Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
Many sequels and most film franchises have a tendency to go rapidly downhill after the first movie. The exception that proves the rule is the Indiana Jones films. The forth installment is still unreleased at the time of this writing but the second and third movies were both excellent. They were a little off from the original ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ but only by a small fraction. The second film ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ was sheer entertainment. Certainly there are some differences but overall effect is a fantastic movie. Spielberg did branch out somewhat as the director here touching on other genres popular during the golden age of Hollywood but this film is quite literary a roller coaster ride for the audience. This time out there is elements of the buddy flick, spy movies and even a little touch of a musical. Like all of the films in this franchise Spielberg recalls his youth going to the movies on Saturday afternoon. One of he best parts of spending a whole afternoon in the movie house was the action serial. Usually fifteen minute long episodes were shown between the ‘B’ flick and the feature film. These were stories with simple plots that guaranteed thrills and non stop action week after week. This type of excitement is at the heart of all the Indy Jones flicks and ‘Temple of Doom’ is no different.
This film is a prequel to ‘Raiders’ taking place in 1935, one year before Indy would go on his quest for the lost ark. It opens in Shanghai at the popular night club the ‘Obi Wan’. Starting with this film Spielberg gave ample nods to his friend and producer here, George Lucas and his ‘Star Wars’ films. In the club an American woman, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) is singing ‘Anything Goes’ in Chinese. She is backed with several dancers that put on a perfect reproduction of a Busby Berkeley number. In the forties he was famous for his elaborate musical production numbers with overhead shots of geometric patterns and props. This may seem strange in an action flick but day in the day there were frequently such big production numbers placed in most flicks. Indy is there to exchange the remains of the first Manchu dynasty emperor, Nurhaci, for a rather large diamond. The recipient is the local war lord and gangster the notorious Lao Che (Roy Chiao). Keeping with the bad guys in all adventure flicks of that day Che is entirely evil and decides that he wants both the diamonds and the remains. He slips a slow acting poison into Indy’s drink telling him that he will give him the antidote only when he has both. At the table Willie unexpectedly joins them. Indy tries to hold her hostage but Che doesn’t care about her. A gun shot goes off and mayhem ensures. During the scuffle Willie places the antidote in the top of her dress and Indy manages to push them both out a window to safety. This scene is homage to the old fashion slap stick action sequences that were also popular in old time movies.
In the street below is Indy’s young sidekick, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan). He is a boy of about eight and needs blocks tied to his feet to drive. This is another popular plot device of old flicks; the young boy being mentored by an action hero. It adds a little something extra for the kids in the audience to directly identify with. Once in the air plane Indy reaches into Willie’s dress to get the medication to her protests that she is not that type of girl. In the air Indy pulls in hat over his eyes to get some sleep. While they are all asleep the audience sees that Che owns the plane and the two pilots bail out leaving Indy, Willie and Short Round in the air with almost no fuel. Indy can’t fly and they almost crash into a mountain but escape by jumping out on a inflatable life raft. This is just the kind of impossible stunt that was the trademark of the old serials. Sure it could never happen but we were too young then to consider physics. They land in a remote part of India and spend the night in the woods. This is another slap stick moment that is not very pro-feminist but this was a long time before the Women’s liberation movement. They are approached by the elder of a very poor village and given food and shelter. Indy is told that all the children of the village have been taken into slavery to work in a mine for a Thugee cult. They are looking for the fabled Sankara Stone which will give them power over the world. Indy decides to help since it will not only save the children but gain him fortune and glory. The three of them travel to a near by palace too meet with the eight year old ruler of the country and from their find their way to the mines. In the place both Indy and Willie decide to get romantic but once again in a comic farce their intentions are thwarted. In the mines they find a Thugee high priest, Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) who performs human sacrifices but pulling out the still beating hearts of the victims and then slowly lowering them into a deep pool of lava. It was this particular scene that the MPAA objected to. They wanted to give the film an ‘R’ rating which would have ruined the box office take. Spielberg was powerful enough to talk the MPAA board into creating a new rating, PG-13 placed between PG and R. Typical of the adventure serial every few minutes Indy finds himself in dire straights only to get out of it in the last minute. There is also a now famous scene of Indy chasing the bad guys in ore carts through the mine. This is a fun, action filled scene but technically it was an amazing achievement in cinematography. Usually in a roller coast type shot like this the camera was fixed in the front car. Spielberg investigated just what made these rides so much fun in real life. He found that the people in the front car tended to move their heads towards the next turn or dip anticipating the movement. He had a camera bracket designed too allow it to move like a human head would in this situation. The results are groundbreaking and fantastic fun. In the end Indy saves the children and gets all three of the magical stones. Instead of taking them to a museum for his fortune and glory he gives them to the elder to ensure the village will be safe and prosperous. An old time action hero never does what he does for personal gain.
Unlike so many second movies in series this one lives up to the original big time. It is a must see and must owned film for all collections.