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

The Playlist By Peter Avellino | The Playlist May 22, 2014 at 12:01PM

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.
Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom

The Hawksian vibe of 'Raiders' gave us Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood and at times a genuine bookish curiosity of what lay within the Ark of the Covenant Indiana Jones was seeking out. 'Temple of Doom,' in addition to having a slightly more screwball feel appropriate for the nightclub setting of its opening, is much more of a pre-teen boys-adventure—co-written by a woman, yet—set in a world where girls are icky, exotic places are scary and it’s all just one big playground for the likes of Short Round as he follows Indy wherever things will lead them (what did ever happen to Short Round, anyway? Not Ke Huy Quan, I mean the character. Did he make it out of WWII ok?). 

Without a Denholm Elliot equivalent around this time to ground things, if only for a few minutes, there a certain sober quality that 'Raiders' had which is missing this time out and also is somewhat underpopulated in comparison—Philip Stone, memorable as Delbert Grady in “The Shining,” appears as Captain Blumburtt but it’s easy to forget that he’s even in the movie. And yet the action scenes, particularly in the second half, are extraordinary, some of the model work in the visual effects by ILM is particularly good while John Williams’ score brings a stirringly memorable mix of excitement and exoticism. Plus Harrison Ford is of course Indiana Jones, behaving like he’s finally recovered from the post-carbon freeze thaw he was going through in 'Jedi' and approaches the character with absolute joy that he has the chance to pull off what we’re getting to see.

Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom

As Spielberg excess goes, I suppose I’ll take “1941” if given the choice, but much of 'Temple of Doom' remains memorable—along with the imagery of the heart being ripped out, the very nature of the Temple of Doom setting became a somewhat recurring setpiece over the next few years in Hollywood films from the Spielberg-produced “Young Sherlock Holmes” to John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” and even to the big screen comedy version of “Dragnet,” starring Dan Aykroyd who even cameos here (since he doesn’t even get a close-up most people have probably never noticed him either). Hyuck and Katz were responsible for the big screen version of “Howard the Duck” which you could argue takes some of the excess of 'Temple of Doom' to its most unfortunate extreme. 

Going along with the jokey vibe of having the opening nightclub sequence take place at Club Obi Wan, the name Short Round is presumably taken from a similar character who befriends the lead in Sam Fuller’s “The Steel Helmet” and during the climax this film even references itself with both a callback to the most famous joke in the original. It even brings back Pat Roach, the giant auto mechanic in 'Raiders,' who here has a similar end-of-act-two fight with Indiana Jones as the chief guard in the mines. Admittedly, just by itself “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” doesn’t stay with me the way 'Raiders' does. It’s hard to live up to that giant boulder, the truck chase, the answer to what lies within the Ark of the Covenant. And I can never come up with all that good an argument for the people who dislike 'Temple Of Doom' so much. Yet it feels essential for Spielberg and Lucas, for all those summer blockbusters in the '80s, for what all those things mean to me deep down. On Memorial Day this year the New Beverly in L.A. is running 'Doom' on a double bill with “Raiders.” No promises, but I may have to be there.

This article is related to: Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Features, Feature

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