Continuing the fine tradition of great filmmakers being wrong about their own movies — see also: Quentin Tarantino dissing “Death Proof,” aka his second best film — Steven Spielberg recently chimed in about his least favorite “Indiana Jones” entry. And of course he’s wrong. He picked “Temple of Doom,” the second episode, from 1984.
Apart from revealing that even a titan of the industry can act like a Film Twitter dork — back in the ’90s, who knew the Internet would become Barry from “High Fidelity”? — Spielberg’s confession added another small headache to the world. Suddenly, everyone was up in arms, not because “Temple of Doom” is a great film being besmirched, but because he didn’t pick “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the last round, from 2008, which many believe tarnished a perfect franchise.
But everyone’s wrong: “Crystal Skull” is the worst Indiana Jones movie, but only because it’s a series that’s both sturdy and, honestly, only been great the first time. In other words, “Skull” is a flawed but very good film, at least up until its anticlimax of a climax. We don’t necessarily mind that Indiana Jones was suddenly hobnobbing with aliens, as some are. (Dude can witness religious super-powers, but he can’t meet E.T.?) And we like the controversial refrigerator joke. It’s a joke! Even with some seemingly cynical moves (e.g., casting Shia LaBeouf as Indy Jr.), it’s a deeply felt film made by someone clearly having a blast.
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Oh, right, but we’re here to talk about “Temple of Doom.” It has a dazzling, breathless opening 15 minutes, turns bumpy for a while — with a white savior narrative and an openly racist dinner set piece that’s good for a five-minute-long face-palm — then gets back on track for a corker of a third act. It’s Spielberg as thrill ride architect, at one point turning the movie into a literal rollercoaster.
But we can see why he doesn’t like it. After all, it’s personal. “Doom” isn’t just dark — it’s black-hearted. Spielberg and co-conspirator George Lucas were both going through nasty divorces at the time. Lawrence Kasdan, who’d penned “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was so icked out by their bad vibes that he bounced from the project. You can see why: “Doom” is a film about mass child abduction, where men get their hearts ripped out and set aflame. Spielberg and Lucas are angry boys who sic gross bugs upon the token girl (Kate Capshaw). Still, who doesn’t love a movie that opens with “Anything Goes” sung in Mandarin?
Anyway, the correct order of best to least good is: “Raiders,” “Doom,” “Crusade,” “Skull.” That was easy.