“I keep telling you, you listen to me more, you live longer!”
“If you think I’m going to Delhi with you, or anyplace else after all the trouble you’ve gotten me into, think again, buster! I’m going home to Missouri where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits! This is NOT my idea of a swell time!”
“Well I always thought that archaeologists were always funny looking men going around looking for their mommies.”
Now we come to the part of Steven’s Spielberg’s filmography where he does his first sequel and also makes his strangest movie to date. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is weird. How else can you really put that? The second installment of the adventures of America’s favorite whip-donning, fedora-wearing archeologist journeys into occultic bizarreness in Asia complete with officials eating beetles, snakes and other critters as a delicacy. The movie mostly takes place in Shanghai and India in 1935. Astute observers will note that this story actually takes place before the events in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (which took place in 1936).
Saying that the Temple of Doom is weird does not mean that there isn’t fun to be had. However, as a kid, this part of the former trilogy was not watched as much as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. The movie opens in all seriousness as a man bangs a gong and the camera pans over to a demonic looking head, the devilish figure’s mouth wide open revealing a glowing red with smoke oozing out. Out of the mouth emerges Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw who would later marry Spielberg in 1991 and they are still married to this day with 5 children). Willie begins an elaborate dance number in a stark change of mood. Other dancers join in and this begins to remind us of something out of Hollywood’s golden age. Yes, this is actually the opening to an Indiana Jones film.
Harrison Ford as Indiana eventually enters sporting a white blazer coat to meet with a local crime boss in Shanghai, Lao Che (Roy Chiao). There is, of course, an artifact and diamonds that Lao Che is looking for. Dr. Jones ends up getting poisoned, Lao Che has the antidote (to a quick working poison he claims) and we witness a well-choregraphed chaotic scene of Jones trying to get the antidote while Che’s men shoot up the place (the scene goes on for awhile. Are we sure this is a quick working poison?). To the surprise of no one, the hero is cured and escapes with Willie, falling down and through awnings from multiple stories up and gracefully landing right into the back of a fancy white car being driven by Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan who becomes his own kind of legend) to flee the clutches of the crime boss and his goons.
Action packed scenes follow including falling out of an airplane on an inflatable raft, sliding down snow-covered mountains and off a cliff into raging white water. Indiana, Willie and Short Round wind up at a Mayapore village where the inhabitants think the trio is sent from Shiva to retrieve a stolen Sivalinga stone. Dr. Jones believes this may be one of the five fabled Sankara stones. The villagers point in the general direction of the Pankot Palace. So, the plot is now underway.
The mid-section to the film is a little slow. Dr. Jones and his fellow travelers meet some of the personalities at the Pankot Palace, there is sexual tension between Jones and Willie and then secret passage ways filled with critters and cobwebs are discovered.
The third act ramps the proceedings up again when occultic worship is discovered along with human sacrifices. The person being sacrificed is placed into a metal cage and lowered into something that resembles a part of Dante’s hell. Oh, and before this happens, the master of ceremonies Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) uses his hand to reach inside the poor guy’s chest and remove his heart. Did I mention this victim is mysteriously still living as he descends into the fiery hell? Which goes to say that there is a lot of dark voodoo-type magic going on. There is even a voodoo doll resembling Dr. Jones which is worked into the late fight scenes.
All of that to say, this is all a little over the top. We, as the audience, accept some supernatural turns in the Indiana Jones’ series but the first outing used those otherworldly powers in limited and effective ways. This movie, especially in the third act, goes gangbusters with it all and the magic is certainly out of a different religious tradition then the power of God coming out of the lost ark.
Years had passed since I last watched this movie and I’m not entirely convinced it totally holds up to even my lower childhood memories of it. “Temple of Doom” is not bad but just not great. Especially compared with one of the greatest movies of all time (Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Another interesting note is this was one of the movies that led Hollywood’s MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) to adopt the PG-13 rating because of the violence exhibited. Most of that case probably being made from the “heart-ripping” scene.
Fortunately, Spielberg is going to veer out of this lesser installment with “The Last Crusade” (coming up shortly in the filmography) and then make the “Temple of Doom” look like an all-time masterpiece compared with the (I don’t even want to think about this) fourth installment.
Lester Lauding Level: 3 (out of 5)
Ranking of Spielberg Movie (so far):
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Review here)
Jaws (Review here)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Review here)
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Review here)
Duel (Review here)
The Post (Review here)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Sugarland Express (Review here)
1941 (Review here)