Daniel Shillito’s review published on Letterboxd:
A boat?! We're not sinking, we're crashing!
2021 4K Restoration
Unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom is not a film I have a great deal of love for but upon this rewatch I've gained a newfound appreciation for it. Temple of Doom is a prequel that takes the series in a very different direction from its predecessor, way darker and increasingly more violent, it was one of the major draws for the MPAA to create a new rating since Temple failed to achieve the PG rating upon the first submission and wasn't available uncut in its original form in the UK for a long time.
One short year before his explosive adventure for the Lost Ark, the undaunted professor of archaeology, Dr Indiana Jones, ends up in far-off India, after having a narrow escape from death in 1935 Hong Kong. Along with his trusty twelve-year-old sidekick, Short Round, and the utterly unprepared nightclub singer, Willie Scott, Indiana embarks on a peril-laden quest to retrieve the sacred Sankara Stone stolen from the shrine of an impoverished Indian community and the village's kidnapped children. Now, as the evil Thuggee cult spreads its tentacles over the region, and even in the opulent Palace of Pankot, Indy and his team must brave swarms of disgusting creepy crawlies, an army of armed-to-the-teeth zealots, and unspeakable subterranean terrors. Will Indiana Jones get out of the cursed Temple of Doom in one piece, and live to tell the tale?
The film's darker tone can often be attributed to the personal moods of both Spielberg and Lucas following the breakups of their relationships at the time of making. Lucas' philosophy that the second film of a trilogy had to be the darkest of the series echoes that of his original Star Wars trilogy. While Spielberg was hesitant due to the subject matter they were planning to tackle and how audiences could perceive this, citing it to be a lose-lose situation either way. The idea of making the film a prequel came about due to the desire not wanting to reuse the Nazis as villains, however, because of the focus on a religious cult devoted to child slavery, black magic, and ritual human sacrifice the film ended up losing the co-write of Raiders, Lawrence Kasdan. I feel while this is a loss, it helps to differentiate the film from its original source material in order to help create a substantial identity for each entry in the series.
As I stated in my Raiders review, what else do I need to say about Spielberg's direction? He brings back all the hallmarks of Raiders while offering something totally different. The long sweeping landscape shots are back as is the tense action set pieces but with a much darker colour palette. The writing is great as always although some may take issue with the addition of Short Round as a character, I personally don't and love the little guy to bits but I can see why people don't like him that much.
Once again the 4K restoration is simply sublime. A lot more of the iffy front projection and blue screen work has been corrected and even fixed a few of the clipping errors that have been present in the original releases. The mine cart chase has had a significant overhaul and looks brand new in terms of its visual effects, I think it went through a re-rendering process but can't be certain without a closer look. Needless to say, this new transfer is simply divine.
I think there's some fair criticism in how a lot of Indian culture is displayed in the film, although I feel as if the two men intended these as more of a subversion of the culture and yet still respectful of it. The banquet scene is the most notable aspect of this, there's definitely a joke in there, the joke being that Indians were so smart that they knew all Westerners think that Indians eat cockroaches, so they served them what they expected. I do believe that the joke was too subtle for the film so could be perceived as ultimately and unintentionally racist. But in the end, it's very much a fantasy action-adventure film.
The characters are pretty good, Harrison still portrays Indy fantastically well, carrying all that suave James Bond energy in the opening Club Obi-Wan scene while ultimately still portraying the character who is all out of energy for his companions. Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott isn't too bad and does radiate a lot of the film's laughs with her scream queen act, but does get some shining moments here and there. Jonathan Ke Quan as Short Round though is the true star of the film and ultimately the big damn hero of the picture. Easily the best sidekick of the series and one I would very much like to see a return in Indiana Jones 5, do it, you cowards! Amrish Puri as Mola Ram is a great villain and very terrifying in the way he can simply pull a man's heart out of his chest but ultimately does just order his minions about way too much while merely observing, he does get involved near the end of the film but by then I feel its too little too late.
John Williams' music is once again at full force here, taking all a brand new route in terms of his compositions and yet with a touch of the familiar. It's not a bad score by any means but I do forget most of the pieces even after the credits have rolled and the main theme is blaring out while they roll. It's definitely one I need to devote more time to in listening to casually to get a better grip of the major motifs but I wouldn't dream of calling it bad.
Overall, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a damn fine sequel that showcases the balls of both Spielberg and Lucas in wanting to craft something totally new and disturbing but ultimately I feel this film lacks that rewatch value for me due to those darker subject matters.
Are you trying to develop a sense of humour or am I going deaf?