Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Movie Review
A prequel to Raiders, Jones’ second on-screen adventure might not be his best, but it is not a copy & paste of the original!
Genre: Action / Adventure
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, D.R. Nanayakkara, Ric Young & Roy Chiao.
Run Time: 118 min.
US Release: 23 May 1984
UK Release: 15 June 1984
German Release: 03 August 1984
It's Throwback Thursday, which means continuing my review series for the Indiana Jones flicks. With the release of the fifth instalment this year, I decided it was time to take a closer look at the complete franchise. The first sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark might be the most disputed one… nonetheless, no matter what your standpoint is, something that can’t be denied is the fact that Spielberg tried to create a wholly original product that wouldn’t copy its predecessor. So, grab once again your fedora and whip, as we traverse the dark tunnels of my Temple of Doom review!
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
Following a murder attempt by Shanghai crime boss Lao Che, Indiana Jones flees the city with the help of his orphaned side-kick Short Round, and in the company of nightclub singer Willie Scott. The trio end up in a small distressed village in India, where the people believe that their children were abducted by evil spirits after a sacred Sankara stone was stolen. Traversing the jungle, the uneven group reach the maharaja’s palace, where they find an underground temple, in which the Thuggee are attempting to rise once more.
Jones' adventures were always envisioned as a trilogy by George Lucas. Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, had been reluctant to be tied down to direct a trilogy due to two reasons: First, the long period of waiting time between the movies and second, follow-ups are always a win-lose game. Lucas promised that he had three stories in mind, though that would turn out to be a lie to get Spielberg to direct. As such, the duo needed to come up with subsequent stories.
Several ideas came into mind, with Lucas deciding to set it before Raiders, to avoid the Nazis becoming a recurring villain. Spielberg originally wanted to bring back Marian Ravenwood together with her father Abner, as supporting characters. Originally the narrative was set out to take place in China, with Jones stumbling over a “Lost World” type scenario with dinosaurs, or a Monkey King plot. Those ideas fell through, as the Chinese Government refused their permission to let them film in the country. A treatment by Lucas about a haunted castle in Scotland was rebuffed by Spielberg, reminding him too much of Poltergeist.
Both finally came up with the idea of a demonic temple in India. However, the much darker tone of the story, including subsequent themes about child slavery plus human sacrifices, turned out to feel more mean-spirited than possibly meant to. This is ultimately Temple of Doom’s biggest flaw, it contains barely any pleasantness, despite being a fantastic thrill ride!
That said, the different atmosphere kept this franchise fresh, despite the early negative reviews from audiences, who deemed it too violent. Kasdan, who wrote the script for the first film, did not return as he did not like the story. As such, writing duo Willard Huyck/Gloria Katz were hired to pen the screenplay, because of their knowledge of Indian culture. Inspiration for the plot was taken from the RKO picture Gunga Din, while the names of Willie plus Short Round came from Spielberg’s and Huyck’s dogs respectively.
A lot of designs that weren’t used in the predecessor, had been implemented in this sequel such as the chart chase, the escape from the aeroplane in a raft, as well as the giant gong in the opening sequence. The musical opening was developed, as Lucas wanted to implement something new to the series, while the whole James Bond atmosphere during that opening scene was credited to Spielberg, who always envisioned directing one of the spy flicks.
Apart from Harrison Ford, who portrays the titular character, none of the previous supporting cast makes a return. Ford brought back Indy’s cocky persona, adding a lot of one-liners that were originally meant for Short Round. That said, the titular anti-hero has a meaner streak, possibly a side effect attributed to Lucas’ nasty divorce at the time. This became especially noticeable in the interactions between Indiana and his new love interest Willie.
Kate Capshaw, who was cast as Willie Scott, gave a sweet rendition of her persona, though Willie is written to be near insufferable. She represents every female character of a pulp, swashbuckling, serial adventurer. The cynical aftertaste of a toxic relationship is well captured, being completely contrary to the romance between Indy and Marion.
Ke Huy Quan was magnificent as Short Round, Jones’ young side-kick. Quan gave a charming, quippy performance, of a pre-teenager who lost his parents, then got caught by Indy picking his pockets. Short Round is smart, inventive, constantly helping the titular character out when needed.
The cinematography is reflective of the gloomy screenplay. The imagery is much darker, using more faded colours, apart from the spectacular opening scene. The grimy look is kept, staying true to the low-budget serials this trilogy is based on. Contrary to its predecessor, it is much more violent, bloody, as well as scary. The stunt for the aeroplane escape in the raft is one of my biggest gripes. It isn’t as bad as the refrigerator blast, but unbelievable nonetheless.
Having run into the issue of being denied to shoot in North India, due to the government finding the screenplay offensive, the shooting locations took place in Sri Lanka, using matte paintings, and scale models for the village, temple and Pankot Palace. Sequences like the cart chase, are a blend of a rollercoaster ride plus scale models with dolls, doubling for the actors. Blue screen sequences are also included, though not all aged well.
The music by John Williams is once again iconic! The opening song's entry sounds nearly Disney-like until the musical number, sung by Kate Capshaw in Mandarin, kicks in. The bleak atmosphere is well captured using some ominous melodies, yet it all serves as a perfect companion to the Raiders’ score.
Verdict: As with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom was a big part of my childhood. I never liked it as much as its predecessor or The Last Crusade, simply because it felt so much different, although growing up I realised that it was a good thing. That said, the mean-spirited tone leaves to this day a sour aftertaste. I appreciate the more mature themes, exploration of female characters in pulp serials, just like adult jokes. However, it could have benefited from less cruelty. It is more of a cathartic piece for both Lucas and the director, who both went through break-ups at the time of conceiving this follow-up. The cinematography sticks to its low-budget look and dirty imagery, representative of the early twentieth-century serial flicks, this franchise is modelled after. The special effects are great, apart from some visual blue screens. Williams’ music is as always epic, containing the unforgettable Raiders March, which became Indy’s official soundtrack. Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom might not be the perfect sequel, but it is still a good action adventure, worthy of an 8.0 out of 10.
Which Indiana Jones movie is your favourite? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment below & thank you as always for reading! Look out for my review of The Last Crusade, next Thursday!