Even as a nine-year-old with limited experience in critical thinking in cinema I remember being disappointed with the sequel to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. Perhaps it was the grating performance of Kate Capshaw, or the outright racist treatment of the Indian culture. Twenty-seven years on, surprisingly this picture improves greatly over time. Without the burden of high expectations, 'Temple of Doom' emerges as a highly watchable adventure film, politically incorrect, but tolerable considering its intent as an homage to other culturally insensitive Hollywood films, such as 'Gunga Din' or 'King Kong'.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Philip Stone
By Alan Bacchus
As we all know, the story begins before Raiders of the Lost Ark in Shanghai in 1935. 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 before 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 Nazis, 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 showing the exchange of the Emperor’s remains is a wonderful sequence cleverly using the table’s ‘Lazy Susan’ for suspense (Hitchcock would have been 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 - is shot with David Lean-like perfection.
Spielberg, Lucas and the boys certainly didn't set out to make a culturally responsible film. In fact, it's a series of egregious racial and cultural clichés and stereotypes. Is there anything vaguely close to “Chilled Monkey Brains” or “Snake Surprise” in the Indian cuisine? Has 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 now a classic from the series – completely ridiculous and hilarious in its excess.
How could Temple of Doom match 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.