Monday, November 19, 2007

Music to Live By: Temple of Doom

As long as we're on the topic of Indiana Jones today, I thought I'd take a minute to impart my thoughts on a recent addition to my CD collection: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.


This is an album I've been after for years and when I finally got ahold of one a month ago, I was ecstatic. I was a bit anxious in acquiring this CD; first, because of its typically high price tag ($40+) and secondly because I had read a number of comments from mildly disappointed film score aficionados who felt it didn't adequately live up to John Williams' other Indy scores.

Being a devoted Indy score and film fan, as well as a John Williams appreciative (I don't yet aspire to be a score completionist, but admire those who are), I felt picking this title up for less than $30 was a no-brainer. Even if it found only a luke-warm reception in my heart, I could burn a copy and re-sell it for at least what I paid, if not more. But I haven't even come remotely close to considering that since I listened to it because it's a fun CD.

The CD's 40-minute playing time is the shortest of all the Indy movie scores so far (the 19-track extended Raiders CD is 70-some minutes; Last Crusade with 13 tracks is 58 minutes). And this one feels the shortest. But that's mostly because it moves so quickly. Most of the cues are action pieces, or at least action-oriented.

So, let me give you a blow-by-blow of the tracks:

The disc kicks off with the "Anything Goes" opening sequence from the film and plunges right into the "Fast Streets of Shanghai" which follows it shortly in the film. Some of the tracks that follow are a bit out of chronological order when compared to the film, but it's not terribly disorienting, even for guys like me who like a score to be an orchestral guide through the film's themes and memorable moments.

"Nocturnal Activities" recounts the musical cues during the romantic "stand-off" between Willie and Dr. Jones, culminating in the thugee attack on the good doctor. "Short Round's Theme", which follows, is the cue Temple of Doom aficionados will recognize from the elephant trek to Pankot Palace.

The next cue, "Children in Chains" is the scene where Indy stumbles upon the cadre of chained children digging for Shankara Stones and is summarily captured by Thugees.

Track 6 is "Slalom on Mt. Humol", the name of which describes it pretty well. Why this isn't track #3, I have no idea. (Note: this trek reminds me of the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland because a recognizable portion is used in that ride. In fact, there are a number of cues from the Temple of Doom score used in that ride and finding them throughout listenign to this CD was a treasure of pleasure. I "claim" that term right here and now, by the way.) I love this track because it makes me want to do exactly what is happening in the movie - do a high-speed, perilous sled ride.

The next track, "Temple of Doom" is everybody's favorite thugee chant, which builds to quite a nice "heart-wrenching" crescendo. Be sure to grab a nice chianti when listening to this one.

"Bug Tunnel and Death Trap" ToD fans will recognize from the sequence Willie is called upon to conquer her fears of the dead, the dark, and things that go "crunch" under the feet to save Indy and Shorty from impending impalement. Another one I really like because of the tensions and urgency conveyed throughout this cue.

"Slave Children's Crusade" is the fight cue in the quarry near the end of the movie that leads into famous "The Mine Car Chase". Both of these tracks are fun and are as uptempo as they seem while watching these scenes in the movie. To me these two scenes always seemed the counterparts to the Airplane Fight and Truck Chase sequences in Raiders. Which probably just sets them up unfairly to seem weaker when compared. Those two scenes in Raiders are two of my all-time favorite movie scenes, favorite action scenes, and I'd argue that the Truck Chase is one of the very best action sequences of all-time in all of cinema; one whose score compliments it to a "T".

So, comparing the music cues for these scenes is a bit unfair because they just don't seem as inspired by adventure as the others. However, these tracks are still fun and sound great. The Mine Car Chase is fast-paced, but just doesn't pack the orchestral "wallop" the Truck Chase does. But that's not a criticism of Williams' work as much as it probably is of the filmmaking. Anyone who doesn't mind the music in the actual film is still going to really enjoy all these tracks.

The last cue on the disc is "Finale and End Credits", which picks up in the movie exactly where one would think - the end when Indy and Willie are about to kiss and Short Round annoyingly covers his face and I want to smack him. He just went through a hellish thugee debacle and he can't "bare" to see his surrogate dad/best friend kiss a woman. Come on Speielberg, dammnit.

I've seen people who feel that the Indy scores must be ranked in order of greatness, but I don't think it's a fair assessment for anyone else reading this review to do such a thing. Every individual likes and dislikes certain things about any given object and film scores speak to people in exactly the same ways. So, I'll just tell you what I liked about this CD and what would have improved the experience for me:

Liked:

  • Completing my trilogy of Indy scores!
  • Anything Goes, Slalom on Mt. Humol, Nocturnal Activities, Bug Tunnel & Death Trap - these are probably my favorites cues on this one
  • A John Williams score that reminds me of his other work from this period (Empire/Jedi, ET, Raider/Last Crusade)
  • Cover art

Coulda been better:

  • Release this in English! - Because this is only available via Japanese import, I can't read any of the extensive liner notes.
  • Give us an extended version like the one done for Raiders in 1995. At only 40 minutes, it feels like there's certainly some music missing.

6 comments:

cody.33 said...

What was the name of the song in the Pankot Palace that the Indian dancers were dancing to? Or possibly it was just a song made for the movie itself?

finky the kid said...

Good question. I always assumed it was a traditional song & dance. I'll see if one of my friends can help me identify it.

Allie Jamison/Mrs. Mopro said...

Wow, that was a great read. I like TOD a lot but gotta agree with your "smacking" impulses during the last scene. It's a great feeling to think that John Williams may develope some new music for a new adventure at this very moment :)

Have a great year, finky!

finky the kid said...

I can't wait for Williams' new Indy score.
I waited with baited breath for each of the Prequel scores, but Indy has always been my "Top Man".

Jeff Pidgeon said...

It's surprising to me that this score has been out of print for so long! I think it's a worth addition to any Williams collection, too.

Being a huge John Williams nerd, I bought it when it first came out on CD, so fortunately I didn't have to spend a lot to own it.

I'm curious to see if it'll be re-released (hopefully expanded and remastered) when Crystal Skull comes out. Who knows? Maybe Last Crusade will be re-released on CD as well.

The domestic CD release has just a short note from Spielberg for the liner notes. I can scan or transcribe it if you'd like.

Jeff

finky the kid said...

Thanks, Jeff. I've been secretly wishing they will release a box set of EXPANDED scores after KOTCS this summer.

I have the extended Raiders score that was released in the mid-90s, but there are definitely cues from the two sequels that didn't make the CDs and I'd love to hear them all together.

If you take the time to scan or translate the liner notes, I will certainly "update" the blog post with them.