Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
(for intense sequences of action violence throughout, thematic material including torture and child abuse, scary images, and brief sensuality)
Released: May 23, 1984
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the greatest popcorn movie ever made.
How can that be? Raiders is a popcorn movie, too, isn’t it? Yes, but it’s also much more than that. Temple of Doom isn’t. From beginning to end, it’s a crazy – at times gonzo – travelogue adventure for Indiana Jones that’s all about its thrills, spills, laughs and chills. It’s the kind of movie I go to summer movies for. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is as spectacular a piece of escapist moviemaking as has ever been, and the haters can go stick it – including the guys who made it. (We’ll get to that.)
After the bomb of 1941, Spielberg more than proved himself again with Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. – and Temple of Doom revels in a renewed freedom. It introduced the notion of a prequel, further liberating it from any obligatory continuity with Raiders. The film even opens, quite literally, with its lead damsel declaring (in song) “Anything Goes”. It’s a pull-out-all-the-stops actioner that isn’t looking to prove anything to anybody (sentimental this ain’t), and is simply having a blast with its full-throttle inventiveness. (Even so, how Temple Of Doom incorporates children into its narrative and themes gives the adventure a substantial layer, one that should be applauded by parents, not chastised. More on that later.)
Spielberg’s old Hollywood influences are still here, too – not just the cheap matinee cliffhangers – whether they be subtle influences from films like Bridge On The River Kwai or a blatant wholesale rip-off (at least in premise) of Cary Grant’s Gunga Din. Not familiar with that 1939 classic? It’s the story of adventurers in India that must stop the Thuggee cult’s revival of Kali worship from spreading around the world. Sound familiar? (Spielberg also devised an opener that put Indiana Jones in a Cary Grant-style tux, and both films even begin with titles appearing over a gong.)
Temple of Doom boasts the most imaginative, well-staged set pieces of the entire series, and they just keep coming. Most are insanely impossible to survive, although few completely defy physics (even if they are stretching them to their limits), which is what makes it all so brilliant. That they’re still done in an age of miniatures, matte paintings, and actual stunts (rather than overly-smooth digital fakery) makes them all the more exhilarating. It’s a pipe dream, but I would absolutely love it if Spielberg would, for Indy 5, commit to using zero digital effects and restrict himself to 1984 methods. That, in itself, would be a brilliant marketing tool.
Ford turns up the cocksure swagger a few more notches; smoother, cooler, more confident, with the occasional sly smirk or smile; his Indy is every bit a Man’s Man. But as the stakes increase – i.e. when kids lives are on the line – we see an Indiana Jones we haven’t seen before or since: the altruistic hero.
So selfless is Jones that, quite frankly, my hackles start rising when I hear people dismiss the film simply for having a “dark tone”. What better expressions of courage and valor could there be than for Jones to be sacrificing his archeological ambitions, guaranteed “fortune and glory”, and even his own life all for the sake of rescuing children from slavery? Repeat: he’s rescuing children from slavery!
The more evil the bad guys are (in this case, very) the more noble Indy becomes, and the better example he sets. People gripe (sure, some parts are definitely not suitable for kids), but on this film’s terms – from what’s at stake (kids’ lives) to what Indy gets in return (a thank you at best) – The Temple of Doom gives us Indiana Jones at his most heroic.
Clearly, I do not hold the common disdain for this Indy entry that most seem to (which itself is revisionist, given the film’s box office success and critical embrace – read the quotes in the ad below as evidence – including a 4-star review from Roger Ebert). Even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have become apologetic in the intervening years, not for the film’s quality (which, I think, no one argues) but rather the level of graphic intensity that would spawn the PG-13 rating (note: other Spielberg productions like Gremlins and Poltergeist also helped lay that groundwork).
Spielberg and Lucas attributed the film’s violent nature as being reflective of dark times that both men were going through in their personal lives. Sorry, but I call B.S. Not to the genuineness of those struggles, but to their effects on this movie. There’s way too much fun being had by everyone involved for this to be some Freudian result of deep personal angst. If anything, this is an escape from all of that. And yes, that includes the live-snake eating and bug crawling and heart pulling and human sacrificing. You know, everything that a 12-year-old boy would love and think is “soooo cool!”, along with all of the other action derring-do. (Full disclosure: I was 12 in 1984. And whenever I see this movie, I still am.)
To a less indignant (but no less snide) degree, Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott and Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round also bear the brunt of scorn – Capshaw for being shrill and grating, and Quan for being a silly pander to kids. I’ll concede the sentiments about Capshaw even though I honestly don’t share them; she’s no Marion, but her Willie Scott fits the mold of many spirited dames from the genre (plus, she’s actually given a few more levels than people remember).
But regarding Short Round, I’ve always been a fan. Yes, he may be a pander but it works, from Quan’s fiery spunk (which I find to be thoroughly entertaining; he’s sincerely precocious, not annoyingly so) to the added layer it provides for Indy, a latent paternal side that also gives this orphan more credit (and trust) than most adults are willing to.
Plus, the character inspired one of the great themes in John Williams’ entire oeuvre. Whenever I hear “Short Round’s Theme” pop up in my music shuffle, it instantly sends me to my Summer Movie Happy Place.
Did I mention this movie has eyeball soup, chilled monkey brains, and vampire bats – and how awesome that is?! Seriously people, when it comes to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, everybody needs to just lighten up, starting with Spielberg and Lucas. Stop apologizing already! Kids aren’t nearly as fragile as our helicopter parenting has led us to believe (or trained them to be). Temple of Doom was made to be fun, old school escapism – including the scares and gross outs.
And it still is.
Available to stream on Netflix.
- Several action sequences in Temple Of Doom weren’t original to the script but, rather, leftovers ideas they didn’t have time or money for in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the most prominent one being the Mine Car Chase.
- In another instance of the series’ double-casting, actor Pat Roach – who played the hulking mechanic that Indy in Raiders – returns as a hulking Thuggee guard.
- Dan Aykroyd, a good friend of Spielberg following 1941 and Steven’s cameo in The Blues Brothers, generously contributed a brief cameo of his own as Weber, the airport steward who guides Indy, Willie and Short Round to their airplane at the end of the opening sequence.
- Ernie Fosselius, director of the famous Star Wars parody Hardware Wars, provides the voices of the two Chinese bi-plane pilots.
- An early draft of the script contained a motorcycle chase scene across the Great Wall of China. That was scrapped when the Chinese government refused to grant permission for filming. (Oh, how times have changed. Today, that would be granted in a heartbeat.)
- Of the four Indiana Jones films, this is the only one in which the title is shown in the iconic logo font. The other three all have the same, more simple type font first seen in Raiders.