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

June 20, 2011
  • Dir. Steven Spielberg
  • Released by Paramount
  • Story by George Lucas
  • Rating: *


The prequel to the 1981 matinee serial pastiche Raiders of the Lost Ark sees the reunion of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford, but tragically, everyone forgot to bring the fun and charm with them for the follow-up. Instead, the film is an exercise in misogyny and racism that offers only the smallest shards of its predecessor’s entertainment value.

As stated in the video above, the film began as a collection of unused action scenes conceived for Raiders, and Lucas constructed a plot largely borrowed from Gunga Din around these scenes. However, he also inserted an unpleasant, mean-spirited tone that undoubtedly derived from the stress of his recent divorce. Whereas the first Indiana Jones tale featured Nazis who were deliciously sinister without being inappropriately disturbing (imagine if Amon Göth from Spielberg’s Schindler’s List had been in the movie instead!), this entry presents Kali worshippers who are so off-putting that they drain the joy out of the whole production.

The film’s unflattering presentation of Hinduism and Indian culture ensured that India would not allow the filmmakers to work there, and who can blame the country for the refusal? Why would they want to be portrayed as monkey-brain-eating, child enslaving, human-sacrificing cultists who rip out people’s hearts ritualistically? At least the Germans came off as sophisticated even in their sadism.

The Asian demographic also receives a rather embarrassing representative in Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), who is one step above Charlie Chan only because he is portrayed by a Vietnamese actor rather than a white kid in yellowface. (Quan would go on to play a similarly stereotypical Asian character in Richard Donner’s The Goonies, an Indiana Jones-esque children’s film that was conceived and executive produced by Spielberg.)

Rounding out the offensive depictions is love interest/damsel-in-distress Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), who seems determined to be as far a cry from the independent, clever, and strong-willed Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) from Raiders as possible, instead opting to be a high-maintenance ditz. Variety of characterization is a virtue, but not at the cost of advances in feminism–especially since the character shows no growth other than a developing attraction toward Indy. (Thankfully, subsequent Jones pictures returned to tolerable leading ladies.)

Simultaneously tasteless and bitter, Temple of Doom only has the merit of nostalgia going for it, with Ford’s performance and John Williams’s score reminding us of a better time in the franchise’s history–and poor Ford doesn’t even get to show as much range this time, nor does he get to participate as much in the action scenes thanks to an injury during filming. Regarding the action scenes, they are decent, especially those in the final act, but they are too sparse, and the thrilling cliffhanger-style sequences in Raiders easily trump them.

Much like the victims of the cultists, Spielberg does not seem to have his heart in the project, and it is totally absent of his normal magic. By this point, Lucas was losing his own magic, having recently overseen the disappointing and misguided Return of the Jedi. Although the duo would somehow reinvigorate the series with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, they would quickly begin to lose their positions as the top two names in summer blockbuster entertainment. The bold young filmmakers of the mid-1970s were losing their stride in the mid-1980s, and this awful motion picture marks a major milestone in the decline of their integrity (an integrity that Spielberg would be far more successful at recapturing than Lucas).


From → Film Criticism

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