Film Review - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' is the second in the highly popular series of movies starring the unique archaeologist creation of Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. The film followed hot on the heels of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', though the action actually predates 'Raiders' by a year, having been set in India in the year 1935.
The mix is pretty much the same as in 'Raiders' - a high octane concoction of thrills, spills, some magic, some quite gruesome comedy, some less gruesome comedy, an impossibly evil villain, a pretty girl, and Indy - fedora on his head and whip in hand.
This second adventure is an action packed roller-coaster ride (quite literally in this film) of comic book adventure and excitement, which anybody with a love of escapist fun should enjoy.
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WHAT'S THE STORY ?
As with all the Indiana Jones movies, although the action in this story may be centred on one country, it ranges over several, and involves our intrepid adventurer in a journey of continuous hazard. In the opening sequence of 'Temple of Doom' Indiana Jones - more suavely dressed than usual - is in a Shanghai nightclub as pretty Willie Scott makes a dramatic entrance as an entertainer singing 'Anything Goes'. But at this stage Indy isn't too interested in girls. He's more concerned with trading an ancient artifact for a diamond with some shady characters. The deal goes wrong, and the result, unsurprisingly, is that our hero faces imminent death by poison, thrown knives and machine guns. Equally unsurprisingly, he extricates himself from this and in the company of Willie and a juvenile sidekick called Short Round, Indy makes his escape.
All this is just a prelude to the main action. A plane ride and a plane crash, an inflatable boat ride down the snow capped Himalayas into a turbulent river and an arrival - seemingly minutes later - in tropical India, and now the film proper begins. Indiana, Willie and Short Round find themselves in a village tormented by an evil religious sect which has stolen away their children as well as a sacred stone relic. Indy vows to return both the children and the sacred relic to the village, and the quest takes the archaeologist, Short Round and a very reluctant Willie through the jungle to a Maharajah's Palace - the site of evil. From here on the movie takes a slightly darker path as we descend into the depths of the mines below the Palace where children are toiling as slaves in the service of the survivors of the ancient thuggee sect of religious assassins.
The rest of the film covers the efforts by Indiana Jones, Short Round and Willie to free the children, steal back the village icon and escape the clutches of Thuggee priest Mola Ram. The emphasis, however, is not so much on the story, but the set pieces. There's a ceremony in which an unfortunate sacrificial victim is plunged into a stream of lava, there's a fun banquet full of gruesome dishes, and there's the famous rollercoaster ride through the mine workings (originally planned for the quarry in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', but then discarded from that movie.) A quickly established tradition in the Indiana Jones series was that some creature that causes revulsion should feature prominently. In 'Raiders' it was snakes. In 'Temple of Doom', it is 50,000 bugs, or to be more exact, cockroaches, centipedes and stick insects (walkingsticks). Much of the fun comes from seeing these creatures crawling over our heroes.
The action continues almost to the end as Indiana Jones confronts Mola Ram on a rickety rope bridge over a river full of ravenous crocodiles. Would it spoil the film if I disclose who wins?
MAIN CAST & CHARACTERS
Jonathan Ke Quan
FACTS OF THE FILM
DIRECTOR : Steven Spielberg
WRITERS / SCREENPLAY :
- George Lucas (Story)
- Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz (Screenplay)
YEAR OF RELEASE : 1984
RUNNING TIME : 118 minutes
GENRE : Action Adventure
GUIDENCE : Some gory comic book violence, including one character's heart being ripped out)
ACADEMY AWARDS :
- Dennis Muren, Michael J McAlister, Lorne Peterson, George Gibbs (Best Effects)
ACADEMY NOMINATIONS :
- John Williams (Best Music/Original Score)
KEY CAST & CHARACTERS
No prizes for guessing the most important character in this film - it's there in the title. Clearly after the success of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' Steven Spielberg recognised that the character of Indiana was the biggest single selling point of the movie. Harrison Ford duly delivered with the same mixture of wisecracks and hair raising stunts, sometimes bravely confronting danger, and sometimes running away as fast as he can.
Most of the fun in this movie focuses on Kate Capshaw's role as Willie Scott. She is a fish out of water in the Indian village, in the jungle, and in the Palace, whether dealing with local customs, local wildlife, or local food (not that anyone can blame her for not taking to the food!) Additionally, there is the interplay between Willie and Indiana Jones - a comic mix of frustrations, resentments and affections. The character of Willie is so important, because without her, the tone of the film would be a little too heavy and forbidding.
Short Round is played by Jonathan Ke Quan, who had arrived at the auditions, not to try out for the role, but merely to offer his brother moral support in his audition. But it was Jonathan who caught the eye of the casting director. His performance is one of great versatility, and as a child actor certainly holds his own against the stars.
In 'Raiders', Nazi Chief Arnold Toht was the principal villain and it was an extremely hard act to follow. In 'Temple of Doom' the role of bad guy was taken by Amrish Puri, who plays Mola Ram - a good choice to play an evil Thuggee high priest with a nice line in chants and potions. This series needs memorable villains and Amrish Puri duly delivers.
The reason why 'Temple of Doom' is set before 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' is simply because Spielberg and Lucas wanted to give the movie a very different theme, so it wouldn't be seen as just a sequel. They didn't want Nazis in this film and with a different girl in the cast list, a story set before 'Raiders' seemed the obvious route to follow.
Although the film was largely set in India, it was not shot there. Negotiations with the Indian Government broke down because of concerns regarding the film's portrayal of Indian culture.
The rope bridge scene was actually filmed in three entirely different continents. Wide angle scenes of the bridge were taken in Sri Lanka, the broken bridge hanging against the side of the cliff face was shot at Elstree Studios near London, England, and the alligators were in Florida.
All three lead characters were named after dogs. As mentioned in my 'Raiders' page, 'Indiana' was named after George Lucas's dog, 'Willie' was named after Steven Spielberg's dog, and 'Short Round' was named after screenwriter Willard Huyck's dog.
The Indian shaman was played by the actor D. R. Nanayakkara, who couldn't speak English and had to be prompted before he could speak his lines.The village was shot in Sri Lanka, so the villagers, who are not Indian, speak Sinhalese.
The club in Shanghai at the beginning of the movie is called 'Obi Wan', an obvious nod to Harrison Ford's most celebrated collaboration with George Lucas, the Star Wars series and the character of Obi Wan Kenobi.
Pythons used in the movie had to be brought into the country by their handler and were booked to share his hotel room under the names Mr and Mrs Longfellow!
In an extremely brief cameo, Dan Aykroyd plays the officer who takes our heroes from the car to the aeroplane. In even more obscure cameos, both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and Producer Frank Marshall are among the background crowd at the airport. Spielberg and Lucas are dressed as missionaries.
Whatever Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Kate Capshaw as Willie get up to in this film, Ford did not get the girl in real life; that was left to his director - Steven Spielberg married Kate, after meeting her for the first time on the set of this movie. They are still married today.
Many of the best lines are wisecracks, and most focus on the oddity of the trio of adventurers. When Prime Minister and Second Chief Villain Chattar Lal meets them, he is clearly not impressed:
- I should say you look rather lost, but then I can not imagine where in the world the three of you would look at home.
Willie's Scott's distress leads to many comic interactions with Indiana Jones, the man responsible for her being stuck in the wilderness:
- I hate the water, and I hate being wet. And I hate you!
- If you think I'm going to Delhi with you, or any place else after all the trouble you've gotten me into, think again, buster! I'm going home to Missouri where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits!
The opening sequence in a night-club in Shanghai is chaotic, unbelievable, and nothing whatsoever to do with what subsequently takes place in India - it is also, I would suggest, a masterpiece of choreographed song and dance, comedy fight action, and desperate scrabbling around on the floor by both Indiana Jones, and his soon-to-be companion Willie Scott. He's after the antidote to a poison he's just ingested, whilst she's after something rather more materialistic - a massive diamond. Unfortunately, the gemstone's become mixed up with a whole lot of equally massive chunks of ice and everything - ice, diamond and antidote phial - is all being kicked around the dance floor. Party balloons and a dance troupe add to the confusion. On top of all this, Indiana is also having to cope with an armoury of machine guns all being fired at him at point blank range. As I say - unbelievable, but funny, and seamlessly incorporating every one of the features which make the Indiana Jones saga so enjoyable.
If that scene featured a night club restaurant, the other truly memorable scene also features wining and dining. Well, that's one way to describe it; but at this particular banquet monkeys' brains, eyeballs and giant beetles are on the menu and Spielberg takes malicious delight in concentrating all our intention on Willie's squeamish horror when presented with these delicacies. He contrasts that reaction with the relish or ambivalence with which all the other banqueters tuck into the meal.
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It was George Lucas, the Associate Producer and writer, who wanted 'Temple of Doom' to be a somewhat darker movie than 'Raiders' in the same way that the second movie in his own 'Star Wars' trilogy, 'The Empire Strikes Back' was darker than the first. It seemed a quite natural progression to him for the middle film of a trilogy to take a more sombre tone. Spielberg himself was less sure, but was happy to go along with Lucas's suggestion. He did lighten the mood a bit, and there are plenty of jokes, but many feel the atmosphere within the 'Temple of Doom' is a little too malevolent for an Indian Jones movie.
Certainly my feeling is that the film is stronger in the first half when the emphasis is on the relationship of Indiana Jones and Willie Scott and Willie's response to coping with exotic food, lifestyles and animals. In the second half, the action is in the mines and even though the film stays firmly on the side of comic book fantasy, everything metaphorically and literally becomes darker.
A personal moan. Of course there are absurdities throughout the film, but as one who has kept exotic insects as pets, many of the Indian 'bugs' featured in this movie are familiar to me as Australian, Indonesian and Madagascan species - that kind of destroys any suspense of disbelief for me! Likewise, the 'giant vampire bats' flying overhead, are very clearly fruit eating bats. Sorry to nitpick!
One continuity error irritates. Normally these are not blatant, but in the rope bridge scene, there are shots which cut away from the bridge and then show the action in close up, and Indiana's pursuers seem at one point to be within a couple of metres before drifting ten metres away and then back again - without actually taking a single step. It's an obvious and unnecessary mistake.
WHAT'S SO GOOD ABOUT IT
All the necessary ingredients of a comedy action adventure with a love interest and a mystical theme are here in this film. There's bugs and elephants and snakes, there's magic potions and spells and people who can tear hearts out of bodies, there's volcanic lava (somewhat improbably flowing underneath an Indian Palace), crocodile infested rivers, and giant vampire bats in the sky. There's also a rollercoaster mine-work ride, a plane crash and a cavern in which a spiked roof gradually descends on anyone unfortunate enough to be trapped there. What else is there? Well there is eyeball soup and beetles for dinner and monkeys' brains for dessert. There's also a song and dance routine. For all the negative criticisms, can anyone fail to find something to enjoy in this movie?
On top of this, we have the oddest trio of adventurers - the dynamic archaeologist, a city girl most unsuited to jungle escapades and a Chinese boy with a dubious past. All three contribute in their own individual ways to the watchability of the film.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
George Lucas himself has said that 'Temple of Doom' is 'not the most fun of the (Indiana) movies', and Steven Spielberg acknowledged that reviews, relatively speaking, were 'awful'. I've no doubt however that this movie suffers merely by comparison with others in the series. Sandwiched in production between 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade', was never going to be easy, because the first and third films are two of the great comic adventures in the history of Hollywood. 'Raiders' introduced Indiana Jones, a fresh, and unique character creation, and 'Last Crusade' gave us one of the great double acts when it paired Harrison Ford with Sean Connery. 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' is a bit different in tone, and does not work quite so well.
But forget 'Raiders' and 'Last Crusade'. I strongly suspect that if those two great films had not been made, and 'Temple of Doom' had stood alone, then this movie would be regarded as a masterpiece of comic fantasy adventure. It remains a piece of escapism which most viewers will enjoy from beginning to end.
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