Yes, there’s an Indiana Jones movie I haven’t seen before. Clearly that must be rectified.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Starring: Harrison Ford and some other people
Released in: 1984
Rated PG (because PG-13 wasn’t invented yet)
So just in case you don’t know the story, this movie starts with everyone’s favourite disaster-prone archaeologist delivering an artefact to some Chinese mobsters in Shanghai. Naturally, things go wrong, and he ends up escaping on a plane with a little kid named Short Round and a living migraine named Willie Scott. They crash-land in India, where they meet some villagers whose children have all been taken by a local ruler, along with a sacred stone rumoured to have magic powers. Then the plot really kicks in, as Indy decides to go on a quest to find and return the stone.
I love the Indiana Jones movies. Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of the first “grown-up” movies I was allowed to see as a kid, and both it and The Last Crusade have always been family favourites at my house. (I also saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in theatres, but…that one’s less of a favourite.) However, I was never allowed to see Temple of Doom as a kid, and it’s one of many movies I never quite got around to seeing as an adult. Until now, that is.
To be honest, it struck me as a bit of an odd movie. Plot-wise, it’s much like all the other Indiana Jones movies: there’s a big opening scene with lots of punching, Indiana has to go search for a lost treasure, evil folks get in the way, there’s a bit of romance going on with the lead lady, they run into some freaky supernatural stuff, and it all leads up to a big climactic fight scene and a happy ending, although Indy still doesn’t get the treasure. But its tone is very different from any other entry in the franchise, and I think that’s what weirded me out so much. For about the first third, it almost feels like a slapstick comedy. All the Indiana Jones movies have a certain amount of humour, but this one starts out feeling downright goofy. There’s a fight scene where Indy shish-kebabs someone with an actual kebab, followed by a car chase with a little kid driving the car while making puns in bad English, followed by a plane crash where everyone survives by means of a physics-defying inflatable raft, and so on. And then somewhere around the half-hour mark, the tone completely changes into something very dark and disturbing, with a lot more gore than any of the other films had. Then, for the final third, it switches back to the exciting Indy action we know and love. All three tones work fine on their own, but together, they’re a bit of a weird combination.
Still, I’ve always heard this movie described as the low point of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, so I was pleasantly surprised by it in a lot of ways. The story itself is every bit as exciting as any of the others, it has several amazing action scenes, and you just can’t go wrong with young Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones. He’s the perfect action hero, and he’s also quite funny, as I often forget between viewings. Every good Indiana Jones movie has two or three moments that make me smile just because of how…Indiana Jones-y they are. This movie has them, too: the part where he dives under a collapsing door to grab his hat, the entire mine cart sequence, “Prepare to meet Kali…IN HELL!”, etc. Classic Indy.
Granted, this movie is, shall we say, less than PC. It’s made clear that the evil Thuggee cult Indy encounters has nothing to do with actual Hinduism (it also has nothing to do with the real-life Thuggee cult, but whatevs), but the movie still gets away with a much more offensive portrayal of another culture than you’d see in most blockbusters today. Then again, the other two movies showed us a pretty laughable caricature of Christian mythology, and I didn’t let that ruin them for me. It’s Indiana Jones–you can’t expect much in the way of historical and cultural accuracy.
In the end, I do have to agree with the majority opinion that this is the worst of the trilogy, but only for one reason: WILLIE. My word. She is easily one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever seen in a movie. I had heard of her infamous screaming voice before, but I didn’t realise she uses that voice throughout the entire movie. She contributes almost nothing to the plot, half the time it doesn’t even make sense for her to be there (why did Indy decide to bring her on a dangerous mission, again?), and she’s either screaming or whining in every other line of dialogue. For most of the movie, Indy seems as annoyed by her as the audience, so their “romance,” if you can call it that, feels incredibly forced. It wouldn’t be so bad if she was a minor comic relief character, but no, she’s in almost every scene of the movie, distracting from Indy’s awesomeness by screeching about her nails. Within the first five minutes, I was thinking, “This chick needs to die in a fire.” And when she actually gets a chance to die in a fire later in the movie, spoiler alert, she gets rescued! I’ve never been more disappointed to see the plans of an evil death cult foiled. The only good thing I can say about Willie is that she made me appreciate Marion from the first movie all the more.
But there is one aspect of Temple of Doom that I think is actually an improvement on the other movies. For once, in this movie, Indiana Jones does something genuinely heroic–on purpose. Usually he’s chasing a treasure more or less for his own gain, and then the Nazis just happen to get in the way, so he has to fight them. But in this movie, he takes a huge risk in order to rescue a bunch of kids from slavery, without necessarily expecting a reward. It’s nice to see a nobler side to our normally selfish treasure hunter, and it makes it even easier to root for him in his more Willie-free adventures. And even though I thought it was a little weird at first for him to have a 12-year-old sidekick, I also found his relationship with Short Round to be pretty endearing by the end.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It’s not as much fun as the other two in the original trilogy, but it’s much better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull–or, indeed, several other modern action movies I could name. And now that I’ve seen all the movies in the series, I feel like I can finally call myself a proper Indiana Jones fan.
Cue amazing John Williams music.