FEATURE: Sequel! - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the cinematic release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Paul Bullock of From Director Steven Spielberg has been leading a week-long celebration, culminating in a live tweet commentary of the film tonight (May 23rd, 8pm GMT). Our contribution is from Charlie as he turns his attention to Dr Jones...


It's almost impossible to create art that doesn't reflect some facet of the creator. The moods, the relationships, the events that happen during the creation more often than not seep through to shape it, whether you like it or not. One of the better examples of this is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which is notorious for being uber-dark and nasty, violent, and generally quite scary, as well as in some quarters being seen as racist. The film celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this May, so it's perhaps an ample time to talk about what is a severely underrated film.

The situation is this: Raiders of the Lost Ark has just made a bundle of money, Harrison Ford is even more of a global superstar than he was before, and Indiana Jones is an instant heroic icon. So George Lucas and Steven Spielberg get to thinking about another one, while Spielberg makes E.T. and George puts the finishing touches to the Star Wars saga via Return of the Jedi. But despite the huge success of the film, the production of Jedi has a bittersweet ending as Lucas' marriage to editor Marcia Lucas ends in bitter circumstances (Spielberg had also ended a relationship in 1980 with actress Amy Irving).

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote Raiders (as well as Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back), refused to be involved citing his dislike of the story, and has since said that the film comes out of a "chaotic time" in both Spielberg and Lucas' lives. He's not wrong. Temple of Doom has a mean streak a mile wide, but I don't see it as a bad thing - after all, much of it's a horror film. The funny thing is that it almost feels like Spielberg and Lucas made two different movies and threw them together - George an intense and nasty horror movie, Steven a parody of the previous film (as well as many others). What was birthed from those two fathers is a child that may be dysfunctional at times, but is still a hard one not to love. After all, who doesn't enjoy seeing hearts being ripped out of people's chests?

But before we look at the good points, let's see what gets people so up in arms about the film. First: the racism. In the film, Indiana travels to India and meets people who not only eat bugs, but enslave children and make people drink blood, as well as the aforementioned removal of the major organ. The Thuggee cult in the film is actually semi-based in reality, albeit much less fantastic. It was more of a gang, and they were literally thugs - they went around India murdering people. The idea of a terrifying cult that did unmentionable things was something that was thought to exist, only recently have theories come forward that it was created by the British in Colonial India to reflect their fears. It's also a massive homage to Gunga Din, which reflects Spielberg's love of old movies.

Things like the dinner scene - where the guests are served up beetles, snakes, and eyeball soup, not to mention chilled monkey brains - are mean but fun gags, although this is the part where I could genuinely see people being upset at the portrayal of the Indian people. But I don't think it's intentional, and I don't think Lucas and Spielberg set out to make the 1984 version of Birth of a Nation as many people seem to think. Willie Scott, however, is another matter.

After the smart, resourceful, and strong female character of Marion Ravenwood, Willie Scott seems like a trip back to the stone age. She's vapid, materialistic, and does very little besides scream or complain. It's not hard to see her character being birthed out of the bad feelings of George Lucas' broken marriage. She also has no significance to anything in the film, other than being a love interest for Indy. I can tolerate her in the film, but I can certainly see why people hate her guts. It's also pretty uncomfortable seeing what she's put through, from walking through a tunnel crawling with insects, to being lowered into a hot pit.

The film also creates its own problem simply by adding a title card that says "Shanghai, 1935". This immediately sets it as being a prequel, which means what follows doesn't make a huge amount of sense. I can deal with a couple of things - the sword gag callback where Indy reaches for his gun only to find his holster is empty is brilliant - but Indy in Raiders begins the film as a skeptic who states "I don't believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus-pocus" but ends the film as a changed man after witnessing the power of the almighty first hand. Surely he would be a bit more open-minded if he'd previously seen the effects of black magic and the sankara stones going up in flames due to the misappropriation of Kali and Shiva?

So yeah, the picture is not without its flaws. But it's also breathlessly exciting, funny, scary, and absolute bonkers, and a massive tribute to movies. The opening is spectacular, as Kate Capshaw twirls her way through a Cantonese version of the Cole Porter standard 'Anything Goes'. There's a double-meaning here, as Spielberg and Lucas here tell the audience that they better prepare themselves, as there's no telling what the pair are going to throw at them. Anything goes indeed.

The Indiana Jones here is not really the same as the reluctant hero in Raiders. The UK marketing for Temple stated in bold letters "THE HERO IS BACK", and while it's an obvious sequel reference, it's also reflective of the old-school heroism in the film, where Indy ends up taking up a moral crusade on behalf of the village and as a result we get the kind of swashbuckling heroics that would turn Errol Flynn to jelly, under the guise of "fortune and glory". But also unlike Raiders, in Temple the hero falls.

As I mentioned earlier, much of the film dives into horror territory, with much of the tropes of the genre around that time such as legions of bugs, human sacrifice (no cats and dogs living together), and Mola Ram's heart-removal service. Even the setpiece at the beginning in the nightclub, where a poisoned Indy stumbles around Club Obi-Wan looking for the antidote, has some surprising violence, from the death of Jones' waiter friend ("Into the great adventure, I go first Indy!") - which by the way is filmed in a fantastic way, with the picture following popping champagne bottles around the room, until one of the pops turns out to be a gunshot, with copious amounts of blood blooming on the waiter's shirt. But that's like Sesame Street compared to when Indy skewers one of villain Lao Che's cohorts with a flaming kebab.

There are plenty of nasty deaths in the film - from simple gunshot victims to the vicious hanging of a thuggee from a ceiling fan to the uber-thuggee (played by Pat Roach, the massive bloke who kicked Indy's ass by the flying plane) who gets pulled under a rock crushing machine, leaving a ghastly trail of claret behind. But the obvious one is that heart scene - where Mola Ram reaches into the chest of a poor gentleman and rips out his still-beating heart, displayed in full technicolor glory. Dripping with bright red blood, the heart is animatronic and actually pulsates as Mola Ram grins with a lusty relish.

So the picture is pretty mean, and as a result of not only containing lots of deaths but almost revelling in them, it ended up inspiring the PG-13 rating in the USA (along with another project under the double-S, Joe Dante's Gremlins). But it's also ridiculously funny and dripping with uber-quotable wisecracks. The most famous is funnily enough oft-misquoted - Short Round's "Hey Dr. Jones, no time for love!" after Indy sticks his hand down Willie Scott's dress - but there's also "Hold on to your potatoes", "That's why they call it the jungle, sweetheart!", "This Nurhache's a real small guy!", and the brilliant "Short cut!" "Yes Indy?" "I said Short CUT!". Like Raiders, Temple is at its best when it makes light of desperate situations. It's both mean and funny seeing Kate Capshaw squirming through the bug tunnel while all sorts of giant insects crawl all over her, but it's funnier when she's fumbling at the release mechanism while Indy is shouting at her, ending with that impeccable line reading by Harrison Ford: "We. Are Going. To DIE!"

And the humour is needed to counteract some terribly bleak material, mainly around Indy actually turning to the dark side courtesy of a little blood cocktail. Seeing Jones drink blood from the creepiest goblet in the history of the world - a zombified human head that looks like something Leatherface would be proud of making - is bad enough, but it's horrifying to see the hero of the picture being a complete asshole, not only sending Willie down into the fire pit (although I think some would applaud that) but striking child sidekick Short Round. The scene that always disturbed me the most was seeing Indy alone in a darkened room convulsing while under the influence of the Black Sleep of the Kali Ma. There's a sense of hopelessness throughout that section of the film that makes Indy's eventual awakening from the trance all the more triumphantly powerful.

The scene where Indy comes back is also the one sequence that really brings up Spielberg's family motif. Shorty's act of catching Indy with fire to bring him out is prefaced by "I love you, Indy!" and the scene ends with the trio together - but while Indy and Willie share a Hollywood kiss, the real warmth comes from the exchange of hats between Indy and Shorty, and the following embrace. Another father-son moment that has a lot of heart, and the only scene in the film that comes close to Spielberg's much-accused - and generally misunderstood - "sentimental" side.

And of course, there's the action scenes. While on the subject, the reunion scene is followed by the longest period of action in the film that doesn't stop until they return to the village, beginning with the most iconic image from the picture: that uber-heroic shot of Indy's silhoutte in the tunnel. The first half of the film is no slouch either - we get a great nightclub fight that includes Indy and and Willie running across the room behind a gong as it's spattered by gunfire; the jump from a crashing plane and subsequent slalom down a giant mountain and into rapids in a dinghy; and the fight between Indy, Shorty and the Thuggees to save Willie. It's all at a breathlessly exciting pace, which is why the film was was actually slowed down to allow it to breathe a little.

But there's not much breathing room, especially not towards the end, where you have Indy freeing all the slaves who themselves overrun their captors followed by that nutty mine car chase (which was an idea left over from Raiders) followed by our heroes being chased by a mass of water ("Water! Water!.... WATER!") followed by *that* rope bridge scene. It's just an incredible spectacle seeing Indy in the middle of that rickety bridge surrounded by enemies, and suddenly he comes out with his version of the Kobayashi Maru, with another immortal line: "Mola Ram! Prepare to meet Kali - IN HELL!" Rope bridge, meet machete. And then you have Indy and Mola Ram fighting on the remains of the bridge, ending in the evil bastard being eaten by crocodiles.

The ending is something I've always loved, just because of how damn happy it is. Indy, Willie, and Shorty walking into the village to the strains of the Raiders March is such a great moment, and then when the bridge kicks in the kids run to their parents and, well, it's bloody emotional. And while the final moments where Indy wraps his whip around a departing Willie may be seen as a bit inappropriate, it follows another quotable set of lines by Capshaw ("I'm going home to Missouri, where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart and lowering you into a hot pit!"). Of course, it ends on another Hollywood kiss, but it's a great one, accompanied by a bunch of cheering kids and a wonderfully effervescent rendition of the march. 'Scuse me, I have something in my eye.

Actually, it's probably a tie between John Williams and Harrison Ford in terms of who contributes the most to the success of the film. Ford is never better as Jones, and handles both the action and the comedy perfectly, as well as the Black Sleep scenes. Williams' score is a marvel, from his brilliant intro to the opening musical number, to the great themes of the slaves, the love theme, and Short Round's theme, with the latter being used especially well in the end titles when it's interpolated with the Raiders March. The music walks the mickey-mousing line and features copious renditions of the march, so much so that Spielberg asked Williams to tone it down for The Last Crusade.

A special note has to go to Amrish Puri: he's amazing as Mola Ram, with a great commanding screen presence, and the creepiest laugh this side of Mark Hamill's Joker. But everyone does a fine job, even Capshaw, especially with what she's given to work with. I have a multitude of reasons for loving this movie, but the main one is just that it's so barmy, and as a result so much fun. It's kind of sad that both Lucas and Spielberg have basically disowned it, and that it has so much of a bad reputation, especially when there are so many other movies out there that ape it and get better press.

I guess considering it's been thirty years, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's chances of being reassessed as a classic are probably not too great. But I don't mind too much being in a minority as long as this flick is around. Great action, great comedy, great music. You never know, maybe a future generation may discover it and rate it up a bit higher than most people. That's one of the best things about being a father and a movie fan, you can introduce all these great pictures to your kids regardless of what the masses say about them.

Of course I'll wait until they're thirteen...

- Charlie

To keep up with the rest of Temple of Doom week, follow @paulbullock on Twitter or check out the hashtag #TODweek

Follow @AssortedBuffery on Twitter
Or like our Facebook page

THEATRE REVIEW: Handbagged - Vaudeville Theatre - ★★★★

FILM REVIEW: Godzilla