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'Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom’: An Appreciation On Its 30th Anniversary

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by Peter Avellino
May 22, 2014 12:01 PM
12 Comments
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Released on May 23, 1984, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary and the fighting still hasn’t died down. At the time, “Return of the Jedi” was just one year old, and “E.T.” wasn’t even two years old, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” that first collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, was just then approaching its third anniversary. To say that the two men were on top of the showbiz mountain almost feels like an understatement. 'Temple of Doom' was a huge hit when released—really, there was no way it wasn’t going to be—but didn’t match the box office of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and was the subject of a surprising amount of controversy. 

Once audiences got a look at the further adventures of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), this time accompanied by nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and trusty pre-teen companion Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) as they stumble across the horrors of a Thugee cult somewhere in India, some people were shocked at what occurred and maybe people were expecting something else from the director of “E.T.” but considering what happened in the famous climax of 'Raiders' it’s almost a little surprising just how surprised they were. With a screenplay by Willard Hyuck and Gloria Katz (also co-writers on “American Grafitti” and uncredited script doctors on “Star Wars”) from an original story by Lucas, the film has aged in an interesting way almost more due to what people think about the film more than the film itself. Its supporters are fervent, feeling that it’s the strongest example of the pure amusement park feel that the likes of Lucas and Spielberg ever pulled off. The detractors are there too with some still going on about the violence along with the plot involving enslaved children but also complaining about the thin story and female lead who doesn’t quite match up to the role model that Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood was in 'Raiders.'

This array of darkness caused controversy, just as the Spielberg-produced, Joe Dante-directed “Gremlins” did when released just a few weeks later, sending the MPAA into action immediately, and by the time the summer was over the PG-13 rating had been created. As time went on both Spielberg and Lucas seemed to act sheepish about the whole thing in interviews with Lucas blaming the tone on his own bad mood from the divorce he was going through at the time which actually makes one wonder why the main bad guy Mola Ram wasn’t made a woman to take the heart-ripped-out concept even further. When “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,” the third film in the series, finally arrived five years, later its intentional plot similarities to 'Raiders' made it seem like an attempt to set things right and flat-out give the people what they had already loved before. 

Set in 1935 and therefore a prequel to 'Raiders' for reasons no one has ever understood, 'Temple of Doom' is dark at times—to be frank, one screening a few years back made me think, “I can see why this may have been a little much for some people”— but is very much its own thing and, without any awareness of what people were going to think, seemingly unapologetic of that. The opening musical number featuring “Anything Goes” mostly sung in Chinese is still dynamite, making me wish we could get this sort of scene in a summer tentpole now.

Because for all its flaws and lack of maturity, 'Temple of Doom' represents the last sight of classic-era Spielberg showmanship as effortless and joyful as possible. Maybe that he moved on from this was for the best and inevitable; “Empire of the Sun” is about the end of childhood, after all. But even the action sequences in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (which I don’t dislike at all) feel considerably more workmanlike in comparison, as if that true spark of inspiration just wasn’t there in the way it used to be. Maybe by that point Spielberg was ready for adulthood.

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12 Comments

  • MY FAVORITE INDY MOVIE. | July 31, 2014 4:46 AMReply

    LOVED IT

  • Mark | May 26, 2014 10:17 AMReply

    Easily the best 'Indiana Jones' sequel. The last half hour is just mindblowing. I saw it for my friend's 10th birthday party back in 1984 and it remains one of the great cinema experiences of my life.

  • DArtagnan | May 23, 2014 11:55 AMReply

    I love this movie. It's not the best Indy film, but it may be my favourite. It's also the one that made me really love the series.

  • Ivan Casajús | May 23, 2014 11:34 AMReply

    Love this movie.
    I never was a fan of the third one.
    One thing: I always believed that Williams does a sort of tribute to the score of Richard Brooks' 'The professionals' [watch both wagon scenes]

  • Frank | May 23, 2014 9:50 AMReply

    Though Raiders has the greatest dialogue, the strongest heroine and the most adult theme, in my mind Temple of Doom is the best Indiana Jones movie — the most fun, the only one of them that fully immerses itself in the fantastic and gives full abandon to childlike wonder. The first 25 minutes of this movie are easily the best 25 minutes in any blockbuster, before or since: as many have said, the sequence from the opening credits to their arrival in India is just like a roller-coaster ride. The rest if the film is a delight with such a focus on it's created world of Thugees and black magic that it's so self-contained as to be almost claustrophobic. ToD is truly one of my favourite films.

  • MatthewTheNoble | May 23, 2014 9:42 AMReply

    Gotta say, I love Temple of Doom. Granted, it lacks the perfect pacing of Raiders and the humour of Last Crusade, but it more than makes up for it in pure roller-coaster action. Raiders may be the perfect adventure movie, but I just think Temple of Doom is more rewatchable and enjoyable.

    Oh, and I love Willie Scott and Short Round. Sue me.

  • Rich | May 23, 2014 12:55 AMReply

    I love the first half but despise the second. It really falls off the rails.

  • xqmanx | May 23, 2014 1:12 AM

    Gotta disagree with you there. The second half of the film has some of the best moments of the series: the bug tunnel, the sacrifice scenes, Amrish Puri's performance as the villain Mola Ram, the freeing of the children (complete with the badass shot of a pissed off-Indy). Then it all culminates with the mine car chase and classic rope bridge finale which rate as some of the best directed moments in Spielberg's career.

  • DougW | May 23, 2014 12:34 AMReply

    Literally hate this movie. Saw it opening night at the Chinese Theater, as I did "Raiders." After the high of "Raiders," my reaction to "Doom" was that Spielberg & Co had let down the world. Seem to remember reading that Spielberg later said one of the reasons they made "Crusade" was to try and make up for "Doom."

  • Greg | May 23, 2014 3:51 PM

    I agree - also saw it opening night, and I remember distinctly that as it ended we wondered what in the hell we'd just seen. I'm not talking about the heart being pulled out, by the way. There are many parts which are downright embarrassing--and were even so on opening night. This movie must be wrapped in gauzy nostalgia, for some people, if you ask me. As with the overwrought encomiums re Tony Scott's movies which followed his suicide, I don't see anything to admire or love, here. If anything, this is the movie from which Spielberg had to rehabilitate himself (as opposed to "grow up" - don't want to psychoanalyze the man)...

  • Jose | May 22, 2014 12:29 PMReply

    I love it! Since i was a child this has been my favorite Indiana Jones movie. It's such a thrill ride... And i love Kate Capshaw's character, i really do.

  • Cde. | May 22, 2014 12:08 PMReply

    Always nice to see love for this. It's hard to think of a more purely fun film.

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