Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984)
Eric Renderking Fisk | Reviewed December 2017
I'll throw down and say this knowing I'll take some crap over it... "Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull" is a much better movie and more tolerable than Temple Of Doom. That's not to say that Temple of Doom is a really bad, horrible movie. And that's not to say that Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is a fantastic work of celluloid either.
What I am saying is that one movie inches out the other for various reasons and out of all the Indiana Jones movies "Temple Of Doom" is the one that makes the least bit of sense.
First and foremost, there's nothing about "Temple of Doom" that's a part of the greater narrative from the other three movies. Were it not for the character of Indiana Jones, the theme song, and the travel montage superimposed on the vintage style map, there wouldn't be anything to connect "Temple of Doom" with "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," "The Last Crusade" and "Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull."
"Temple Of Doom" is nothing more than the main character from "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," on an adventure that occurred before "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." After escaping defeat and near death in 1930's Shanghai, Dr. Indiana Jones escapes another attempt on his life and is even further sidetracked while trying to head back to the college where he's a professor. With his companions he met in Shanghai, Indiana Jones uncovers the Thuggee Cult rising back to power in Pankot Palace of India while they try to recover the mystical Sankara stones from ancient Hindu legends from centuries ago. With the help of the singer Willie Scott from The Club Obi-Wan nightclub and the Chinese orphan Short Round, Dr. Jones is able to free the children enslaved from a neighboring village, salvage at least one of the Shankara Stones, and put an end to the Thugs via an incredible scene on a rope bridge. Indy does all of this while losing then recovering his favorite fedora just once.
With the exception of a line or two about how he's a professor in The United States and he needs to get back to his University, what other aspects of this movie ties back to the original "Raiders of The Lost Ark."
There are a couple of scenes throughout the movie that demands that you suspend more than just a little disbelief and that the only reason why Dr. Jones survives two or three specific circumstances is because of sheer luck - like the 'one in a million chance of this minecart taking this leap to across this gap and landing on the other side perfectly' kind of luck. What made "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" such an incredible action film is because of its plausibility 99.9% of the time. With the exception of surviving a ride outside a submarine, I could actually see one of us doing or going through what Indy goes through.
In "Temple of Doom?" Not so much.
Then there's the context of when this movie was made and what was going on in the personal life of one of the film-makers. Once you know what happened "behind the scenes" it's hard to see "Temple Of Doom" in any other light again. All of George Lucas's commentary about life during a horrible break up and his thoughts about women, in general, are all laid out via the character of Willie Scott, played by Mr. Spielberg's future wife, Kate Capshaw, and dialog about the Goddess Kali and what the blood of Kali does to men.
... I could go on and on about how it's obvious that George Lucas's angst about his marriage taints this film, but why beat a dead horse? Once you see it, you can't unsee it because it's so blatantly obvious.
And yet, this movie is able to do two things it should: entertain and inspire. This movie rises above the off-screen nonsense and is a great entertaining movie in spite of what went on behind the scenes or flourishes because of it. Since George Lucas when through hell, Indiana Jones went through hell and perhaps comes out of it a little wiser, a little less selfish and self-serving, and more of a hero.
There are some brutal scenes in this movie that still, to this day, make even those with iron stomachs a bit squeamish, from the famous (or infamous) dinner scene to a man getting his heart pulled out before lowered into a lava pit during a human sacrifice ritual. There are some really horrible acts depicted in this movie that show depraved and despicable which severs to illustrated how awful how evil the Thuggee Cult could be which only serves to provide something for Indiana Jones to vanquish. The more depraved and powerful the enemy is, the stronger and braver the hero has to be and thus, a larger than life movie icon of Indiana Jones.
Even with all of Mr. Lucas' divorce nonsense there is also a sense of growth in the other characters of Willie Scott and Short Round, most notably is how Willie goes from a crying and whining spoiled brat that Dr. Jones wanted to dump somewhere to a tough as nails woman that he (and us) wants to keep around. Willie's growth is one of the top three reasons why this film works and is eventually redeemable.
"Temple of Doom" is not a bad movie, but it's not a great film, either. It's entertainment for entertainment sake with a great heroic character to teach the kids of the 1980's something about courage and conquering fear. It's one of the best action movies ever made and it was the perfect introduction to a bygone era for my generation - were it not for Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" I don't know if I would have sought out more of his music, and if it wasn't for the depiction of 1935's Shang-hi who knows if I would have wanted to study up on pre-World War 2 history in Asia.
There's also a lot of homages to other classic movies like "Gunga Din" and "Lost Horizon" in "Temple Of Doom," as well as other references to other cultures and religions... there's a lot in this film for me to digest in my early teens and despite its flaws, it was the perfect for movie at the time.
For a lot of us, "Temple Of Doom" gets a pass because we see it through "nostalgia goggles." All of us who lived through the Eighties remember how excited we were when we heard there was going to be another Indiana Jones movie and we all remember the theater where we first saw it and how exciting it was when we finally bought our tickets. For that reason alone I believe too many of us rank it too high on our "favorites" list.
... And that's OK so long as we are able to admit that to ourselves.
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