Indiana Jones: An Appreciation – Part 2 – The Temple of Doom
To put it simply, Raiders of the Lost Ark is just a fun movie to watch, with classic sequences that never get old. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did not want a repeat of Raiders, but instead followed the steps of Empire Strikes Back, and took a much darker turn to the story. In fact, nearly every aspect of the film is a departure from Raiders. Instead of globetrotting, the film is set nearly all in one place, in the deep caverns of northern India. The film has some very dark themes, including child slave labor, voo doo, and human sacrifices. There is even a scene here where a voo doo priest literally removes the beating heart of a victim. But despite the themes that may have turned some people away from the franchise, the film still holds to the tradition of action and adventure that was founded with Raiders.
At the start of Temple, we find Indy in Shanghai, China, negotiating a deal with Chinese gangsters in a club lounge. The singer at the lounge turns out to be Jones’ love interest of the film, Willie Scott (played by future Mrs. Spielberg, Kate Capshaw). Scott is the complete opposite of Marion Ravenwood: instead of the scrappy go-getter of the first film, Willie Scott is a girlie-girl. Spoiled and whiny, Scott spends much of the time either screaming or complaining. Many have blamed this character as one of flaws of the film, but I see her in a different light: if the filmmakers were going for a different style than Raiders, then of course her character would have to be this way, we wouldn’t want to see Marion Ravenwood, version two.
After a great action scene in the lounge, Indy and Willie escape on plane with Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), Indy’s Asian sidekick. Short Round held a special place for me as a kid: being Asian-American myself, I found it awesome that someone that looked like me was hanging out and going on an adventure with one of the great movie heroes, it was as if I was that kid. Soon after an action sequence involving the three characters jumping out of a plane with nothing but an inflatable river raft (man, isn’t this stuff great?), they come across an Indian village. They soon learn that the village was ran-sacked, the children were kidnapped, and the magical stone that was the life force of the village was taken from them. Indy agrees to help the villagers (and perhaps, help himself in a way) and travel to a nearby palace to gather more information on the missing children and stone. Thus sets up the rest of the story, which finds our protagonists venturing in to secret passageways, encountering an evil cult, rescuing the children and returning the stone to its rightful owners.
The release of Temple brought with it mixed reviews, at best. Many complained of the dark themes that ran throughout the movie, its lack of size and scope, the lack of dimension between the supporting characters, and a paper-thin antagonist. I feel that this is an inaccurate assessment. If anything, Temple is very underrated. It still has everything we look for in an Indiana Jones movie, it still contained all the adventure and excitement we’re used to, the comedy from Short Round and Willie brought relief from the seriousness of the rest of the movie, and I enjoyed the fact that the film took on more important issues, such as dealing with human interests and the well-being of those less fortunate. Jones himself evolved as a character. The film technically is a precursor to Raiders, and it is in this film where we see Indy change from a typical grave robber to a preservationist and someone who cared about people and history, just look at the final scene as evidence to this.
And we haven’t even talked about the action. Above all, the Indiana Jones films are action pictures, and this film is jam-packed with it. Once again, Spielberg brought great entertainment to this popcorn franchise, whether it’s the opening scene with the chase through Shanghai, the mysterious passageways of the palace, to a spike-filled room closing in on our hero, the film builds its action to a crescendo, like a great piece of music. In fact, the entire second half of the film is one big action sequence. The film is nearly two hours long, but seems to go by very quickly. From the moment Indy is possessed by the voo doo doll to the end, the film does not take a single moment for us to catch our breath.
There are two sequences here that are as great as any scene you’ll find in any other movie. The first is an extended mine cart chase through the shafts beneath the palace. Up and down, left and right, the main characters make their through the mine, just as the bad guys fire upon them from the opposite track. Characters jump between carts, wrong turns are made, traps are laid down, carts teeter from tipping over in to volcanic lava; Spielberg leaves everything on the table. There’s even a moment when a cart flies off the rails, and just manages to land perfectly on the opposite track. The second sequence happens on a rope bridge, high above a river. Obviously, in a movie like this, it wouldn’t be appropriate if there weren’t alligators waiting in the river. Trapped, Indy decides to thwart his adversaries by cutting the bridge with his sword, and having everyone dangle by their fingernails. I remember my palms getting sweaty as Indy fought with Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), the evil voo doo priest, while trying to hold on for dear life, characters falling around them all the while.
Does this sound like a bad movie to you? I didn’t think so, and I feel as the years have gone by, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has become more accepted by movie audiences as a worthy entry to the series. They would certainly not be disappointed when Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released in 1989.