Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ★★★½

"Anything goes!"

Okay, we all know that TEMPLE OF DOOM gets a lot of flack. Before KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL came out, this was always referred to as the weakest of the original trilogy, and even afterward, it still has many detractors today. And if you were going to list every single thing you dislike about the movie, from its politically incorrect portrayal of India and folks eating monkey brains to how juvenile and dopey the gags are to how obnoxious Kate Capshaw comes off, I'd pretty much agree with you on all of them.

And yet, despite all these things, oh my Goodness, is this a good rocking' time! TEMPLE OF DOOM is an endlessly entertaining movie full of personality and pizzazz. The quality of the practical FX and stuntwork, Douglas Slocombe's colorful cinematography evocative of a Saturday morning cartoon, its intense set design, and the overall epic scope of TEMPLE OF DOOM all make up for all the film's less-than-great moments. Dumb as it may be, I would rather watch TEMPLE OF DOOM and get lost in its sense of escapism than a good deal other movies.

By the way, one little bit of trivia fans love to point out is "Did you know TEMPLE OF DOOM is really a prequel?" This is a really minor point; RAIDERS begins with a title card stating it is set in 1936 and this film begins with a title card stating it is set in 1935. It's such a small detail that has no effect on the plot and I can understand why most casual viewers either don't notice it or don't care. Honestly, if TEMPLE OF DOOM had begun with a title card stating 1937 instead, it could have told the exact same story for all it matters.

The opening sequence, set in the nightclub in Shanghai, is brilliant, and is every bit as good as any of the best scenes in RAIDERS. The way Indy has a confrontation with Lao (Roy Chiao) and uses the rotating table to exchange the various items (the diamond, the artifacts, the poison) is masterful filmmaking. This opening sequence is so good that it makes me wish Lao had been the main villain and gotten his own film. Even the opening credits, over the 1930's Cole Porter dance sequence, is a perfect homage.

[As many know, this entire nightclub sequence was originally conceived as a scene within RAIDERS and was even storyboarded out before it got cut. It then got reworked into the opening of this entry. This explains why it feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the film and also why, in my opinion, it's also the best sequence of the film.]

Once the plot shifts gears to India and becomes about rescuing the children of a village, the story loses me a bit. It isn't until was actually enter the Temple of Doom itself in the latter half that it really picks up again. Now the story becomes about human sacrifices, hearts getting physically ripped out of chests, and Indy being brainwashed, the film again kicks into high gear with several great set pieces, including the conveyer belt sequence, the mine cart chase, and the finale on the rope bridge. I could rewatch these sequences over and over again.

Harrison Ford is great once again. No, this may not be his personal best outing, but you only need to see him in any scene just holding his whip or swinging across the room to see why this role is so iconic and will be forever associated with him.

As for the much maligned Kate Capshaw, I honestly believe she's a victim of bad dialog and lazy humor more than anything else, and her character coming off as useless. Capshaw does the best she can playing a character written to basically just be a dumb blonde. A few of her ditzy lines are mildly funny, but the script makes the mistake of making every single thing she says be like this. It's a sad case of where a joke that could have worked had it been kept in moderation is beaten into the ground by being used over and over again. I wish there had been a payoff scene where she finally proved useful; where some element about her that came off as ditzy turned out to actually make her knowledgable. Maybe her singing ability was used to save Indy. Something like that would have redeemed her character.

Also, I like the premise of Short Round's character; I like the idea of Indy having a child sidekick and a father/son dynamic building between them that makes him slightly uncomfortable. But again, instead of playing this dynamic seriously, Short Round is given smart-alecky one-liners meant to showcase how cute his Chinese accent is. If instead of corny jokes and one-liners, he had been fleshed out into a fuller character, there could have been something there.

But, hiccups and all, I still enjoy TEMPLE OF DOOM as the guilty pleasure and blatant children's film it is. Someone once commented "Yes, RAIDERS may be the more sophisticated film, but TEMPLE OF DOOM is the most '80's camp one, and I'll gladly take my '80's campiness!" Agreed. This may not be the smartest film in the world, but it does remind you why Spielberg was once considered the master craftsman that he was who could speak to the child in any audience!

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