Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Ke Huy Quan
Screenplay: William Huyck, Gloria Katz
118 mins. Rated PG.
- Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
- Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score
Happy IndyPendence Day! Let’s celebrate with the prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, set one year prior. Yes, I’m talking about Temple of Doom, probably the darkest film in the Indiana Jones saga.
The year is 1935, and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, The Fugitive, The Call of the Wild) has found himself stranded in India with his sidekick, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan, The Goonies, Second Time Around), and a nightclub singer named Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw, Black Rain, Due East). Now, in order to get home, Indy has agreed to retrieve a sacred stone for some local villagers from the walls of Pankot Palace. What Indy doesn’t expect, though, is that his journey will lead him into a deeper darkness than he has seen before, and there’s a lot more insidious work being done at Pankot Palace.
The decision to make Temple of Doom into a prequel instead of a follow-up is due to a rather silly reason. George Lucas did not want the Nazis to be the main focus off the film, which is notable, but the film didn’t need to be a prequel to forgo the Nazis, but it matters not as most of this franchise does not rely on previous knowledge. Temple of Doom does break the mold and go in a wildly different direction than its predecessor. For example, Indy is not hired for this mission and merely falls, quite literally, into it. The entire story is set after a botched mission, and it’s nice to see Indy kind of out of his element. He’s always capable of thinking on his feet, but the task required of him this time around does not allow himself to plan or plot to complete it.
That doesn’t mean that this Indy adventure is without its faults. I find that the film meanders quite a bit in its search to find footing for its story. While it contains my two favorite sequences in the entire franchise (the opening in Club Obi-Wan and the mine cart chase), the rest of the film is more forgettable outside of the big ritual scene. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine the film has a two-hour run time if you haven’t seen it in a while because so much of that first half of the film is dedicated to exposition and nonsense.
Having Short Round as Indy’s sidekick in this film elevates it so much because of how we see Indy through him. The two performers have such great chemistry that all of their scenes have a sense of fun amidst all the horrors. It’s amazing that Ke Huy Quan wasn’t even trying to audition for the role but instead was providing moral support for his brother who was auditioning. He was picked out and put into a room to do a scene with Ford that ended up getting him the role that hundreds were passed over for. It does add the question of whatever happened to the character as he doesn’t appear in Raiders despite it taking place only a year later.
On the other hand, new character Willie is, I’m sorry to say, absolutely awful. Kate Capshaw has nothing to do in this movie that’s worth a damn and the film would be so much better without her. I’ll agree with Capshaw’s quoted description of Willie as “not much more than a dub screaming blonde.” In fact, the only notable accomplishment that Willie does in the film is scream 71 times in two hours.
As I said above, Temple of Doom, for all its faults, contains the two best scenes of the franchise, most notable the mine cart scene. It’s one of the best action set pieces in any film ever. That’s where the film truly wins; it has some of the coolest visuals of the franchise. The ritual chamber is epic in scope, the Pankot Palace scenes are elegant and magical, and even the opening in Club Obi-Wan is elaborate and intense, an unforgettable way to open a movie.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the weakest film in the original Indy trilogy of the 1980s but it has elements that make it stand out as truly unique. Ford gets to flex some new acting muscles here and his dynamic with Short Round is wonderful. There are things, however, that don’t work, most notably Willie Scott, the weakest Indy love interest by a stretch. Still, though, there’s enough here to warrant a watch and a rewatch.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, click here.
For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.
For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.
For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.
For my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Post, click here.