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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Starring: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: May 1984
Genre: Action

*Also starring: Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Dan Aykroyd

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  David Wilcock read the review movie reviewmovie review
3.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Time can be very unkind to movies. In first few months and years after the premiere, a movie might make record profits at the box-office, earn multitudes of "Oscars" and generally be regarded as one of the greatest contemporary films. But, only after few years that same film gets utterly forgotten, and future film scholars have a lot of trouble in explaining its initial success. 1980s blockbusters seem to be very good illustration of this phenomenon, and not even George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, those two symbols of blockbuster success, could save their films from such fate. INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, their second instalment in very popular adventure film trilogy, directed by Steven Spielberg in 1984, is a good example - a very popular and critically hailed film in its time, and now virtually despised by contemporary critics, misunderstood by the contemporary audience and practically disowned by their own creators.

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM is product of its era, albeit somewhat unusual one. When screenwriter and producer George Lucas begun working on the follow-up to his classic adventure masterpiece RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, he decided to make prequel instead of sequel and set the plot in Shanghai 1935, one year before the events of the first film. Archaeology professor Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) has located the remains of the first Manchu emperor and he comes to luxurious night-club to complete the deal with local gang boss Lao Che (played by Roy Liao). He is to receive precious diamond in the exchange for the artefact, but the deal goes bad and in the ensuing chaos he would have to settle with clueless bar singer Willie Scott (played by Kate Capshaw). Pursued by Lao Che's gangsters, they get to the taxi driven by 9-year old Short Round (played by Jonathan Ke Quan) who takes them to airport where they all three would board plane for India. The flight is not the end of adventure - plane crashes in the Himalaya mountains and trio, barely escaping death, has to travel to Delhi. On the way they reach small impoverished Indian village and the local shaman (played by D.R. Nanayakkara) tells them about evil Thugee cult whose minions took away the sacred Shankara stone and all the children. Jones agrees to help them and the trail lead him to Pankot Palace, place which used to shelter Thugess many centuries ago but now seems to be ruled by benevolent child Maharaja (played by Raj Singh) and his Oxford-educated prime minister Chattar Lal (played by Roshan Seth). Jones is still suspicious and soon he finds secret passages that lead to the cave which was recently turned into temple of goddess Kali and where the evil chief priest Mola Ram (played by Amrish Puri) wants to gather all the Shankara stone and thus get the magical power that would enable him to rule the world.

Like many sequels of its era, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM had misfortune of being compared with its predecessor, and in most of such cases predecessors happened to be much better. In the case of this film predecessor was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, not only the first instalment in trilogy intended to repeat the success of STAR WARS, but also an undisputed classic of adventure genre. Lucas and Spielberg were aware of this and they tried very hard to make second instalment of the series as different as possible from the first. They succeeded in that but those changes weren't necessarily for the better and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM is almost universally viewed as much inferior to the first film of the trilogy.

The most palpable change is in the screenplay, this time written by Wilard Huyk and Gloria Katz. While the first film had very basic, but still coherent plot, the second one is nothing more than the series of action sequences and gags loosely sawn together. Characterisation is even worse, except in the case of Indiana Jones. His character has been clearly established in the first part and screenwriters actually don't need to experiment, but short episode with his turning to the Dark Side seems refreshing. Harrison Ford plays him very well, being equally convincing in tuxedo and his legendary adventurer's outfit. Unfortunately, this is not the case with his partners. Character of weak, stupid and utterly useless female partner Willie Scott represents spectacular departure from the high standards set for Indiana Jones' girl in the first film. Her constant complaining, crying and screaming is funny at first but later gets repetitive and irritating; Kate Capshaw might be the best actress around but she can't remedy the limits of her character, which seems insulting to the female gender in general, despite being modelled as a parody of dumb blonde and damsel in distress stereotypes in 1930s movies. Bond's 9-year old sidekick Short Round looks much better in comparison, although his character has opportunities to be equally irritating. He was probably introduced to the film in order to make it more attractive to the younger audiences - those who were basis of Spielberg's commercial success in 1980s.

Unfortunately, Spielberg, in his effort to make this film appealing to adolescent and pre- adolescent crowds succumbs to infantilism that plagued many 1980s films. So, one child among protagonists is not enough and the film must have villains that use thousands of children for the slave labour, sacrificing plausibility in the process. Such infantilism, that plagued many films made in the mid 1980s (like MAD MAX BEYOND THE THUNDERDOME), is compromised with the heavy use of realistic violence. If spiders, bugs, snakes, skeletons and decomposing bodies don't scare the children in the theatres, people being ripped to pieces and burned alive, all with appropriate amounts of blood and gore, definitely would. Even the 1980s MPAA censors were aware of this, and Spielberg used all his clout to create compromise PG-13 rating that managed to save at least part of his core audience. Of course, MPAA censors were, as usual, more squeamish about sex than violence, so Spielberg reduced eroticism for couple of weak double entendres, leaving critics to interpret the Freudian meaning of the tunnels that play important part in the second part of the film.

Screenplay was weaker than the previous film, but at least Spielberg kept his directing skills. From the opening, that pays homage to 1930s musicals, to the end, movie is series of excellent scenes. The action is always exciting and rhythm very fast, never allowing the film the slow down; which is perhaps a good thing, because characterisation and plot problems would otherwise become even more obvious. Photography of Douglas Slocombe creates good atmosphere, and the production design in Pinewood studios is superb, as well as Sri Lanka locations (which some of us might recognise from THE BRIDGE AT THE RIVER KWAI). Special effects are also very good and still look convincing, despite being made with pre-CGI technology. Music by John Williams is very good, and although not being particularly memorable (except in the ritual scene), serves as perfect illustration for the events in film.

There is another reason why INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM enjoys much worse reputation today than sixteen years ago. All the villains in the film happen to be non-white, and even in 1984 British satirical show SPITTING IMAGE accused this film for racism in a parody gag called XENOPHOBIA JONES. We could only imagine how would PC police of contemporary Hollywood react to the similar script today. Because of that, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM seems quite refreshing compared with contemporary action and adventure films. Spielberg is also one of the rare Hollywood filmmakers who defies stereotypical negative portrayal of the British Empire in historical films. This film not only features British colonial troops in the role reserved for US Cavalry in early westerns, but also references certain good things the Empire did for its subjects.

All in all, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM is deeply flawed film that didn't age quite well, but most of those flaws are well hidden by Spielberg's mastery. From our perspective it is still a very good piece of Hollywood entertainment, much superior to the more recent examples of same genre.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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