced to look through the mines, where the children are mining for special, precious Thuggee artefacts that were lost more than a century before, also, precious jewels, metals and raw ore, since their business model isn't just wasting thousands of man hours for a fucking rock with grooves in it. Indy see's the dark side to his quest for monetary gain, looking at the cost for the children. Willie also has a notable change of heart when she sees countless malnourished, enslaved children sprawled on the ground being whipped. I actually love the whole, counter-colinization the Thuggee have going on, it's not a bad plan in theory and they'll use the Sankara Stones and their freaky rituals as a propaganda tool to insight rebellion in more Hindu's against the British, while using the artefacts and jewels as a means of funding. We also find out that hell-pit that was used in the ceremony is just a gigantic forge being used to create artillery, because if you're going to wage a war against the christian world, you're going to need more than bows and arrows. So now, instead of being a bunch of primitive, underwhelming cultists, we have an organised army that's now a credible threat.
So, yeah. While Mola Ram is gloating over Willie and Indy, Willie totally calls him out on defrauding his believers, and he freely admits to not having any magical whammy. But he's still vengeful on them trying to foil him, so he decides to sacrifice Willie and turn Indy using "The Blood of Kali Ma" which isn't actually magical and is just a drug, and if Indiana is highly suggestible in this state, it stands to reason he's just a walking drone. Also, there isn't a fetish that the Sultan kid uses to make him open his mouth in pain. A better way would be Mola threatening to kill Short Round, which shows that Indy actually does care about him in an almost familial way (we earn this relationship by seeing them bond as buddies and partners).
So yeah, Short Round escapes, avoiding the (Pat Roach's character) who instead of having an ineffective flail, has a whip similar the Indy's. So now, at the ceremony, we finally see things from the other perspective, there are secret vents that channel smoke to make the statue look dark and mysterious, the hidden panels that light up the stones, and Mola Ram uses a prop heart instead of ripping it out of Willie (why doesn't he take Willies heart out in the original? Sloppy writing probably). You don't have Indiana narrating the chants in english, since he's poor at understanding Hindi, drugged off his tits and The Prime Minister could do it anyway. Short Round gets in and rouses Indy by sobering him up with a little fire. Ritual is disturbed like in the original.
We have the Slave freeing scene because it's awesome, but I'd also add in a quick bit with Short Round and Willie throwing some of the Jewels or the precious metal back to the children who mined them up. You still have the wicked (Pat Roach) conveyer belt fight scene, except have Indiana's lack of gun, and the Head Mook's enormous size keep the fight going on, and not the freaking voodoo doll. If you want the young Sultan to do anything, have him send more goons to fight Indy (You can have Willie find a way to help, rather than just mime punching in the background) while it's happening and also have him in control of the conveyer belt's controls, speeding it up when it looks like Indy has the upper hand. Have Short Round punch this evil little jerk's lights out, because even if he is a kid, The Sultan is still an evil little jerk. And he wouldn't be drugged, because that's ridiculous.
The Mine-cart chase still happens, except, Mola Ram doesn't try and flood the shafts, something that would ruin years of labour and lose him the stones for countless years.
We get to the climax at the bridge and all the Thuggee have gun's, instead of bows and arrows, and Mola Ram doesn't say something stupid like, "They (the stones) will be found. You won't!" when Indy threatens to drop them. because they're about to be dropped in a large, fast-flowing, caiman/crocodile infested river. But he's willing to pretend to barter their lives for the stones. Suddenly, when Mola walks onto the bridge to get the stones, the British army arrives in the nick of time. (instead of after when they're needed), Indy does the old "tie yourselves to the bridge" trick. cuts the bridge. ect. Indy and Mola Ram struggle for the stones while holding on for dear life, while an epic battle between the Thuggee and the British army, which could go either way, is occurring. Let's say Mola Ram has a knife though, and stabs Indy in the arm (instead of trying to pluck out his heart, which he can't do, since he isn't magical) and is about to claim the stones for himself, when Indy uses the old, "You betrayed Shiva!" thing which makes the stones ignite. Mola Ram grasps on to one of them for a second, but his head suddenly catches fire (not in a way dissimilar to what happens in Raiders), and then falls. Being eaten by the crocodiles, or whatever they are. Indy catches the rock, and struggles up the bridge, finding out the British Army won.
It's more or less the same ending as the original, but with the Children giving away some of the Jewels to Indiana as thanks, with his spiel about "it just being another rock collecting dust (in a museum)" and actually meant it, instead of it being a forced lesson being tacked on. Indy says he's unhappy that he and Willie will have to part ways at Delhi, but Willie coyly suggests she might come with them back to America. They don't kiss, but they ride off with the promise of more adventure.
There. I think it fixes up a lot of the mistakes of the original. The Indiana Jones series is at it's best when the magic/wrath of god/ miracle is earned. Faith is a great key. But Occam's Razor also comes into affect as well, since Indiana is a Scientist and Historian, and can only go as far as the information available suggests (until the third one anyway). The secondary characters exist as more than annoying stereotypes. The Villains use intelligent, original methodologies to achieve their aims, and the story is generally the same.

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