Filed under: Arts & Entertainment, Countdowns & Lists, Humour & Comedy, Movies & Films | Tags: creepy, dan aykroyd, funny, gross, harrison ford, india, indiana jones, indy, insects, james bond, john mcclane, johnathan ke quan, kate capshaw, kingdom of the crystal skull, mola ram, movies, mpaa, raiders of the lost ark, red dawn, shia lebeouf, short round, steven spielberg, superman returns, temple of doom, the last crusade, thuggee, willie scott, wolverines
Alright, let’s do this.
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is, in my opinion, the second best member of the Indiana Jones saga. Before we get right into this, let me state the simple fact that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might well be the Greatest Movie of All Time, so just understand that the aim of this article is not to dethrone “Raiders” from that lofty placement. It’s just here to suggest that maybe we haven’t really been fair to “Temple” for all these years.
Okay. So, obviously “Temple” had some pretty big shoes to fill – and, for the most part, did not seem to fill those shoes. At all. The movie was originally viewed as a disappointing and confusing mess. It was darker, scarier and more violent than “Raiders,” and seemed designed more to shock than to entertain – not exactly what Indiana Jones is supposedly all about. Even now, after the release of two more sequels – “The Last Crusade” and “The Fourth One That Shall Remain Nameless” – it is still considered by critics and fans the worst of the bunch. (Just for giggles, try to figure out which one is my least favorite! I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised).
Anyways, “Temple of Doom” is certainly not without its flaws. Chief among those flaws being Kate Capshaw’s continuously screaming and annoying female lead, Willie Scott.
Other than that, though, I don’t think it’s as bad as people make it out to be – and compared to “The Fourth Movie That Shall Remain Nameless” (minus that poster image, I guess) and even “Last Crusade,” it actually holds up surprisingly well.
And here’s where I tell you why.
Ten. The wonderfully slapsticky musical opening and other acts of seemingly inexplicable comedy.
Harrison Ford has been stated as saying that he sees the Indiana Jones movies as more “comedy” than “action” films. While some may view this as a somewhat ludicrous statement, or dismiss it as the confused ramblings of demented senior citizen, I can totally see where he’s going there.
The character of Indiana Jones is a reasonably comical one to begin with. Not in the Chandler Bing-esque “could I BE any more hilarious?” joke making type of way, but in a more physical comedy/slapstick oriented kind of way. Also, Indiana Jones possesses one of the best “ohhhhhhhhhhh shit” faces this side of John McClane.
“Temple of Doom” ups the comedic ante with a series of scenes – and genuinely funny ones at that – that utilize sight gags, physical humor, and general Busby and Berkely inspired musical mayhem to put Indy in situations that while completely ridiculous, help to add some levity to the otherwise dire and terrifying situation.
The opening sequence in particular, with Indy’s love-interest-of-the-week Willie Scott belting out a toe-tapping version of “Anything Goes” while Indiana frantically scours the dance floor for a diamond, and an antidote for some poison he inadvertently just drank, all the while avoiding the Chinese henchmen who are also searching for said items, is delightfully over-the-top and borders on Marx Brothers territory.
Then Indy starts punching people and dying from poison while dodging machine gun fire, and we’re back on track.
India is a beautiful, mysterious country. I’ve never been, of course, but the pictures look rather nice.
It’s also home to some very unique types of flora and fauna, both of which feature extensively in the movie to give it that old-fashioned travelogue feel – but not to travelogue-y. Unlike the other Jones’ adventures, “Temple” takes place mainly in one location with very little sight-seeing and country hopping that became Indiana Jones staples (also, James Bond).
Now, of course the movie wasn’t actually shot in India (mainly due to the racially insensitive undertones that ran rampant throughout the script), but you get the idea.
Eight. Dan Aykroyd.
I’m honestly not sure why he’s in this. It’s a weird, pointless cameo, and most people (myself included) probably didn’t notice or recognize him in the first place. The only connection (and reasoning) I could possibly make for this, is that Aykroyd starred in Spielberg’s one true misfire “1941,” and this was Steve’s pathetic attempt to apologize for that. But whatever - it’s Dan Aykroyd. And Dan Aykroyd is awesome.
“Ah, Dr. Jones. I’m Earl Webber. I spoke with your assistant and managed to secure three seats. However, there might be a *slight* inconvenience as you will be riding on a cargo plane full of live poultry.”
Say that line (in your head – out loud might make you seem a bit crazy) with the usual Aykroyd flair and rapid fire delivery, and you get the idea.
Seven. The dinner scene.
Sure, it’s needlessly creepy and gross and more than a little racist – but it’s awesome nonetheless. It also shows how dedicated and worldy Jones is, and how insensitive and useless everyone else is. Indiana just digs into that shit, heedless of how disgusting or horrifying it might be to eat giant beetles or baby snakes or chilled monkey brains.
It’s mainly just a series of increasingly more bizarre and/or gruesome sight gags that really serve no purpose to the film’s plot whatsoever, other than to give the characters some hilarious activity to go along with their expository dialogue.
Actually, the more I think about it, this doesn’t sound like a good thing at all, does it?
Seven. That Asian kid from “The Goonies.”
Speaking of “more than a little racist,” say hello to Short Round, Indiana’s sidekick du jour played by the adorable (and adorably Asian) Johnathan Ke Quan.
Now, normally I hate it when filmmakers try to shoehorn some stupid kid into a film or film series that doesn’t require one. They usually end up ruining a decent movie, or at the very least making a shitty movie that much more unbearable (“Superman Returns” springs to mind). So, considering that fact, coupled with the racist undertones depicted by the character, as well as the straight forward “wft-ness” of Indiana Jones employing a nine-year old as his getaway driver, all adds up to what most people would consider A Very Bad Idea.
Incredibly though, it works. (Or at least works as well as it possibly could). Keep in mind, though, that ANYONE looks good sharing a movie with Kate Capshaw’s screaming Willie (sidenote: Screaming Willie would make an excellent name for a punk band). But I think Short Round works on his own merit, as a unique foil to Indiana Jones (the point of the film where he saves Indy by telling him he loves him not withstanding) and besides – “The Goonies” rocked. This kid gets a free pass no matter how inappropriate his racist dialogue is. (Minus the line about stepping on fortune cookies. That one’s a little hard to ignore).
Five. It’s genuinely creepy.
Like, seriously. REALLY creepy. This movie, straight up, scared the shit out of me as a kid. And, to some extent, still does. The scene where Indiana and Short Round are trapped in some catacombs literally crawling with every type of insect known to man (whether or not these bugs were indigenous to India or not didn’t matter) still gives me the Kate Capshaws to this day.
Not only was this movie creepy, but completely unprecedented in its creepiness. It reveled in this shit – and created a brand spanking new MPAA rating for its troubles.
Before “Temple of Doom” was released (and to a lesser extend “Gremlins”) the rating system skipped from the family friendly PG directly to the considerably less friendly R rating. Since “Temple” combined brutal violence, bugs galore and eating monkey brains with a cute Asian kid wearing a New York Yankees hat, it became stuck in a sort of ratings limbo, splitting it’s audience down the middle. Sure, it’s not exactly kid friendly, but it’s still Indiana freaking Jones, so it wasn’t exactly adults only territory either.
In a brash and inspired attempt to save his movie (and reap the profits he knew he was entitled to) Spielberg came up with the PG-13 idea (it probably came to him in a dream, but who can say?). Using a brand new rating to bridge the gap between “family entertainment” and “don’t bring your fucking kids” allowed “Temple” to find just the right audience for it – and allowed future films to push the limit of what was acceptable for family movies.
So, kudos to that, I guess. Allowing other directors to push the limits of the PG rating into a whole new territory has allowed for some truly memorable films. Like “Red Dawn” which was the first movie released under the new rating – and that movie CHANGED MY LIFE.
Four. Mola Ram.
Speaking of creepy…what’s the deal with this guy?
Everyone knows that an action movie is only as good as it’s villain, and “Temple of Doom” had a doozy of a Big Bad.
As the head of the villainous Thuggee Cult, Amrish Puri’s Mola Ram was not a dude you wanted to mess with. From his frightening appearance (giant skull-laden headdress and all) to his bizarre behavior that equally combined Hindu, Hawaiian and Aztec customs and sacrifices, Mola Ram was truly a fearsome foe for our intrepid archaeologist.
Let’s face it: religious fanatics always make terrifying villains, and if that religion happens to include fiery sacrifices, and pulling out people’s hearts with your bare hands. well that’s good too.
Three. Breaking the formula.
Okay, so it doesn’t exactly go overboard in breaking the Indiana Jones mold. The formula initially established in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was pretty simple – wacky opening that is only arbitrarily connected to the rest of the movie, followed by Indy getting asked by some high-ranking government folks to go after some mythical artifact that some other, evil government officials (usually Nazis) are also pursuing, ensuing in ridiculous set pieces and cross continent travel, until the main villain is horrifically and gruesomely dispatched by the very artifact he/she was trying to covet.
Not a bad formula. Worked one and a half times, so I guess it has a fifty percent success rate. Luckily, the first sequel to “Raiders” seems to be the only sequel not in that percentile, and that works for it. I think the main reason “Temple” is my second favorite Indiana Jones adventure, is because it’s the least like an Indiana Jones adventure. Let me explain.
“The Last Crusade” and “The Fourth Film That Shall Remain Nameless” both pretty much adhere to the “Raiders” formula verbatim. While tropes from the other films pop up here and there in “Temple,” it’s clearly the most distant from “Raiders.” (Which, come to think of it, could be one of the many reasons so many people were turned off by this movie).
I’m not saying I want the filmmakers to turn the Jones formula upside down every time they make a new movie. I’m just saying that when they do deter from it a bit, you get a much more original and interesting experience.
Which, apparently, is exactly what the public doesn’t want.
Two. Harrison Ford.
It doesn’t matter if he’s creating one of cinemas most iconic figures in the first Indiana Jones film, or if he’s shuffling around half asleep in the fourth Indiana Jones film (that shall remain nameless) – Harrison Ford is, was, and will always be, AWESOME.
I think that settles the matter.
One. That awesome mine cart chase.
C’mon. Of COURSE it’s gotta be number one, right? I mean, it’s only the second most memorable and iconic set piece from the trilogy! (The giant boulder being number one, of course).
Honestly, when you think “Indiana Jones,” what pops into mind? Harrison Ford, giant boulder, the Raiders March, MINE CARTS and maybe that giant guy who shows up in every movie and gets the shit kicked out of him by Ford.
So it goes without saying that this would be the number one reason why “Temple” is better than you remember. I mean, even foregoing the iconic imagery of Indiana Jones piloting a runaway mine cart down an increasingly more treacherous track that snakes throughout the Thuggee mountain, and for some reason, lava.
And, to its credit, it still holds up to this day – not an easy task for a movie made over thirty years ago. It’s definitely Spielberg at the top of his game, crafting genuinely thrilling action sequences that, at least in the Indiana Jones mythos, seemed somewhat reasonable.
Then he had Indy get blown up by an atomic bomb while hiding in a refrigerator, and Shia LeBeouf swinging through the jungle with fucking monkeys, and we were less impressed.
There you have it. Unmitigated proof that “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is not quite as bad as folks seem to enjoy making it out to be. In fact, it’s actually quite good – minus a few uncomfortable racial stereotypes and the aforementioned Ms. Capshaw (or Mrs. Spielberg if you prefer).
Flawed? Sure. But the point is, “Temple of Doom” was more than just a decent addition to the series – it was also probably the best after “Raiders,” which, let’s face it, set the bar pretty damn high. Check it out again when you’re feeling hungry for monkey brains and bad guys who rip out still beating human hearts, and I think you’ll find that at the very least, it could have been a lot worse.
“Fourth Movie That Shall Remain Nameless” worse, even. And that’s a low mark for any series.
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