Logline: In 1935, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones arrives in India, where he attempts to retrieve a mystical stone from the clutches of a cult leader whose people are practicing human sacrifice and black magic while enslaving the children of a desperate village.
Review: Movies exist for different reasons. Some films exist to stimulate us intellectually and others are there simply to entertain us. Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom belongs in the latter category. It is the most entertaining and underrated film I have ever seen. Temple of Doom is actually a prequel to Spielberg’s 1981 classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. Instead of making another Raiders, Spielberg and team create a different film, much darker than its predecessor.
Temple of Doom is the quintessential adventure film and my personal favorite in the Indiana Jones trilogy. The pace never lets up and the characters find themselves in one amazing set piece after another. Harrison Ford is great as always in the iconic role. Kate Capshaw, harshly criticized upon the film’s initial release, gives a solid performance as nightclub singer Willie Scott. I never found her character to be annoying but rather amusing. Jonathan Ke Quan is wonderful in his film debut as Indy’s young sidekick, Short Round. The two actors have great chemistry and their interactions are very amusing.
The film is often criticized for its dark elements, including human sacrifice and child slave labor and abuse. The scene in which a man’s heart is ripped out of his chest by the cult leader is especially dark. I think that these elements only serve to make the film more compelling. Even the title character is a darker version of himself. Jones is motivated by “fortune and glory” as he puts it. It is great to see that Indy is not just a one dimensional action hero but a well developed character with his own arc. The film was rated PG at the time of its release, which stirred a lot of controversy among people who thought the film was too dark for children. Spielberg suggested the MPAA implement a rating between PG and R and as a result, the PG-13 rating was born. The film has a liberal amount of dry humor to balance out the dark elements.
There are so many great scenes in Temple of Doom that it is difficult to choose a favorite. The opening featuring a Mandarin musical rendition of “Anything Goes” is wonderful as well as the ensuing chase that takes the characters from a car to a plane and finally, to a raft. The bugs and spike chamber sequence is remarkable. The mine car chase is breathtaking and the rope bridge sequence is equally thrilling.
The film is a technical achievement on so many levels. The set designs, art direction, special effects, and sound effects are all top notch. The wonderful look of the film matches the darker themes that it explores. John Williams’ score is excellent. “The Parade of the Slave Children” is one of my favorite musical themes.
Temple of Doom is pure escapist fun. It is the Indiana Jones movie that most closely resembles the 1930s serials that inspired George Lucas to create the character. For a film that clocks in at over two hours, it never lets up and will leave you breathless.
Great scene: The mine cart chase.