Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) — Bugs, brains, and beating hearts

“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”

Louise’s review: I have never liked Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. However, when I was staying at my grandmother’s house last week, I saw that the BBC were showing it one evening, and since the alternative on the only other channel Nanna watches was another wearying crime drama, I decided to look again at my hardline attitude.

“Such a hardline attitude is a little unfair,” I said to myself, “since you’ve only actually watched half of the film in your life, and that much ten years ago.”

“Yeah,” I replied to myself, “but that was a disgusting and seriously unfunny bit where they insinuated that Indian food is nothing but monkey brains and eyeballs and beetles, and wasn’t that there a woman called Willie, and isn’t ‘Willie’ a tame British slang word for a man’s… you know… his body part that he takes special care of when playing contact sports?”

“Watch the film! It’s got to be better than a depressing Glasgow murder. And stop thinking about tikka masala!”

So, my Nanna and I watched Temple of Doom, and while it was an Indiana Jones film so basically an entertaining adventure story, with a charismatic hunky man in the leading role, there are so many problems that stop it being one of the greats.

There was a story, though a rather uninspired one. After picking up a nightclub singer and China’s answer to the Artful Dodger in Shanghai, Indiana Jones is stranded in India as part of a dastardly plot. He finds a remote village, but fortunately he can speak the villagers’ language, and some of them speak English. They tell him that all their children have been kidnapped (shades of the Pied Piper here, I think. Did they not pay their rat catcher or something?) and their MacGuffin has been MacGuffin-napped.

Will Indy help? He will, once he believes that the MacGuffin is *his* sort of MacGuffin, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. So, after a trip to a pink palace, a banquet, a tunnel, an embarrassing ‘love scene’, and a rather unusual religious service, Dr Jones must rescue the children, rescue the stone, and keep his eardrums. Will he do it? ‘Course he will.

First, the Good! There’s Indiana Jones, who is pretty fantastic just for being a gorgeous archaeologist (although he does zero archaeology in this film). As Willie (hee hee! She’s called Willie! And yes, I am indeed eight years old) says, archaeologists in the real world tend to be funny-looking men looking for mommies. She probably just forgot to add that they are usually friendly and charming. Harrison Ford is a solid leading man, and Nanna agreed.

There are some memorable lines, although they’re the occasion for a curl of the lip rather than a belly laugh. The one which can be paraphrased as “No time for love, Dr Jones” is probably the most useful for everyday conversation. There’s a musical sequence, in which ‘Anything Goes’ is rendered into a Chinese language. Having been in a university production of ‘Anything Goes’, this was particularly enjoyable.

Finally, there’s one of those awesome sequences where you see a red line travelling across the map superimposed on an image of the flying aeroplane. I know it’s old fashioned, but any time I see one of those, I just get warm inside, because they remind me of 1940s pirate films and other good things. I’m not the best judge of action sequences, but they seemed all right to me. Of particular note is the sequence near the end where our heroes are in one runaway mine cart, and the villains are in another. It’s cartoonish and reminds me a lot of various Disneyworld rides, but for all that is rather fun, and has been much copied in the years since.

Now, onto the Bad and the Ugly! Bad Number One, Miss Willie Scott. Now, no blame to Kate Capshaw, but Willie is just the worst Gratuitous Female I’ve seen for many a long day. She’s one of those annoying characters filmmakers love to torment us with – a highly-strung city girl who goes to pieces (and how!) when she sees wildlife, so of course the script demands that she sees lots of wildlife, because nothing’s funnier than the shrill screams of an unhappy city girl!

Basically, she’s an annoying stereotype to start off with, and then the scriptwriters punish her, which in this case makes her even less sympathetic. They really punish her! They make an elephant fall in love with her, they surround her with bats and snakes (reminds me of some scenes in Romancing the Stone), they feed her eyeball soup, they nearly dunk her in lava (I wish they had). Willie goes through the film being incapable and loud, and I really got sick of her. Also, as a love interest, she can’t compare to Marion. Indiana and Marion had a history, in Raiders, a history of a serious and deep relationship, and moreover she was Made of Awesome, with her drinking and academic knowledge etc.

The Ugly! There are some other things that let down the film. Call me Political Correctness Gone Mad, but I found some aspects of it a little casually racist – the gross-out banquet, the Thuggees (genuine nineteenth-century ultra-violent religious sect) combined with voodoo/Voudon. Willie’s lack of dignity in every aspect of her life perhaps means that the film is a bit sexist too, as there are no other women in the piece to balance her out. The gross-out is nasty and unbelievable, I’ve never been a fan of Cute Kids (but maybe a child viewer would like Short Round, Indy’s diminutive sidekick), I don’t believe they’d have survived that plane crash, and Nanna really didn’t like the bit where the cult leader starts pulling out people’s hearts. That would give you nightmares, she said, you can’t show that to kids.

So, what’s the final verdict? It’s daft. It won’t actually hurt your brain, so feel free to watch it if it comes on the TV and you’re doing something else at the same time. Keep the volume down quite low, because you really don’t want to hear Willie screaming, and you can always grasp the story. However, if you’ve got the option of Raiders or Last Crusade, where they actually do some archaeology, why would you ever watch this?

Disclaimer: Then again, maybe this is the first Indiana Jones you ever saw when you were a kid and it’s your favourite (It could happen. My ex-boyfriend said this was his favourite… just as well we broke up, really). So, if that’s you, maybe you could turn the volume up for the mine cart chase. Feel free to like the film. Relax in the assurance that it doesn’t make you a bad person.


PoolMan’s rating: I used to play linebacker for the St. Louis Mola Rams (ba da BUM!)

PoolMan’s review: Okay. So, pretend you’re Steven Spielberg for a minute (and not his cheap Mexican equivalent) in the early ’80s. You’ve created Raiders of the Lost Ark, and yeeha, it’s taken right off! People love it! Everyone wants a brown fedora, and bullwhips once again become the greatest accessory for a night on the town (trust me, you don’t want to go to THOSE nightclubs). A sequel seems in order, so you settle down to make Indy 2.

Well, the first thing you need to do is make sure you’re not being repetitive, so no Nazis. Change the bad guys to an Indian cult. And get an even more loudmouthed woman for the romantic lead. And hey, while you’re at it, throw in another sidekick, just to throw out some more straight lines. All right, what else… ah! We’ll make Indy even grouchier, the gross scenes even grosser, and tone up the violence (but tone down the humour, don’t want it getting too slapsticky)!

You’ll notice that by the time Last Crusade came out, every single one of these points was reversed.

By the third movie, they’re back to Nazis, understated women, no sidekicks, a more charming Indy, less Fear Factor dining, and action sequences that were much more clever. In my eyes, Temple of Doom is and always will be the Indiana Jones movie that doesn’t fit. Universally regarded as the least favourite of the existing Jones Trilogy, ToD somehow takes a lot (but not all!) of the fun out of what made the other two great and replaces it with a much colder, darker attitude.

ToD is actually the prequel to Raiders (although I’m not sure why), set in 1935 in India. After a run-in with a Chinese gangster, Indy ends up saddled with brassy bar singer Willie Scott, who proceeds to win the Oscar for Whiniest Female In a Supporting Role EVER. Together with Indy’s cohort, a tiny Chinese kid named Short Round, they are unceremoniously dumped in the middle of India, in a village whose children and magic rock have been stolen. Indy naturally takes up the quest to rescue the rock, and in his one nice moment in the movie, he also decides the issue of the missing kids should maybe be looked into as well.

Now, before you angrily storm off to write me nasty emails about how great Harrison Ford really is, relax. I know that. The “worst” Indiana Jones movie is still better than most of the action movies out there, ’80s or not. But I’ve yet to meet a single real Indy fan who doesn’t place Temple of Doom squarely in last place amongst the films in the trilogy.

Unfortunately, in trying to make the movie bigger, better, and unique, Spielberg and Lucas undermined a lot of the charms of the Indiana Jones character. Here, in ToD, he’s dark, much more humourless. He snaps at his teammates on a few occasions, sometimes due to black magic, sometimes because he’s apparently just become a big jerk.

And the movie is just gross. The infamous dinner scene features not one, not two, not three, but FOUR of the most stomach-turning courses available to make what must be the sickest movie meal ever, outside of the Atkins/Lecter diet (brains are high in protein, low in carbs!). Not to mention the nightmare-inducing scene where the Thuggee cult leader removes a man’s beating heart and then lowers him screaming into a pool of molten lava (scarred the young PoolMan for many a year, I assure you). Yeesh! And if all that isn’t already enough, it vilifies religions in India, glorifies sexism (man, did PoolGirl ever NOT dig the scene at the end where Indy whips Willie to get her to come to him), and depicts violence against women and children.

Hey, this gives me an idea… let’s just have a look at the IMDb’s info… writing credits… ah, look at that. My hunch was correct. George Lucas was the only credited story writer on Temple of Doom. (For Raiders, he worked with another writer for story, and for Crusade, he wasn’t credited for story writing at all). COLOUR ME SURPRISED! I’m surprised Indy wasn’t revealed to have a high midichlorian count.

Still, it’s Indiana Jones. I’m being hard on it because it’s the weakest of the three Indy movies, but it’s still Indy. That means whipping, shooting, nasty badguys, and a certain hat that will just never go out of style (I own one. No seriously. I do). Not to mention the iconic mine cart chase scene at the end, which might be one of the most memorable and most often duplicated action scenes in movie history. Let’s just hope for this eternally-rumoured fourth Indiana Jones, they stick Lucas in a closet with some action figures and a CGI map of Tunisia. “See ya next year, George!”

Kyle’s rating: A great barometer for how damaged someone’s cinematic aesthetics are (if they happen to prefer this film over the others)

Kyle’s review: I can’t remember when I first saw Temple of Doom, although it is easy to assume that it was via my infamous bootlegging grandma. I do remember with astonishing clarity when I had to lie to my elementary school super-crush that I liked ToD as well, in response to her telling me it was better than Raiders of the Lost Ark (from the start, I have had odd and completely self-destructive taste in women). Honestly, I think that was my very first major lie about such a thing, and looking back at the you-chose-your-own-adventure crossroads in my life it was probably the most significant decision that delivered me to the (in person) deceitful, placating liar I am today.

So thanks for that as well, George Lucas.

In a lot of ways, Temple of Doom isn’t the abomination I tend to regard it as. The action figures they made for the film were FANTASTIC. I think I consigned Mola Ram and his henchmen early on to the junk tub o’ toys, but that Indiana Jones action figure was really cool and fit in perfectly with my He-Man figures. Later, I would return to the smaller and more versatile Raiders toy line, but the ToD Indiana Jones always had a special place in my heart. Incidentally, I believe I lost the ToD Indy’s whip on the way home from the store, which was a new record for me and kind of an aberration: while my living room and bedroom reflect my overall feelings towards organization (chaotic piles are always superior to any ordered system) I always stayed fairly OCD in keeping my toys and accessories safe and clean. Stupid whip.

But then, sadly, you ultimately have to return to the film to pass judgment. And the film itself is not my kind of colorful mess. Like the new installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I can sort of see how someone could love ToD. I would not want to hear their reasoning for such affection, nor would I care to speak with such a person for any prolonged amount of time. However, while someone who loved our favorite whipping horse The Doom Generation would be a freak through and through, a ToD apologist might look and act like you or me; their bizarre taste in movies and probably everything else not on display until you get to know the real person inside. No wonder riding on buses with possibly damaged strangers is so unnerving no matter where you live.

There is plenty for me to hate about Temple of Doom: The vaguely cool sets that eradicate any sense of splendor by being way too fake-looking, the romantic subplot obviously informed by Lucas’ inhuman sensibilities toward sentiment and love (see: any scene with Padme in the Star Wars prequels), the preposterous-even-at-age-7 inflatable raft-as-parachute scene, Kate Capshaw. I enjoy Short Round, but his best lines are blunted by real world encounters with idiots, usually sporting ponytails, reciting them to be “cool” without realizing they are “scum.” Although I will admit that ever since an ex-girlfriend’s influence turned me into an unrepentant texting machine, I have probably texted “no time for love, Doctor Jones!” approximately 1,000,000 times as a statement/response/other to a million different friends. Some of whom almost certainly had no idea what I was talking about.

I wish I could exactly pinpoint what I dislike and find completely lacking about Temple of Doom, but it really is a blind spot to me. It fails to catch fire, inspire any kind of passionate response in me, and I never really found the heart-removing stuff cool at all. I like Indy’s bridge gamble, and even though I found the climatic chase really dumb when I picked up some cheap Lego train track pieces at some Goodwill store I reenacted it (my way!) for fun. I honestly don’t why I would gladly never watch it again, but maybe that inner voice is far more wise than you yourself could ever hope to consciously be and it is much more healthy in so many ways to listen to it, and stick your Temple of Doom DVD in some forgotten DVD wallet under the bed. Why waste time when you’ve got Raiders anyway?

Justin’s rating: Still better than any dinner party I’ve ever thrown!

Justin’s review: As with many other examples of franchise black sheep, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is far better and more underappreciated than pop culture likes to admit. I think a lot of re-evaluation of this movie took place when Crystal Skull came out to show a more defanged and docile Dr. Jones at the whip.

I’ve long carried a torch for Temple of Doom, much in the same way that I have for Back to the Future Part II, Batman Returns, and Live Free or Die Hard. It’s a messy, imperfect movie that is deserving of many of its criticisms. Yet it’s still a terrifically fun movie with a great amount of energy, danger, and memorable bits. People who like to deride Temple of Doom have to turn a willing blind eye to the fact that this film is still remembered for so many of its scenes and quotes. If it was purely awful, that wouldn’t be the case.

So here are my five quick arguments why Temple of Doom is actually a pretty great Indy flick:

1. The willingness to experiment with the brand

I may not like The Last Jedi that much, but I do respect that Rian Johnson tried to do something other than slavishly copy what had come before. Follow-ups that experiment with the format, setting, and tone tend to really upset people — yet may age a lot better as a result. And as much as I like Last Crusade, it’s hard to ignore that it was pretty much Raiders Part 2 in the way it carbon-copied many elements.

Temple of Doom? This is where Lucas and Spielberg got kind of daring and were willing to change things up. For starters, it’s a prequel to Raiders featuring a harsher and perhaps more brash Indiana Jones than we see in his later years. Gone are Nazis and the Middle East, replaced by mysterious cultists and a country that doesn’t often get featured in western blockbusters. This film showed the potential for a globe-hopping anthology of Indiana Jones adventures as a result.

2. This is Steven Spielberg back when he wasn’t afraid to be a bit edgy

Spielberg may still be a masterful director, but he’s certainly mellowed out in some unwelcome ways in recent years. I miss the old Spielberg of Jaws, Raiders, and even Jurassic Park who liked to inject a bit of nightmare fuel and gooshiness into his adventures. Sure, perhaps he went a wee bit overboard with Temple of Doom and helped birththe PG-13 rating as a result, but I like that he throws in some gross-out moments and scary scenes that certainly never scarred my psyche when I saw this as a kid. Adventure movies shouldn’t be safe and sterile, and that’s something we’ve really lost over the decades.

After all, isn’t that one of the reasons we praise Empire Strikes Back so much — that it went more dark and edgy than its predecessor? So why does this film get dinged for the same angle?

3. The amazing set pieces

If you’re too fixated on Willie’s screaming or the monkey brains, you’re going to miss out on the fact that Temple of Doom is absolutely packed with great action set pieces that perfectly evoke the pulp fiction era of cinema. And almost all of those action scenes take place in elaborately constructed indoor sets that are absolutely fantastic if you pause the film to examine each one.

From the opening nightclub brawl to the plane crash to the initial foray into the temple to the mine cart chase to the fight over the river gorge, there’s so much classic Spielberg spectacle here that should be treasured. Just like the opening song hints, in this movie it’s “anything goes.”

4. The humor

Indiana Jones isn’t just action, tomb raiding, and the occasional hole stuffed with swarming bugs. Humor is a massive part of the equation, and Temple is decently stocked with it. I love Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) as a comedic sidekick, which isn’t a phrase I tend to apply to most kid actors shoved into adult franchises. Short Round is the scrappy and adventurous kid we all wanted to be, while Willie gets to be the freaked-out bystander we all probably would be. There’s a lot of snarky humor here that still makes me chuckle today.

“Okey dokey, Dr. Jones. Hold on to your potatoes!” “The problem with her is the noise.”

5. It’s Indiana Jones in his prime

While we are contending with an aging Indy for films 4 and 5, let’s not overlook the fact that we can always time travel back to 1984 and see Harrison Ford at his most virile. What I’ve come to appreciate about Temple of Doom is that we get to see the evolution of early Indy. He’s certainly a lot more Han Soloish at the start, out for himself (and a diamond) and more dismissive to others under his care.

Yet Short Round and the kidnapped kids bring out a protective defender who’s ultimately willing to sacrifice his own needs for the benefit of others. And are we going to overlook that Indy punches human traffickers in the face and becomes a liberator? I love seeing his journey from selfish to selfless, and that deserves to be appreciated in the modern era.

Didja notice?

  • This was Steven Spielberg’s first sequel.
  • The Paramount logo dissolves into the gong in the club.
  • I always like the Indiana Jones intro fakeouts
  • The opening musical… wow, this just kind of keeps going and going, doesn’t it?
  • The guy with the chopped-off finger
  • Indy can pull off a white tux just fine
  • “I thought archaeologists were funny little men searching for their mommies.” “Mummies.”
  • Why does Lao even bring the antidote to the negotiations?
  • Goodbye to the sidekick we just met
  • The sign outside the Chinese club is Club Obi Wan.
  • Short Round’s wooden blocks he straps to his shoes to drive
  • Dan Aykroyd as the guy who puts Indy on the plane
  • “We’re not sinking, we’re CRASHIIIING!”
  • Somehow the match IN Indy’s hand casts a shadow OF Indy’s hand on the wall!
  • The sound effect we hear in the opening sequence on the plane is the same failing-engine sound effect used when Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon fails to crank up in The Empire Strikes Back
  • The village is starving, yet they’ve got a fleet of enough elephants to spare for travel
  • “Those aren’t big birds, sweetheart, those are giant vampire bats!”
  • Short Round and Indy playing cards while Willie freaks out. “The biggest problem with her is the noise.”
  • It’s an Indiana Jones flick, so we’ve got to have a bit where he’s freaked out by a snake (yet he doesn’t freak out at the “snake surprise” during the dinner scene)
  • “I should say you look rather lost. But then I cannot imagine where in the world the three of you would look at home.”
  • Guess Indy brought his suit and bowtie along
  • Indy’s glare when he says, “I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about folklore.”
  • Whip + ceiling fan = impromptu hanging
  • Ah, Short Round found the button for the “dead corpses popping through the wall” feature
  • It’s the bug room!
  • “WE ARE GOING TO DIE” And then Indy’s sad face 😦
  • Can you live without your heart? For a bit, yes. Until they lower you into the lava.
  • Whole lotta sparks in that mine
  • Okay, so the Indian Maharajah needs a little depth? I’ve got it! Random voodoo!
  • Somehow, being all of five feet from molten lava is a perfectly healthy activity. Shouldn’t Willie be a frightening shade of black by the end?
  • The iconic Indy silhouette
  • The bloody smear…. eww
  • Short Round gets so much action (and fights) in this movie. I wish he had come back!
  • Who wouldn’t want to ride this rollercoaster?
  • Short Round’s arms get reaaaaaally long for a second there during the mine carts
  • Mad props to John Williams for an absolutely incredible score here

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