In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark became the highest grossing film of the year. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had turned their little “B” movie Republic serial homage into a Best Picture nomination and a critical darling. Spielberg had successfully bounced back from his first bomb, 1941. George Lucas had kept his hits rolling after the success of American Graffiti, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Harrison Ford emerged as one of the world’s biggest stars as his success in Raiders, Star Wars and Empire gave him world wide marketability.
In the mean time, Spielberg went on to direct his biggest hit in 1982 with E.T.. The little alien became a world wide phenomenon and Spielberg ended up with the highest grossing film ever at the time and another Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture. Lucas closed his Star Wars Trilogy with a bang finish as Return of the Jedi ended with an amazing space battle that has yet to be topped. Harrison Ford had also shared in Lucas’ good fortune with his final reprisal as Han Solo in the Star Wars finale. Ford had also done some great character work in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner. The film was a visionary science fiction epic with an amazing emotional core, but it failed to gain an audience at the box-office.
In 1984, the three would attempt to remain in the spotlight. Spielberg would make the first sequel in his career. Lucas would continue with his string of hits. Ford would go deeper into developing characters. The trio would strike box-office gold once more, but a darker side of each would be shown. The trio would also try to not just make a carbon copy of their previous film together.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Starring Harrison Ford and Kate Capshaw. Directed by Steven Spielberg.
In 1979, when Spielberg was making 1941
, one of his original ideas was to make the picture a musical. Musicals had died out several years before the film, and Spielberg felt perhaps that it was time the genre could make a comeback. Spielberg though was not as confident in his abilities and therefore decided to make a straight comedy. With Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
, Spielberg would come back to his original idea for a moment.
The film begins with a rousing rendition of “Anything Goes” in mandarin with full blown choreography and dancing girls, picture the Rockettes go Shanghai. The beginning also serves as an introduction to the female lead of the film, Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott. Dressed in a sequin evening gown and singing up a storm, Scott is the picture of 1930’s glamour. Prissy, fussy and bossy, she is the polar opposite of Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood.
After the opening number, Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones finally enters the fray. It is revealed that Jones is in a Shanghai night club named Obi-Wan in 1935, which actually predates the events of Raiders. Jones is there to trade the last remains of a Manchu dynasty emperor with a Chinese gangster named Lao Che, but when the deal goes sour, the nightclub erupts in a rollicking “gangster style” shootout. In the ruckus Indy gets poisoned, shot at, punched, kicked, and scrambles to find the antidote that is rolling around in the floor amongst the now panicked nightclub dancers and guests. The frenetic pace of the sequence keeps going and going until Indy and Willie make their getaway by hiding behind an enormous gong as machine gun fire tries to cut them down. The pace does not stop however as the duo drop through several awnings and fall into a waiting car driven by Indy’s loyal sidekick Short Round, played by Jonathan Ke Quan.
The homage to 30’s gangsters continues as a chase through the streets of Shanghai has Indy dodging the bullets of Tommy-guns and beautiful cars like Short Round’s Auburn Boat-tail Speedster. The roller coaster of action finally ends with Indiana, Short Round and Willie making their escape in a plane bound for Hong Kong. Unbeknownst to them, the plane is actually owned by Lao Che.
Indy wakes to find the plane going down and out of fuel with no parachutes. The trio barely escapes a fiery death via plane crash by making using a life raft, sliding down the slope of a mountain and into a raging river. The fun doesn’t stop until they get to a remote jungle village. The villagers agree to take Indy and his companions to Delhi, but while there Jones learns that the village has lost its most priceless artifact, a magic stone that protected it. Indy’s journey leads him to a remote mountaintop palace, where the prince of the castle guarantees he had nothing to do with the theft.
This is apparently not the case when as an assassin attempts to stop Indy from delving into this mystery further. After dispatching the villain, Jones discovers a secret passageway to a cavern in which an evil cult named the Thuggee worship and perform sacrificial rituals. The Thuggee were responsible for the theft of the stone and two others. Indy witnesses as the head of the cult, Mola Ram, sacrifices a young man to their god Shiva. The man’s heart is ripped from his chest still beating, then he is sent into a volcanic pit where he meets a molten death.
Things get dire for the heroes as they are captured by the Thuggee and Jones is turned into a servant of evil. Mola Ram reveals his plan to recover other missing stones by mining for them using children he has taken from surrounding villages as slave labor. Under the spell of Mola Ram, Dr. Jones is made to torture Short Round and nearly subjects Willie to the same fate as the sacrificial young man earlier in the picture. Only Short Round’s love and dedication to his surrogate father is able to break the Thuggee spell on Indy.
The final third of the film is a marvelous display of action and suspense that few films in Western Cinema can surpass. From mine carts to raging floods to crowd pleasing fist fights to an outstanding sequence on a rope bridge, Temple of Doom doesn’t let up until just before the credits roll.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had only a lukewarm response by critics upon its release aside from a few very vocal supporters. Especially when compared to its hailed predecessor, Temple of Doom was considered to be a pale follow-up. Many cited the film as being too dark and violent for popular tastes. Audiences apparently disagreed as the movie grossed $179 million at the box-office and was the third highest grossing film of the year behind Beverly Hills Cop and Ghostbusters.
The “darkness” of the picture came primarily from George Lucas, who was going through a bitter divorce at the time. The film also worked on the same formula of Lucas’ Star Wars Trilogy
whose second act, the Empire Strikes Back
, is by far the darkest of the original trilogy. Lucas felt that the character should have to delve deeper into dark territory to make him better rounded. Harrison Ford responded in kind.
Ford’s performance as Dr. Jones is much more nuanced in this installment of the Indy Trilogy
. The beginning of the film does not feature a respected archeologist, but an adventurer. Many references are made by Willie that Jones is only out for “fortune and glory”. Being a prequel, Jones is seen going from just a selfish adventurer to a Moses-like liberator of children. Ford is also able to explore the darkest reaches of the character when he is under Mola Ram’s spell. The “Living Death” as it is put in the movie is not just able to turn Jones into a mindless slave, but surface a sense of darkness that was already there. The performance might be as good as Ford has had in his career.
Kate Capshaw is the least popular character of the film. Most audiences found her annoying especially when compared to Karen Allen’s spunky Marion from Raiders
. Willie is exactly what she should be though. She is the picture of the damsel in distress and during a sequence in which she is enticing Indiana into sleeping with her, she is absolutely captivating. Willie is supposed to be a spoiled Hollywood type so that she would not be a pale imitation of Marion. To that end, Capshaw succeeds swimmingly.
Jonathan Ke Quan’s Short Round may actually be the most loved character of the movie. Shorty is a fantastic sidekick, mimicking Indy at every turn and pulling off several memorable lines. Quan’s “No time for love” and “You call him Dr. Jones, doll!” are wonderfully played as Short Round’s character far exceeds his stature. Short Round is also able to bring out a fatherly nature in Indy that is not seen in any of the Trilogy. The character is also involved in so many great scenes in the film from the card game in the jungle to the dual fist fights as he and Indy pummel their adversaries. It is because of this great performance that Indiana’s transition back to the light is so memorable.
Mola Ram is an absolutely terrific villain. He is the undisputed champion when looking for the darkest of all villains in the series. World domination is one thing, using children to mine for the means of that domination is completely another.
Spielberg directed one of the most exciting and entertaining films of his career with this Jones
sequel/prequel. The film is an action spectacular of the highest class. From it kinetic Tommy-gun filled opening to the startling mine cart chase to the electrifying finale of Mola Ram and Jones doing battle on a cut rope bridge, Doom
is an exhilarating ride. The film also has a great sense of humor and stops on occasion to elicit absolute hilarity. The aforementioned sequence in which Dr. Jones and Short Round play cards in the jungle while Willie runs around terrified by creatures of the night is an amazingly jovial scene. Another scene which the trio are invited to dinner where the main courses feature types of beetles and snakes followed up with a desert of chilled monkey brains is an audience showstopper. Perhaps the best scene in the film (maybe one of the best sequences ever filmed) involves Indy and Short Round getting trapped in a room in which the ceiling is collapsing, and then possibly spiked to death with Willie as their only means of escape. The problem is that she is being swarmed by thousands of bugs while trying to keep her head and save the day. The scene is pitch-perfect with its hilarity value matched only by the tension it creates.
However, it was not wine and roses on the picture as it was seemingly a more challenging picture to film than it’s original. The entire rope bridge sequence was very difficult to film for Spielberg himself. The director is terribly afraid of heights and would not go onto the bridge which was over top a huge ravine. The director would apparently have to drive fifteen miles for each time he would have to shoot the other side of the bridge, making it a longer sequence to shoot than normal. This was not the only difficulty on the shoot.
In the scene in which a Thuggee assassin attempts to murder Indiana, Harrison Ford suffered a herniated disc in his back. The actor had to have surgery in Los Angeles for the mishap and production had to stop. Also because of this many action scenes had to be shot with a double.
Kate Capshaw had several problems on the film. First the dress worn during the opening dance number was made of actual beads from the 20’s and 30’s. The actress had a very difficult time with the sequence as the dress was very form fitting and restricted her ability to dance and sing. Also much of the back of the dress was eaten by an elephant during the jungle sequence, causing insurance issues. Lastly, the actress suffered panic attacks in a sequence featuring a large snake and the portion of the movie had to be cut.
Despite these obstacles Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
is a fun filled action packed follow up to Raiders
. The film has grown in popularity with age like a fine wine as audiences have rediscovered and started to enjoy it on it own merits. All in all Temple of Doom
stands as a great example in adventure film making and is one of the great follow-ups to a successful first entry, ranking up with The Empire Strikes Back
, The Two Towers
and From Russia With Love
. Spielberg has not made a better sequel since this and still may not.