Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and disturbing images (would definitely be PG-13 today, and in fact, partly led to its creation)
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz
Review published January 5, 2003
While on the whole not really a bad film, it's still a giant leap down from the inspired intelligence that was the driving force behind the crowd-pleasing Raiders of the Lost Ark. It seems this time around, Spielberg (1941, Close Encounters) and co. decided to take the scenes that provoked the most audience reaction in Raiders and give us nothing but that for two hours straight. More humor, more stunts, more creepy creatures, and more gore. If there's a lesson that can be learned from Temple of Doom, it's that less is more, as the cheap laughs and the pervasive nastiness runs rampant all over what could have been another winning adventure if played with a subtle hand.
While a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, it's really a prequel, set in 1935, several years before. Indiana Jones (Ford, Return of the Jedi) finds himself in Hong Kong on the hunt for a precious diamond, but gets in over his head, chased out of town with his assistant, a young boy nicknamed Short Round (Quan, The Goonies), and Willie (Capshaw, Dreamscape), a ditzy, blonde, nightclub singer. Having to make a hasty exit from a crashing airplane, Indy and friends find themselves in a starving village in India, who see their visitors as saviors destined to save their children who they believe have been taken away by resurrected forces of evil at a formerly abandoned palace. The trio set off for the palace in search of lost children, a sacred stone...and fortune and glory.
Summing up why Temple of Doom is still a worthwhile watch despite its considerable flaws is easy. We like the character of Indiana Jones, and with Harrison Ford's charisma taking center stage, it's hard not to be entertained a good part of the time. The special effects are just as impressive as the first time around, absorbing the viewer in with lavish sights, sounds, and sets. The stunt work is also up to the high standards set in Raiders, with lots of fistfights, falls, and good choreography. Of course, John Williams (E.T., The Empire Strikes Back) provides another memorable score, adding its own unique flavor with an Indian flair, in addition to the usual Indy theme.
Still, all of this is just bells and whistles, and not necessarily the only ingredients if you want to make a good film. Even with the high production value and the immense talent involved, where the producers erred is in thinking audiences wanted more action, more thrills, more scares, and more danger than before, and in the process, the subtle touches and wry intelligence have been replaced by bloated spectacles, cartoonish situations, and a largely depressing subtext involving child slavery and gory masochistic rituals that undercut much of the fun and excitement. There's a hokey quality that runs throughout Temple that was mostly missing in Raiders, made infinitely worse by some terrible characterizations, most notably with Willie, played with maximum shrill by future Spielberg wife, Kate Capshaw.
However, there are the elements and scenes that make Temple of Doom worth every penny of the price of admission. From the lush opening musical number, to the thrilling mine car race, and the exhilarating rope-bridge showdown, there's a lot to like in between some of the missteps. It delivers on entertainment, albeit with quite a bit of overhead, and if that's all you expect, Temple of Doom gives you enough laughs, chills, and thrills to warrant multiple viewings, as long as your expectations are sufficiently low enough.
©2003 Vince Leo