Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Philip Stone
There was something about this second entry in the series that just didn’t sit right with audiences. Though it was a successful film commercially, it got a critical drubbing, and in most people eyes it is the lesser of the three Jones’ films. Topping the masterpiece of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was mission impossible, and “Temple of Doom” is certainly not Oscar-worthy, but it's still a hell of lot of fun and a worthy entry in the series.
The story begins before “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, 1935 in Shanghai. The Paramount logo fades into a giant metal gong which sounds the beginning of an elaborate Busby Berkeley style musical number featuring American singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) singing “Anything Goes”. Our hero Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is also in the bar making a deal for the lost remains of Nurhaci – last emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Fighting and action ensues which finds Indy fleeing the scene with Willie Scott and Indy’s young protégé Short Round (Ke Huy Quan). Next thing you know, they’re on a flight across the Himalayas, then they’re forced to abandon the plane using only a yellow dingy for a parachute. After a rollercoaster ride down the mountain, off a cliff and through treacherous rapids they settle down and are found by a kindly old Indian man.
At the man’s village, Indy is tasked with finding a lost Sankara stone, a rock with magical powers which Indy thinks can bring him 'fortune and glory'. The trio travel to Pankot palace where they soon find themselves battling sword-wielding warriors, a shaman with the power to rip a man’s beating heart from his body and a young Maharaja who uses voodoo dolls to subdue his enemies. In addition to rescuing the magic stone, Indy frees the children from the village and wins the heart of the nation. Breathe.
If it’s even possible this second entry of the series moves at a pace more blistering than “Raiders”. In fact, the film is one long journey from one place and event to another with no time for thought or decision-making. It’s as if a supernatural force of nature is blowing Indy and his troops to the Indian village and compelling them into their mission.
Again, as with “Raiders”, Indy goes through a series of trials and unbelievable obstacles. There’s a greater undercurrent of evil through this journey. In “Raiders” it’s the physical and transparent threat of the Nazi’s, but in “Doom” the enemy isn’t revealed until the middle of the film, when Mola Rum (Amrish Puri) rips the heart from the shell-shocked slave. Throw in brainwashing elixirs, and enslaved children and you have a really dark and violent film.
Among the great set pieces is the fantastic opening musical number, which teased us at the thought of Spielberg revitalizing the classic Hollywood musical (it hasn’t happened yet). In fact, the next scene after, the exchange of the Emperor’s remains, is a wonderful sequence cleverly using the table’s ‘Lazy Susan’ for suspense (Hitchcock would have be proud). There’s a rollercoaster/theme park action scene which feels like just that – a theme park ride, and the glorious finale – the rope bridge confrontation, shot with David Lean-like perfection.
Spielberg, Lucas and the boys certainly didn’t set out to make a culturally responsible film. In fact, the film is a series of egregious racial and cultural clichés and stereotypes. Is there anything vaguely like “Chilled Monkey Brains” or “Snake Surprise” in the Indian cuisine? Have the Indian culture ever had a history of ritualistic human sacrifices. And voodoo dolls are not even in the right hemisphere. But really, who cares? The dinner scene is a now a classic scene from the series – completely ridiculous and hilarious in its excess.
How could “Temple of Doom” top “Raiders” – it couldn’t. Watch this film as pure fantasy - even more over-the-top and self-reverential than the first film - and rediscover a great adventure. Enjoy.