Film Review - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

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INTRODUCTION

'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.

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?

Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Indy (Harrison Ford) share a moment together
Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Indy (Harrison Ford) share a moment together

MAIN CAST & CHARACTERS

ACTOR
CHARACTER
Harrison Ford
Indiana Jones
Kate Capshaw
Wllie Scott
Jonathan Ke Quan
Short Round
Amrish Puri
Mola Ram
Roshan Seth
Chattar Lal
Philip Stone
Captain Blumbertt
D.R. Nanayakkara
Village Shaman

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)

Amrish Puri looks suitably villainous as the evil Indian mystic Mola Ram
Amrish Puri looks suitably villainous as the evil Indian mystic Mola Ram

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.

Jonathan Ke Quan as Short Round
Jonathan Ke Quan as Short Round

TRIVIA

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.

FAVOURITE QUOTES

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!

FAVOURITE SCENES

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.

Monkeys' brains - Mmmm, delicious!
Monkeys' brains - Mmmm, delicious!

NEGATIVES ?

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.

Indiana Jones on a rope bridge over a crocodile infested river
Indiana Jones on a rope bridge over a crocodile infested river
Indiana Jones in action - still on the rope bridge
Indiana Jones in action - still on the rope bridge

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.

Indiana Jones still on the rope bridge ... just about!
Indiana Jones still on the rope bridge ... just about!

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.

PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THIS FILM

4.5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of this film

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I'D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR COMMENTS. THANKS, ALUN 11 comments

Discordzrocks profile image

Discordzrocks 9 months ago from Austin TX

A nice demonic film I watched as a kid a long time ago. Ahhh the 80s


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 20 months ago from Essex, UK Author

UndercoverAgent19; Thanks very much for your views on 'Temple of Doom'. Although the general consensus is that this was the least effective of the three original Indiana Jones movies, I suspect with its non-stop mix of comedy horror and all action special effects, a significant number of film watchers will agree with you Jen, about the enjoyability of this movie. It's two hours of great entertainment!


UndercoverAgent19 profile image

UndercoverAgent19 20 months ago

I loved reading this hub. While agree with your review that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade are certainly the strongest of the franchise, I have a soft spot for Temple of Doom, and I have to admit that it's my favorite installment. While many people have panned Temple of Doom for not being quite as lighthearted and fun, I actually enjoyed the darker tone of the film. Thanks for writing such a detailed and complete review! I think you hit all the right points.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thanks Thief12. I would place 'Temple of Doom' above 'Crystal Skull' in my list of favourite films, tho' I'd agree the first and third films in the franchise were the true classics of the series. But it's a 'fun film' as you say, and I think works well as enjoyable escapist entertainment.

I do really appreciate all your visits and reviews of my work. Cheers, Alun.


Thief12 profile image

Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

It's a decent and fun film, but probably my least favorite of the Indiana Jones, maybe tied with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Good review, though!


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Hi Derdriu;

I don't have any insects at the moment, but I have kept many in the past and probably will again in the future. It is the idea of having a little bit of the jungle in your own home which appeals. I've kept cockroaches (including Madagascan hissing cockroaches), various bush cricket and grasshopper species, giant millipedes (8" long), a couple of species of scorpions, silk moths, lots of kinds of colourful fruit beetle and most of all - stick insects or walkingsticks, of which at various times I've had maybe 20 species (including a couple of big species from this film). In the UK it is easy to obtain these as pets, though I think in the USA it may be more difficult due to the risk of them escaping and naturalising in the warmer southern states. It'll be the subject of a hub or two sometime in the future.

As for the fruit eating bats or 'flying foxes', I once had the pleasure of spending a night on a Thai beach watching about 100 of these slowly passing overhead all in the same direction, presumably on their way home to roost.

Many many thanks for your visit Derdriu.


Derdriu 4 years ago

Alun, In particular, I like how you bring in compelling facts behind the making of the film. For example, it's interesting that with your experience and expertise in exotic insect pets, you recognize the country origins of the movie's rampant insect life. It's just as interesting to read that the scary bats were actually fruit-eaters!

Which exotic insects number among your collectibles? Do you keep them in the house?

Me too, I'd agree that this film suffers from the great popularity of its predecessor and successor. Me too, I agree that its own true qualities wouldn't be so eclipsed if it had stood on its own, and not as part of a series.

Up + UFABI.

Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing another one of your across-the-board enthralling, excellent, and exhaustive (but not exhausting) reviews, Derdriu


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Thanks Steve for your visit and comment. To a large extent I agree. I really like 'Last Crusade' but the major reason for that is the interplay between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. Without Connery, the film wouldn't rate as high as 'Raiders'.

In my list of 100 favourite films, Indiana Jones is, with James Bond, the only film franchise / series which has three entries (and given there's only been 4 Indiana movies, that's quite an achievement).

I'm not sure if I'd like to see a fifth film. I think I would, but 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' was a low point, and any fifth film would have to be very carefully handled so that Harrison's advancing years became a plus point rather than a negative. I'm sure Spielberg could do it, but he'd have to hit just the right tone of adventure and comedy to make it work. Alun


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

An enjoyable review of an underrated Indiana Jones film, Alun.

I saw it a couple of times at the cinema when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it, not as good Raiders but better than Last Crusade in my opinion. The best thing about Last Crusade was Sean Connery.

I remember critic Roger Ebert giving Temple of Doom 4 stars and being very excited about it. :)

Voted Up


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK Author

Hi JKenny; thank you very much for your comment. I'm grateful.

It was indeed on the set of 'Temple of Doom' that Spielberg and Kate Capshaw first met, but it wasn't love at first sight. In fact one year later, Steven married actress Amy Irving, but this ended in divorce in 1989. It was only after this that he began a relationship with Kate, and they were married in 1991. They are still very much a couple, and have 7 children (2 by previous marriages, 2 adopted, and 3 of their own).

Alun.


JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

I'm a big fan of the Indy films and while I know it's received a lot of negative reviews, its still a good film, despite the fact that in my opinion Short Round is a little annoying. I genuinely didn't know that Speilberg married Kate Capshaw- fascinating. Thanks for writing this.

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