So, in 1984, the second film in the "Indiana Jones Saga" debuted, featuring many of the same principals, all the excitement and daring and a fresh new script by American Graffiti veterans Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (based on the story by Executive Producer George Lucas). If anything, this sequel (technically a prequel and now "Chapter 23" in the overall Indiana Jones Saga) is an even bigger adventure than Raiders with even bigger risks and even more action and over-the-top thrills and chills.
And it's also a Horror Film. That's right, it is, was and always will be a horror film (so proclaimed by its makers). So horrific was some of this movie that children were scared, parents were angered and a certain well-known Hollywood director rallied the MPAA to create a new rating in between R and PG, now known as PG-13 in response to this film. That director was Steven Spielberg himself, director of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (Incidentally another PG-rated film that helped prompt the demand for the PG-13 rating was 1984's Gremlins, Executive Produced and Presented by Steven Spielberg.)
I was there (probably multiple times) in the Theatre, and personally, I was blown away by the action, adventure, fun, scares and, of course, that unforgettable and rousing John Williams score! Also, seeing as how in 1984 I was only 10, I was none too happy with hearing about a new rating called "PG-13"!
Lucas and Spielberg play heavily with the mixing of genres here, going far beyond the concept of Adventure meets Horror. The Temple of Doom actually begins in a Shanghai Nightclub (called "Club Obi Wan") with a Busby Berkeley-style Musical Number featuring Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" performed in fluent Mandarin by Kate Capshaw's Willie Scott. If that's not Delicious enough for you Tropicana Twisters, the scene quickly fades into an expository introduction to Indiana Jones' character (played, of course, by Harrison Ford) as he and Willie battle the Vile Gangster Lao Che (Roy Chiao). Through a series of misadventures (including run-ins with cameo appearances by Dan Aykroyd, Costume Designer Anthony Powell, Paramount Pictures Marketing Guru Sidney Ganis, Executive Producer Frank Marshall and Lucas and Spielberg themselves) our hero, his damsel in distress and his kid sidekick "Short Round" (Jonathan Ke Quan [aka Ke Huy Quan]) end up crash landing in a remote corner of India.
Did you get all that? That's just the first TEN MINUTES!
As it happens, the kindly village natives (led by their Shaman, D.R. Nanayakkara) who befriend and rescue the trio have had not only the Stopper to their Beer Keg stolen (actually the sacred Sankara [Shiva Linga] Stone) but also every one of their children. Instead of trekking toward Delhi and certain rescue, Indy and his pals journey toward a great palace that is secretly a front for a Thuggee Cult of Kali. The Palace Denizens not only have a rather unique manner of feeding their guests, but an even stranger idea about how to get them to stay. Diabolical High Priest Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) really puts his heart into his work... well, somebody's heart. His Black Magic rituals of Sacrifice and Death hold some of the most terrifying moments of the film.
Not only does Mola Ram hold the Little Maharaja (Raj Singh) in his thrall, but also the educated Roshan Seth (Chattar Lal) and an entire army of Zombies (not the walking corpse kind, the real deal). And that's not even counting the basement full of Minor Miners who were enslaved from the nearby villages to discover more of the powerful stones. Next on Mola Ram's "To Do List"? Enslave Short Round with the Miners (who are Minors), turn Indiana Jones into an Evil Zombie Thuggee and sacrifice Scream Queen Willie to Kali.
Now that's darn rude!
But it's not going to be easy! This is, after all, an Indiana Jones movie, and there is bound to be a Mining Cart load of action and adventure, swinging on whips and punishment of the bad guys. Though a prequel, having Raiders of the Lost Ark come before The Temple of Doom had made Indiana Jones into an Iconic character already. The sight of Indy with his Machete out, partially obscured by shadows is enough to rouse the excitement of just about any adventure fan.
While the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark is maintained, this film is definitely the dark horse of the series... the key word being "Dark". The Temple of Doom assimilates some of the best of the most horrifying moments of the classic Adventure Serials (as well as a heapin' helpin' of Gunga Din) and evokes some rousing adventure feelings as well as some definitive terror. What do I mean? Well, here are just a few things a viewer can expect: Skies filled with Bats, Snake attacks, people being ripped apart by Crocodiles (technically alligators ripping apart robes, but hey), people eating Snakes, Eyeballs, Chilled Monkey Brains and Beetles, Skulls, Corpses, Rooms filled with more Insects than an Entomologist would know what to do with, Hearts being ripped out of live people while still beating and eventually catching on fire(!), people being burned alive, Voodoo Dolls, people being turned into Zombies and a few interesting death scenes like aeroembolism by whip and ceiling fan and human puree by Rock Crusher.
Whew! Good thing Indy had not one, but two slices of Comic Relief in the forms of both Capshaw and Quan. Both actors are absolutely hilarious, especially during the infamous "Dinner Scene". Naturally, Ford himself is a brilliant comic actor and he more than holds his own. This makes it all the more striking that Spielberg keeps the horror and action working throughout. Spielberg and Lucas successfully combined so many Serial ideas with too-huge ideas they had to cut from Raiders and aspects of their own lives. Lucas was going through a Divorce at the time of this production (hence the man getting his heart ripped out and set afire). Let's face it... we needed some comic relief.
A special shout-out must be given to the Set Decoration by Peter Howitt. The many expansive sets are just breathtaking and true to the vision that the creators had shot for. These, coupled with the great directing and acting, not to mention the excellent (especially considering the Pre-CGI time) special effects team led by Richard Conway make The Temple of Doom one of the best Action Adventures of all time. The only reason it's not the first film on the lips of fans of the genre is because its big brother, Raiders of the Lost Ark still holds the crown.
Critics at the time took issue with the darkness of Doom, (yeah, because the finale of Raiders is just Barney the Dinosaur material) and I've already mentioned the fact that parents were angered by the inappropriate nature of this PG film for Children. However, amazingly, The Temple of Doom was actually banned in some areas because it was considered Racist against Indian people. While I can certainly see how this could be inferred, I think it misses the point. Not only is this a revival of a '30's style serial with the sensibilities, sanctimony and silly fun humor as well, but this also prominently features more than its share of Indian people who are portrayed as incredibly honorable. Are the Bad Guys who also happen to be Indian more prominently featured? Sure. It's called "The Temple of Doom", not "The Village of Making Friends and Exchanging Hugs"! If this is racist against Indians, then most James Bond movies are Racist against English People. Sheesh!
The Temple of Doom was always supposed to be a scary movie and more of a horror film than its peers. By this token, it stands alone as an adventure movie and a Tall Tale, possibly even better than The Last Crusade or Raiders does. It's fun, and it's GOOD fun, which people seem to forget when watching this one and some of the Star Wars movies. So be it, but when taken alone or as part of the series, fairly and without prejudgment, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a great film, worth at least Four Stars out of Five! Could we really have a Summer of Horror without this movie? Heaven, Hell, Heck and Limbo NO! Cheers to the blending of Genres! Cheers to the rare and admirable task of mixing Musical, Comedy, Drama, Action, Suspense and Horror! Cheers to George and Steve! So, until Indiana Jones 4 is released, featuring a Haunted Castle and Sallah, Marcus, Henry and Indy all hanging around it in rocking chairs talkin' 'bout "dem dar gud auld daze", shooting the occasional Nazi and inspiring the new TV Saga known as The Elderly Indiana Jones Chronicles, I'll see you in the next terrifying reel!
So click here for more reviews
Before your flaming heart gets ripped out at a forbidden ritual.