Joss Whedon Temple of Doom

Watching the films of some of our most revered filmmakers, it’s often difficult to point out exactly why their work is so much better than others. It’s when they discuss their work, how they did it and views on other films that we truly see where their genius comes from.

Joss Whedon did a long interview with Entertainment Weekly this week and lots of the opinions expressed there have been highlighted. The possibility of killing characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron and his problem with The Empire Strikes Back are two examples. Now a new quote has been called out where the director of The Avengers points at one specific scene in Steven Spielberg‘s 1984 film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a perfect example of what’s wrong with not only cinema today, but culture in general.

Here’s the quote from Entertainment Weekly (via the Huffington Post):

A movie has to be complete within itself; it can’t just build off the first one or play variations. You know that thing in Temple of Doom where they revisit the shooting trick? … That’s what you don’t want. And I feel that’s what all of culture is becoming — it’s becoming that moment.

If you need a refresher, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones kills an Arab swordsman by smugly shooting him, an iconic moment improvised because Harrison Ford was sick that day, and one which became a comic highlight of the film. In Temple of Doom (a sequel by release, but prequel on the timeline) Jones has escaped the temple and two similar-looking swordsman confront him. He slyly reaches for his gun as a reference to his action in the previous film (which hasn’t happened yet in the diegetic space) but it’s not there. He fumbles around, smiles at the camera — at us — as a brief music cue from the previous film is played. Then he fights them another way. I couldn’t find the video, but here’s a screen cap.

IndyHolster

Whedon’s claim is this scene is a great example of self-reference for the sake of self-reference ruining culture. While I do think culture copying itself for no reason, over and over again (as seen in pop music, fashion, sequels, reality TV, etc.) is the antithesis of creativity, I’m not so sure this moment is the one to point at as “the problem.” First of all, it’s a funny scene. Second of all, this kind of playful winking is part of the entire Indiana Jones saga. There’s the Ark on the wall in Last Crusade, Club Obi-Wan in Temple of Doom, Henry Jones’ photo in Crystal Skull and much more. (The fact that it doesn’t make sense in the story timeline is a different issue all together.)

The bigger issue Whedon is getting at here is that Spielberg relied on what had already happened for a cheap joke. Magnify that onto a larger scale and you have Saw VII, The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and One Direction. Things that are simply copying creative endeavors that have proven to be successful. Whedon’s issue is very few people create something new these days. And, even scarier, no one seems to care. They simply consume the same crap over and over again. This sentiment is a valid one.

But to blame poor old Indy? That seems a bit harsh.

Do you put stock into Whedon’s claim? Is this scene worthy of such scrutiny, or is it just one, small example of a problem that’s growing exponentially bigger with each passing day?

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