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Should I Watch..? Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
What's the big deal?
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom is an action adventure movie released in 1984 and is the sequel to the 1981 film Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1). It is the second instalment of the Indiana Jones series and sees Harrison Ford return as Dr Henry "Indiana" Jones, archaeology professor and professional hunter of unusual artefacts. This film, based on a story by George Lucas, serves as a prequel to the first film and follows Indy on a quest to retrieve sacred stones in India stolen by a vicious Thuggee cult. Although it was a financial success, the film received mixed reviews upon release and is considered one of the lesser films in the series. Some of the cast and crew including director Steven Spielberg have since spoken of their disdain for the picture for its overly dark plot and excessive violence.
What's it about?
Escaping from Triads led by Lao Che in Shanghai with his companion Short Round and nightclub singer Willie Scott, Indiana Jones travels on a plane which is sadly run by Lao's men. As they parachute out and leave the plane to crash into the Himalaya mountains, our trio manage to escape once again and find themselves in a remote part of northern India. They come across a small village who urgently ask them to retrieve their sacred stone and their children - all of which have been stolen by evil forces at the nearby Pankot Palace. Indy agrees, believing this stone to be one of five fabled Sankara stones.
At the palace, they discover that all is well and are welcomed as guests. But during the night, Indiana Jones fights out an assassin and believes that something is definitely amiss. Discovering a passage in Willie's bedroom, they follow it to a hidden temple dedicated to the goddess Kali and populated by Thuggee members indulging in ritual human sacrifice. But when Indy spots the stone among two others, he must overcome the forces of evil once more in order to survive...
Wilhelmina "Willie" Scott
Jonathan Ke Quan
Prime Minister Chattar Lal
Maharajah Zalim Singh
Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz *
Release Date (UK)
15th June, 1984
Best Visual Effects
Academy Award Nomination
Best Original Score
What's to like?
It may take its sweet time getting up to speed but when it does, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom provides some of the best action scenes in the entire series. The legendary mine-cart sequence is worth the admission fee alone as it continues to amaze, thrill and entertain with consummate ease. Hearing the famous theme tune also gets the blood pumping while the dizzying climax on the rope bridge ends things on a tense and gripping note. Of course, the action throughout is well choreographed and performed and Indy's trademark humour is still there somewhere.
The film feels a lot more grown up than before with a story that plunges Indy into conflict with murderous priests, brain-washed cultists and child slave labour. This is a properly dark movie - take the moment when the poor man's heart is literally pulled from his chest, beating limply in Mola Ram's hand. The Nazis and mythology from the first film have been replaced by something equally dramatic and disturbing and while it might not suit everyone, it offers viewers a different angle to the character than had been seen previously. Ford is on fine form as Indy, unflappable in a crisis as always but opposite him, Puri gets little screen time to make a lasting impression but still manages to do so.
- Amrish Puri shaved his head for the part of Mola Ram but made such a lasting impression that he kept it shaved afterwards. He went on to become one of India's most popular film villains.
- Spielberg disliked working on such a dark movie but the experience still paid dividends because he would go on to marry Capshaw in 1991.
- The rope bridge sequence was filmed on three different continents. The scenes on the bridge were shot in Sri Lanka, the bridge hanging down the side of the cliff was shot in London while the alligators in the river below were filmed in Florida.
What's not to like?
Sadly, not all the cast deliver the goods. Capshaw is extremely irritating as Wiliie who spends maybe 70% of the film screaming constantly at the various bugs, snakes, bats and other creepy crawlies that come her way. Just as annoying is Quan whose rapid delivery and heavy accent made it tricky for me to catch his dialogue effectively. And while Ford's performance as Indy is first-class, I didn't like the direction the character had been taken. Before, he felt like a man who made mistakes and who was out of his depth but in The Temple Of Doom, he seems to defeat almost every baddie with a good right hand and a throwaway one-liner. He's gone from being a desperate man forced to improvise to someone who seems one step ahead all the time.
I also disliked the script that lacked the narrative and familiarity of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The whole thing feels poorly thought out (Lucas was going through a divorce when he wrote the story so I'd understand if he had other things on his mind) and cobbled together to make it last the full duration. I don't identify with sacred stones or the Thuggee cult whereas we all identify and understand Nazis and the Ark Of The Covenant. If you take the action away from the film then there isn't much left - in the first half of the film which sets up the story, hardly anything happens once the opening escapade is done and dealt with.
Should I watch it?
It might lack the sense of fun that the first film had in buckets and spades and the pacing might be a bit off but Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom retains the same spiritual DNA of its predecessor. Noisy, exciting, exhilarating and much darker than before, this film is still worth a look. It's a proper adventure movie but one that's overshadowed by the first and third instalments.
Great For: stuffy archaeologists, patient action fans, fans of the series
Not So Great For: child sidekicks, people with sensitive hearing, India
What else should I watch?
For me, it's a toss-up between Raiders Of The Lost Ark and the third film Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (2). Not only does it bring back the sunshine, humour, Nazis, action and desert escapades from the first film but also brilliantly inserts Sean Connery into the mix as Indy's equally adventurous and somewhat eccentric father. And if you're wondering why I don't consider the belated fourth film - Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (3) - than it's probably because you haven't seen it yet. Don't bother because it will genuinely upset you.
I don't know why but there seems a trend in Hollywood to make the second film in a series darker than the first. Examples include Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (4), Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (5), Batman Returns (6) and Back To The Future: Part Two (7) are all darker than their respective parents in tone but for the life of me, I can't figure out why such a philosophy exists.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox