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Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) 

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Premise: Indiana Jones travels to India and discovers a cult that has stolen magic fertility stones and is using child slave labor to build an army that will eventually use black magic to take over the world. With a Chinese boy (Ke Huy Quan) and a spoiled American lounge singer (Kate Capshaw), Dr. Jones attempts to recover the stones and free the children.

What Works: The second Indiana Jones film is a decidedly darker picture than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Temple of Doom is more violent and delves into spookier places and it pulls off the darkness very well, finding a comfortable space between the fun of the original film and the new, edgier material. Rather than rehashing the first picture, Temple of Doom is a completely original installment and even though it has a few nods to the first film, it does present the audience with a fresh Indiana Jones adventure. Although its story and characters are even thinner than they were in Raiders, Temple of Doom makes up for that in its intensity. The action starts with a shootout and car chase in Shanghai and literally does not stop until the end, only pausing slightly in the middle to deliver some exposition and get the heroes into the temple. The action scenes hold up with the first film and the art direction of Temple of Doom is extremely impressive, especially in the subterranean lair of the cult. Ke Huy Quan is a lot of fun to watch as Short Round, Indiana’s young Chinese sidekick, and the two have an on-screen relationship that is among the best in the series. By comparison, Amrish Puri plays Mola Ram, the cult leader and lead villain; although he is not given much to do, he does possess more menace than any other heavy in the series.

What Doesn’t:The picture’s biggest weakness is its McGuffin; the stones are not as interesting as the Ark of the Covenant and how they will enable the villains to take over the world is pretty nebulous. The film largely sidesteps this problem by using the liberation of the children to give the audience a goal that is immediate and palatable. In its initial release many audiences were shocked at the level of violence in the film and the scenes of human sacrifice and violence against children are still unsettling; it gives the film some edge but it also risks alienating fans of the original film. The characters of Temple of Doom are not as memorable as the other installments. Willie Scott (Capshaw) is rather obnoxious, although she does provide a new take on the female lead and provides a lot of humor.

DVD Extras: Photos, featurettes, storyboards.

Bottom Line: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a solid sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although it has some notable weaknesses, this is a great piece of entertainment that still plays well. It is more likely to be enjoyed by older viewers and those who appreciate it for nostalgic value. It is also interesting to view Temple of Doom in light of later films like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which shows some influence from this particular film. 

Episode: #192 (June 1, 2008)