It’s quite possible that, in my life, I had never seen Temple of Doom before tonight. I remember my parents happily buying Raiders and The Last Crusade from McDonalds back in 1993 (yes, they sold Indiana Jones videos at McDonalds), but refusing to buy Temple of Doom because they didn’t like it.
I can’t blame them. It really isn’t a very good movie.
Indy gets into trouble in Shanghai, which leads to him absconding with the “famous female American vocalist” (actual dialogue!) Willie Scott and his sidekick, the ten year old boy Short Round. Unfortunately, they leave on a troublesome plane, and end up in India, where Indy finds himself recovering a sacred stone for a small village that has lost all of its livelihood and children.
A shorter summary would be “the one where a guy gets his still beating heart ripped out of his chest”. What really surprised me about the film is not simply how frequently stupid it is (and it is frequently stupid), but rather how uninteresting it is despite its impressive sets. A not inconsiderable amount of time is spent with Harrison Ford either shirtless or partly shirtless (replete with Body by Jake, no less) and even that can’t save it. The film pretty much either offends or bores. It’s a good thing that this is set a year before Raiders, or else you’d want to slap Indy to death for leaving Marion again for this daft woman. It’s true that Indy’s relationship with Marion worked so well because of its dysfunction and their willingness (indeed, need) to talk back to one another, but this whole relationship here is based on them yelling at each other, and Willie screaming and generally being shrill. Short Round certainly isn’t as bad as he could have been, but look at it this way: Temple of Doom is presented as a three character picture, and two thirds of those characters almost always say things that absolutely don’t need to be heard.
Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi, said this of the film:
“I didn’t want to be associated with Temple of Doom. I just thought it was horrible. It’s so mean. There’s nothing pleasant about it. I think Temple of Doom represents a chaotic period in both their [Lucas and Spielberg] lives, and the movie is very ugly and mean-spirited.”
and it seems pretty much to be the case. You’ve got a lot of cultural stereotypes, violence that replaces the inventiveness and “harmlessness” of Raiders with dull graphicness, and the husband and wife screenwriter team went on to write Howard the Duck.
I think “Howard the Duck” may be all that needs to be said about this movie.
Temple of Doom is pretty much indicative of what you shouldn’t follow a movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark up with. You know how the whole idea of the Indiana Jones series was for Spielberg and Lucas to relive the glorious matinées of their youth? With this movie they missed the cue entirely. When it opens with a Shanghainese version of “Anything Goes”, with dancing girls and the title written in the garish font that came to be famous (and actually works on posters), I immediately thought that the production was going to be vulgar. I was not disappointed on that count. There’s not a lot that’s smart or witty about this movie. It has very few “moments” (I most enjoyed Indy shielding himself with a rolling gong), and the level of caricature is on par with old Tintin books. How they managed to channel The Blue Lotus I’ll never know, but then, I never have to watch this movie again. Even Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw don’t like it.
… oh, and can you seriously believe that towards the end the British and their Indian army come in and shoot down all of the cultists with guns? That is almost certainly saying something. Bring back the colonies, says I. If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for India.