How do you follow up one of the most successful films of all time? It was always going to be tricky to match the awesomeness that Raiders of the Lost Ark achieved, but Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom does an admirable job. It goes down a much darker path, but still manages to be a thrilling adventure, and worthy successor to one of the greatest films ever made.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is technically a prequel set a few years before the event of Raiders of the Lost Ark. We meet Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a nightclub in Shanghai, hoping to make a deal with one of the unseemly citizens. As expected this deal does not go as planned and Indy ends up on the run in a plane with an American lounge singer, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and his young sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan). The plane crash lands in India, and the trio eventually uncover a tribe whose children have been disappearing ever since a sacred stone went missing. The head of the tribe thinks that Indy was sent to help them by the gods, and he agrees to help them find their lost stone and missing children. Indiana Jones, Willie, and Shirt Round eventually uncover a secret cult who are using the children as slaves to uncover more of the sacred stones they stole. Indy must free the children and get them back to their families and bring the cult down before they can find the remaining stones which supposedly give the owner great power.
This is a much darker film than the first Indiana Jones movie. There are several graphic scenes involving human sacrifice where a heart is removed beforehand. Along with Gremlins, this film was actually responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating. I can see why, this film is probably too dark for a PG rating, but certainly not bad enough to be rated R. It was quite a risk to make this film too different from its predecessor. Raiders of the Lost Ark was an exciting adventure, but still definitely kid friendly. Temple of Doom is still a fun adventure, but it also contains much more adult content. The main villain (Amish Puri) is much scarier than Paul Freeman was in the first movie. The scenes where he removes a man’s still beating heart are quite full on, and very graphic. I remember when I was young, I hated watching that scene, but loved the epic finale where Indy kicks ass.
I actually really like this film, a lot of people weren’t happy with how different this was from the first film, but I enjoy it. Harrison Ford is still a charismatic dynamo as the globetrotting archaeologist. I cannot imagine anyone else in the role, because he is just so perfect.
Apparently Temple of Doom (along with another Steven Spielberg movie, Gremlins) is responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating. I totally get it. I first saw this movie when I was 12 or 13, and it did upset me a little. The melting Nazi faces in Raiders of the Lost Ark were graphic, but there’s just something worse about seeing the Thugee high priest pull a still beating heart from the chest of a live human sacrifice. Still, that one scene– or rather, the entire darker tone this film takes– wasn’t enough to keep me from watching this movie multiple times and liking it.
Raiders is my favorite of the Indiana Jones franchise, it’s always a toss up whether Temple or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade comes in second. Temple is fun, but there’s no getting around the fact that this movie is way darker than the others. Besides dealing with human sacrifices, other plot points include child slavery and vicious use of voodoo dolls (by and on children). At times it’s quite frightening and even depressing. The sillier characters and lines make up for much of the darkness, but this still isn’t as lighthearted romp as Raiders is (which is saying something as that film features a Nazi strongman getting chopped up in an airplane’s propeller).
Even though I do like Temple, there are elements beyond the dark and gruesome that keep me from really loving it. Primarily, I was always disappointed by the female lead, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw). This character is a poor follow up to the spunky and smart Marion Ravenwood introduced in Raiders. Willie is a stock damsel in distress. She irritated me as a kid and still does so as an adult. Even when she helps Indy she complains and screams the entire time; it’s just so annoying (I can only think of one example off the top of my head– pulling a release mechanism to stop him and Short Round from being crushed to death– but that’s something, right?). I understand that Spielberg was intentionally making Willie the polar opposite of Marion, but why did he have to go so far down the dumb blonde/gold digger road with this character?
But there’s just something about Temple of Doom that keeps me coming back. Well, several things, really. One is obviously Harrison Ford. I’d watch pretty much any movie he’s in and not completely hate it (see Hollywood Homicide or my upcoming review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Another is the humor. All the Indiana Jones films are slightly campy, which I actually enjoy. There are also some great action sequences, notably the epic mine cart chase. I guess there’s just enough of the fun stuff to balance the less enjoyable aspects. It’s still no Raiders, but I’m not one to turn down time with Indiana Jones.