It's become a rather common occurrence for film and pop culture sites to celebrate the anniversary of some film that carries a great deal of nostalgia for members of a particular generation. Last month, Ain't It Cool News celebrated the 30th anniversary of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with a seemingly endless series of articles revisiting this "underrated" film.
Permit me a small digression. I think what turned me off from the Temple of Doom love-fest a bit was that every writer singing the praises of the film seemed to be coming from a place of defensiveness. It was as if they grew up in a world where Temple of Doom was as derided as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was upon release. The result were a lot of testimonials that seemed determined to defend the film from an attack it never really faced, and then exaggerating the virtues of the film to prove the "haters" wrong.
Honestly, there was a whiff of the disingenuous to this celebration. Temple of Doom is a perfectly adequate film. It's got some great action set pieces and a number of moments that stand with the best of the series. It also has some really awful ethnic stereotyping, some wretched moments that are comedically tone-deaf, and love interest that's the Jar Jar Binks of the first three films. There's plenty of stuff to love, but it's got plenty of flaws too. Maybe the ridiculous dinner scene doesn't bother you. Perhaps you are inclined to argue that Willie Scott is exactly what Lucas and Spielberg were going for by evoking a specific sort of 1930s archtype. I don't necessarily agree that authorial intent trumps the effectiveness of those intentions. Just because Lucas and Spielberg got exactly what they wanted at the time doesn't mean it wasn't a bad idea on its face.
(Don't get me wrong. Temple of Doom gets more right than it gets wrong, but it's not without demerits. When I throw the movie in for fun, I usually watch the amazing opening sequence up until the raft drifts into the village. Then I skip to just before the mine car chase.)
It was interesting to contrast some reactions to the Temple of Doom nostalgia to some muted appreciation for Ghostbusters II that arose a few weeks later. While most people sharing and commenting on the Indy articles were clearly in the pro-movie camp, the Ghostbusters II reactions were more mixed, with a lot of assertions that the people who loved that film did so only because they saw it as kids before they knew any better.
There's a grain of truth to that. There's plenty in the Ghostbusters sequel that amused me, but I won't pretend for a minute that it's as accomplished as its predecessor. It DOES bemuse me that some people hate it so much though, so passionately that I think they would be the ones most in need of revisiting the film with objective eyes.
Which brings me to a piece I wrote for Film School Rejects. Rather than revisit a film that was generally considered pretty good and try to upgrade it to "flawless timeless classic," I resolved to examine a truly derided film, one who's name is so synonymous with "worst movie" lists that you can count on it ending up somewhere on the general "Worst Movies Ever" lists and almost always at the top of "Worst Comic Book/Superhero Movies Ever Made" articles.
That's right. I attempted an objective re-examination of Batman & Robin.
I hadn't watched the film in about a decade or so. Before I revisited it, I had a few theories. It occurred to me that since this movie no longer carried the burden of being the torchbearer for an entire franchise (or for that matter, the entire genre of superhero films) a lot of baggage became irrelevant. It was similar to how as a major Superman fan, I rejected Smallville for many years until I learned to just accept it as an alternate universe type version of the characters I loved.
So my mission statement for this viewing - to find out if it was possible to accept Batman & Robin on its own terms and evaluate how well it executes its own ambitions. It clearly wasn't trying to be Tim Burton's Batman, nor was it trying to be in the same vein as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Beating it up just because it doesn't conform to a Bat-fan's particular preferred incarnation of the character is unfair.
So if one accepts that Batman & Robin is actively trying to be a big-budget version of the 1960's campy TV show, is it possible to appreciate it the same way that most fans have now accepted Adam West's incarnation as a valid interpretation?
Check out my Film School Rejects post for the answer in "Bombs Away: Enjoying BATMAN & ROBIN On Its Own Campy Terms."