Vault: 'Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom' (1984) Dir. Steven Spielberg
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Acting as a prequel to 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark', this takes brave new turns for the family-friendly Indiana Jones adventure to be a much darker tale...
After narrowly escaping from a Chinese crime boss, Indiana Jones (Ford) flees with his aid Short Round (Quan) and American nightclub singer Willie Scott (Capshaw). When their flight is sabotaged, they crash in the Himalayas and arrive at a desolate, run-down village in India.
Indy is seen to have been brought by Hindu god Shiva to retrieve 5 sacred Sivalinga stones, stolen by the evil Thuggees cult, along with the village children as slaves. Travelling to Pankot Palace, the source of the suspected cult, Indy conducts a secret investigation.
They soon discovers the Thuggee cult are in great numbers, overseen by the high priest Mola Ram (Puri). Indy must battle the cult and its dark magic to recover the stones, save the children and stop Mola Ram from unleashing the power of Sankara across the world…
The biggest risk in the whole franchise (‘Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’ coming close second) was to take away a number of winning elements from ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ to offer something totally new to audiences, whilst retaining the core of what the Indiana Jones character is about; adventure. Here we are treated to a far darker, scarier yet somehow comical adventure acting as a prequel, long before ‘The Phantom Menace’ gave prequels a bad name.
With the first hour of the film, starting with a fun and frantic action number in the Shanghai club Obi-Wan that sets the tone, it’s easy to see where they are going with this; Indiana Jones is still played perfectly by Harrison Ford with more humour and humanity injected into the role this time. We have the comical side-kick played by Jonathan Ke Quan who doesn’t prove to be as irritating as you’d expect, and we Kate Capshaw’s busty, screaming, spoilt damsel in distress Willie Scott who is a far cry from the tough and resourceful Marion Ravenwood.
The story establishes a new era, away from the threat of Nazi-Germany in Europe, and the second half becomes something a lot more daring for fans to witness.
It’s clear George Lucas wanted to be original and follow the darker second act much like ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ was to ‘A New Hope’, but here rather than expand on established themes and characters, we lose lots of what we would like to see more of and given things we probably didn’t – comical fight sequences where children beat up adults, lots of screeching and bickering between Willie and Indy (which does have funny moments to be fair), and a plot that divides audiences as either being too far-fetched or just to sinister for family-friendly Indy to be involved in.
There is violence, there are gruesome moments as the themes of human-sacrifice and voodoo are explored. During the second hour there tone is more dangerous, fiery reds, oranges and browns full the screen as if we are in hell and it’s not very fun for the most-part until we get to hear the iconic John Williams score once Indy is back in action for the action-packed finale.
While the Thuggee cult aren’t as easy to invest in or enjoy as villains like the Nazis are, they are at least fronted by the brilliant and memorable Amrish Puri who is just more scary, sinister and threatening than any Third Reich officer Indy goes up against.
It’s easy to pick apart the plot and the change in tone, but what can’t be picked apart is the fun that is present for a good 2/3rds of the film. The stunt work is practical, dangerous and exciting, the sets are haunting and well designed with plenty of booby traps, secret passages and large temples that evoke the adventure and B-movie feel of the character. With more visual effects to create sequences that are bigger and bolder than ‘ROLTA’, it’s a little far-fetched at times away from the grounded reality of the predecessor, but it gives us lots of iconic moments such as the mine-cart chase (perfect blend of miniature, green-screen and practical effects), and the rope-bridge with no CGI in sight.
It’s those moments where the music blares and our rugged hero battles away evil with a whip and his fists that remind us this is still Indiana Jones – packed full of moments to make you cheer and wince and sometimes roll your eyes. In all it’s a brave movie that works for the most part and is greatly under-appreciated for being so bold and away from "formula".
The heart is there and the want to entertain is there and it’s generally hard to dislike as much as you may want to because in the world of Indiana Jones; anything goes!
'Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom' is a LucasFilm Ltd. production