Category Archives: Steven Spielberg

Indiana Jones Memories: Temple of Doom

Click here for my previous post on Raiders of the Lost Ark

By the time the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out in 1984, the dominance of the multiplex was really starting to take hold.  The sequel opened both at the big single-screen Flint Cinema where Raiders played, but it also opened at a suburban multiplex (the Genesee Valley Theaters) that was much closer to our family’s home.  This was the same release pattern that was used for Return of the Jedi the year before.  My sister and I saw Jedi at the first after-school matinee at the multiplex and then saw the film again that weekend in the better 70mm 6-track Dolby presentation at the Flint Cinema.

We had expected to follow the same basic pattern with Temple of Doom, which was also opening the Wednesday before Memorial Day, a week or so before school let out for the summer.  Much to our surprise, my father had other ideas.  At the time, the local newspaper in Flint came fairly late in the afternoon.  After work, my father was looking through the paper and called my sister and I into the room.  He then showed us the full-page ad for the movie that announced a midnight showing that night at Flint Cinema and asked us if we could promise to still get up and make it to school the next day if we all went to see it.  Of course, our answer was a definite "yes". 

Not being a night person at all, my mother again opted out of the first showing (another good excuse to see the film again soon…), but my father, sister, and I headed out to the theater late that evening.  This was my first experience seeing a midnight movie.  It wasn’t a sold-out show, but the enthusiasm level of the audience was about as high as it could get.  The crowd cheered and applauded at all the right moments and clearly was having a great time.  I particularly got a kick out of the reaction to Indy’s entrance.  The first time we see the character in this film, he is well-groomed and dressed in a white tuxedo.  The audience reacted with applause, although it was a bit restrained and even a little delayed as it took a moment for it to register that it was him.  At the end of the prologue, Indy makes a second entrance dressed in his traditional leather jacket, fedora, bullwhip, etc. and that prompted cheers and wild applause.

I obviously had a much better idea of what to expect than I did prior to the release of the first film, which led to quite a bit more heightened excitement about the film, but also a lot less mystery and surprise.  What I actually liked a lot about the film (and I’m a bigger fan of it than many people are) was that I felt that Lucas and Spielberg really did find some surprising and unexpected directions to take the movie.  Right at the very start, I certainly wasn’t expecting the movie to open with an entire Busby Berkley style musical number.  I even recall momentarily wondering if they were running the wrong movie.  A lot of people were also put off by the darker tone and overall modified structure compared to the first film, but I felt that it made the movie seem a bit fresher than most sequels.  The film was, if anything, even faster paced than the first and, even with the ultra-late showtime, I certainly had no trouble staying awake for the movie.  Yes, I did make it through the school day the next day as well.

I liked the film a lot and did see it several times in the theater that summer, but not as many times as the first film.  In fact, it wasn’t even really the movie that most dominated my attention that summer.  As a 14-year-old boy, I was right in the primary target audience for Ghostbusters, which became my favorite movie of that summer and the one that I gave the most repeat viewing.  The Indiana Jones films have overall likely withstood the test of time better over the last 24 years and I suspect most people might even be a bit surprised to learn that Ghostbusters was actually a bigger box-office hit overall that summer.  Still, it did play through the whole summer and I do recall several return trips to see it again.

In my post on Raiders, I mentioned that the John Williams score was something of a milestone.  While the sequel score wasn’t as much of one, it did come as something of a surprise to me and still remains one of my favorites.  The big surprise was Williams’ decision to abandon all of the themes that he had written for the first film with the exception of the iconic Raiders March.  At that point, I never really had conceived of a sequel score that would essentially start from scratch instead of further developing the first film’s music.  It caught me a bit off-guard, but also appealed to me very much.

I will close with probably the silliest and oddest personal story that relates to this movie.  At the very end of the credits is a somewhat cryptic credit that simply says "Thanks to Reed Smoot".  Being a couple teenagers, my sister and I both thought that was kind of a funny name and were also intrigued by the mysterious credit.  It then became a running joke for the two of us for quite some time, with us often joking about being the only members of the "Reed Smoot Fan Club".  Without the vast information available online today, we didn’t have any success finding any information on Mr. Smoot.  We were pretty sure he wasn’t the early-20th century Utah Senator that was the only reference we found to the name.  I now know that Mr. Smoot is actually a respected cinematographer that is best known for his work on a variety of IMAX features.  He apparently did some second-unit photography work on the film, which was the basis of the credit.  If Mr. Smoot ever stumbles on this, I hope he doesn’t mind that a couple silly teenagers had some goofy fun with his credit.

Indiana Jones Memories: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Unless you have been living under a rock (and possibly even then), you probably know that a brand-new Indiana Jones movie is opening this Thursday.  My wife and I have already arranged for a babysitter and purchased our opening night tickets.  With that in mind, this seems like a good time to reminisce a bit about my experiences seeing the previous movies in the series.  In this post (and later ones about the other two films), I’m not really going to write reviews, although I expect to reveal at least a bit of my opinion of each.  Instead will just tell a bit of the story of my own experiences.

With 19 years having past since we last saw Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 27 years since the character was first introduced in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m part of a likely pretty large group of adults who will be going into this new movie with a hope of recapturing a little bit of magic from my childhood.  I was only 11-years-old when the first movie came out and was 14 and 18 when the previous sequels came out.  As a long-time movie enthusiast, I probably would list other films (including others by Spielberg and Lucas) as somewhat higher on both my lists of favorites and bests, but I can think of very few that invoke more fond memories or that had quite as much influence on my love of movies and my cinematic preferences.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out back in 1981, I was already a fan of the Star Wars films (The Empire Strikes Back came out one year earlier) and, not surprisingly, was immediately very receptive to the promotion of a new George Lucas movie starring Harrison Ford.  My older sister (who was 14 at the time) also had a definite movie-star crush on Ford, which also helped to build our family’s interest in the movie.

The first that I ever heard about the film remains my pick for possibly the most amusingly wrong magazine article I’ve ever seen about a movie.  I don’t remember the specific publication (although my sister may still have the clipping somewhere in her files), but it was a movie rumors column in either a teen magazine or a general entertainment magazine of some sort.  The short article ran right around the time that The Empire Strikes Back was released and announced that the 3rd film in the Star Wars series would be coming out only one year later and would center around the character of Han Solo.  The title of this new film would be "Lost Raiders of the Ark".  I’m sure that whoever wrote that is very proud…

Back in 1981, I didn’t really follow the movies very closely and certainly didn’t have access to the kind of ready information on the topic that is out there today.  For the most part, the first real awareness of Raiders came primarily when the ads started hitting.  Back then, George Lucas and, especially, Steven Spielberg were not really household names, so the ads heavily promoted the movie as "From the creator of Star Wars and the director of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind".  As I said, the Star Wars connections were the big draw for me, although I had seen and enjoyed Close Encounters (but only on TV).  I didn’t see Jaws until a few years later.  After seeing Raiders, I quickly became a Spielberg fan, something that really solidified a year later when our family went out to see a sneak preview of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial without knowing much of anything about the film other than that it was from the same director.

My father took my sister, my best friend, and me to see the first evening showing of Raiders on its opening night.  We were living in Flint, Michigan at the time and saw the movie at The Flint Cinema, an old-fashioned single-screen theater.  Built in the late 60s shortly after the end of the movie palace era, it wasn’t anything overly fancy but was mainly known for a large screen and 70mm, 6-track Dolby presentation.  I think Raiders was actually the first film we saw there as the first two Star Wars films had opened at the nearby Eastland Mall Cinemas instead.  The movie pretty much blew us all away.  We knew it was supposed to be a fast-paced adventure movie, but I don’t think any of us really were prepared for the scope of the film or the sheer level of adrenaline it would pump.

My Mom wasn’t originally sure she was that interested in the movie (she hadn’t really liked Star Wars) and decided that she didn’t feel like dealing with the opening night crowds for the movie.  We, of course, all came home and told her that she needed to see the movie as soon as possible and we all went out to see it with her the next weekend.   As a joke, we all conspired ahead of time to repeatedly warn her that the movie started out very slowly, but promising her that it got better as it went along.  As you might expect, the very exciting opening sequence in the idol cave caught her very much off-guard.  She really loved the movie, although the intensity did get to her a bit at times.  She was holding my Dad’s hand during much of the movie and afterwards they laughed that she instinctively pulled her hand to her mouth, thus biting my Dad, during the Well-of-Souls sequence when the snake climbed out of the skeleton’s mouth.

Over the course of that summer, this became the first movie that my sister and I went to see multiple times in the theaters during its initial release (we had seen Star Wars and a few Disney films more than once due to re-releases).  By the end of the film’s run, I saw it a total of 13 times.  My father absolutely fell in love with the movie as well and went along with us to many of those showings.  Prior to that, he had never been much of a movie fan and didn’t typically see anything more than once.

John Williams score to the movie also represented a bit of a milestone for me.  I had started to become interested in movie scores a couple years earlier.  My interest was first sparked by John Barry’s orchestral score to Disney’s The Black Hole, which ended up being the first score soundtrack that I purchased.  My interest expanded dramatically after getting first The Empire Strikes Back and then the original Star Wars soundtracks and I then started a collection of movie score LP’s from movies involving outer space.  Over a year or so, I bought a bunch of albums including Close Encounters, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Superman, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.  After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark and hearing Williams amazing music for the film, I immediately wanted that soundtrack.  It was at that point, that my interest really broadened to film scores in general instead of just to souvenirs of space movies.  This really established my musical tastes for the long term as film scores remain the dominant part of my collection and my music purchases today.

I loved the sequels and have certainly been very impressed and excited by other action/adventure movies over the years as well.  I think Raiders will always hold a very special place in my memory, though, and I don’t really believe any other movie will ever quite match the surprise and excitement that surrounded this one.

War of the Worlds (2005)

A film review by Jeffrey Graebner

Steven Spielberg’s new adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel War of the Worlds contains many of the conventional elements of the mainstream disaster movie and adds an unusual layer of realism, both in style and characterizations. The result is a genuinely scary film that maintains a very high level of tension and excitement.

The film, which was adapted by screenwriters Josh Friedman and David Koepp (the latter also adapted Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World for Spielberg) pretty closely follows the structure of Wells’ novel, but transports the setting from 19th century London to present day New York. The central character of an absentee father (Tom Cruise) trying to escort his children to safety is created for the film, a smart decision as Wells novel was told through the eyes of an undeveloped first-person observer, an approach that wouldn’t likely work as well on film.

Cruise gives a good performance as Ray, a man who initially is not very sympathetic or heroic, but is ultimately forced to find some maturity and parental instincts by the extreme circumstances of the alien invasion. The character is a variation of the charming, cocky, but irresponsible persona that Cruise has frequently portrayed in past films and it is interesting seeing those traits treated more as negatives that need to be overcome instead of strengths, a somewhat natural progression as Cruise has become older and is naturally going to be playing characters with greater responsibilities. Ray is likable, but clearly a lousy parent who has to struggle to gain enough trust from his children to provide any chance that he can keep them safe.

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