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Non-Review Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

I would love to have been there when the sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark was released. The anticipation and the build up to a sequel to one of most brilliantly bright and fun adventure films ever made. I don’t know what I would have been expecting… but I don’t think it would have been this. As a piece of trivia, the film is actually a prequel, but that doesn’t matter. It has a bit of an odd child of the franchise (even after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), in that it’s the only film that doesn’t follow Indy’s quest for a mysterious relic. But that isn’t the only (or even the biggest difference). There’s a massive shift in tone between this and the film proceeding it and the film following. Everything’s just a hint darker and… well, weirder. Still, I’ve a soft spot in my heart for the black sheep of the franchise and I fully and whole-heartedly embrace that weirdness.

Indy bridges the divide...

Indy bridges the divide...

The movie is fairly dark. And I don’t necessarily mean dark in a ‘it’s deeper’ sort of way, just darker. There’s child slavery in place of the cartoonish Nazis and Soviets that populate the other films in the franchise. Instead of pits of snakes we have insects and maggots crawling over rocks. Instead of poisoned beats, we have monkey brains. You get the idea. Even the humour (which, in fairness, skirts the line in other installments) goes jet black. Throwing away a hammer and casually killing an innocent bystander is played for laughs.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Thirties serial adventures like those the three films seek to emulate weren’t all as squeaky clean as Raiders would have you believe. Okay, Raiders ain’t squeaky clean, but here there’s a bit more ambiguity. In the opening sequence it’s interesting to see Indy threaten an innocent woman, playing a greyer anti-hero. It doesn’t seem shockingly out of character (in that we don’t really believe he’ll hurt her). Even one of the more disturbing scenes (including brainwashing and cults) wouldn’t seem out of place in the movies that the series seeks to re-create.

It’s a little bit refreshing in an era of carbon-copy sequels to see a movie so shockingly different from the original. The safer option would have been simply to segue directly into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade directly after Raiders. More Nazis! More treasure hunting! Doing an entirely different story was a brave move and one it’s hard to fault those involved for. The movie doesn’t suffer for being robbed of the globe-trotting (bar a fantastic introduction in China, it spends most of its time in India).

Still, it’s a little odd (like many things about the movie) to see Indy paired off with the traditional light comic relief support (the love-interest-to-be and a kid) on such a black adventure. The two don’t really belong – or at least we don’t expect them to belong. For some reason, despite the skepticism of the audience, it works. Maybe because Jonathan Ke Quan is fairly strong as child supporting actors go. Maybe it’s because Harrison Ford has got the tough classic film lead thing down by this stage.  It probably isn’t because of Kate Capshaw. She’s almost perfectly adequate, but she lacks the spunk of Karen Allen. Her dynamic with Indiana Jones works well, because it’s so conventional and outdated, like just about everything about the film, after a fashion. It’s quaint in that way.

The film doesn’t really have the same calibre (or frequency) of action scenes as its brethren. There’s the fantastically choreographed opening scene with a killer rendition of Anything Goes and then… eventually a mine cart chase. Spielberg doesn’t push himself on action here, favouring slow and steady establishing of mood. Still, it’s a somewhat refreshing change of pace.

So, all in all, it’s a very different film from any of the other films, but in a good way. It might be slightly weaker than the top-class productions that immediately surround it, but it is still a damn entertaining film. However, I’ve always been fond of weird films.

Still, it’s a heck of a lot better than The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was directed by Steven Spielberg (A.I., Munich) and stars Harrison Ford (Blade Runner, Random Hearts) and Kate Capshaw (Just Cause, Black Rain). It was released in the United States on the 23rd May 1984, and was released in the UK and Ireland on the 15th June 1984.

3 Responses

  1. […] Non-Review Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom […]

  2. fair review. its not as great as the two that sandwich it, but it has some great indy moments – the opening, the mine chase, the spiked ceiling and the rope bridge

    • I’ll admit I’m probably fonder of the movie than I (rationally) should be. You’re right, it isn’t as good as the opening and closing films, but I think it’s refreshing. Going from “Indy races against the Nazis to find a holy relic” to “Indy races (with his father) against the Nazis to find a holy relic” might have seemed a little redundant were it not for a completely different middle act. But, yep, a lot of it doesn’t work. Still, this is one of my utterly irrational film choices. Like Demolition Man. It’s terrible. Really, really terrible… but I think I like it.

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