Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 1984
Director(s): Steven Spielberg
Writer(s): Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (Screenplay) / George Lucas (story) / James Kahn and Philip Kaufman (Novel)
Cinematography by: Douglas Slocombe
Editor(s): Michael Kahn and George Lucas
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri and Roshan Seth
Synopsis: After arriving in India, Indiana Jones is asked by a desperate village to find a mystical stone. He agrees, and stumbles upon a secret cult plotting a terrible plan in the catacombs of an ancient palace (IMDB).
With the upcoming release of Ready Player One by one of the best – if not the best – director/producers of all time, Steven Spielberg, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite movies from his catalog. I went with Temple of Doom because it’s also one of the more distinctive movies from his vast catalog. Called by many his darkest movie, I still love how he managed to slice in his trademark charm even when we dealt with human sacrifice. Lucas and Ford came back on board, riding the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Empire Strikes Back, further cementing that the 80’s were dominated by this trio.
One of the aspects that impresses me about this movie is that it’s a prequel. Rarely you get a prequel that is just as good or better than its predecessor. The main problem with prequels is that they focus on giving you the “how” your favorite characters became “cool” or how he got his trademark weapon or clothes. Lucas and his writing team (Huyck and Katz) wrote the story in which we catch up to Indy as he is on the tail end of a mission. He is already in an adventure, just like Raiders and we are just along for the ride. We don’t care why he is there, when he got there or how, all we care is that he’s punching his way out and making witty remarks at people that want to kill him. The story also adds to Jones’ mythos as he is willing to risk his life for a poor village he just met. He sees the injustice and the desperation in their eyes and he jumps right into action.
Quick note: I see the irony in saying Lucas did a great job writing a prequel story.
Like I said in my opening, this movie is by far one of the darkest entries to Spielberg’s and Lucas’ movie catalog. They managed to squeeze in human sacrifice, cult rituals, child slavery, child torture and lots of gore into a PG rating (later the PG-13 rating so audiences where more aware of the content within the movies). But it’s not just the tone and the subject matter that makes it dark, it’s also the visuals. A large majority of the runtime is devoted to the underground lair of the religious cult Indy stumbles upon. We are located within a mountain and all we see is dark cave after dark cave. To combat this, Spielberg and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe added a lot of vibrant colors to the wardrobe, mainly red, so their characters pop against the dark backgrounds of the caves.
The main ritual room also has a large crater that leads to a magma pool where they would drop their human sacrifices. This gave a yellow-orange glow to anyone that was within the room, further helping with the dark visuals set by the location. This also helps Indy pop in the frame, since his trademark clothes are all earth tones. If Slocombe didn’t add light through the fires and the magma, Jones would simply disappear against the background.
Spielberg also kept the movie moving at a significantly rapid pace. Outside of the conversation with the villagers, the camera movement and the editing keeps the audience on their toes, never expecting what’s next. Even during the dinner scene, in which monkey brains are served, the pace and editing feels like an action scene. It also helps that the movie is bookmarked by two big action set pieces.
Quick note: John Williams also returned to score this movie and was again nominated at the Academy Awards. Something magical always happens when Williams teams up with Spielberg.
The 80’s is peak Harrison Ford, with two Star Wars movies, three Indiana Jones movies, Blade Runner and Witness to his name within that decade. You can clearly see in this movie Ford hitting his stride in his second go around as Indy. Cool, calm and collected, Jones has an answer to anything the script throws his way. But what I truly love about Indy is how he plays like a superhero. It’s almost a Clark Kent – Superman switch he pulls when he dawns his trademark hat, jacket and whip. When he is in the “professor persona” he wears glasses and his grey suit - well mannered, low key and subdued - completely contrasting his Indy persona.
I do have some qualms. Kate Capshaw’s character of Willie Scott is beyond annoying. She spends the majority of the movie screaming loud noises and yelling her lines at Indy. I get it that she is a fish out of water, but there was no need for her to be a constant source of irritation. There is a nice scene in where Shortround and Indy are playing cards. They showcase their bond and how Shortround is learning from Indy. All of it is damped by the way they cut to her screaming about every animal she encounters. The green screen is, well, extremely noticeable and at times annoying, but not enough for me to be completely turned off by the experience.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the rare sequel prequel that manages to build on the predecessor while feeling, at times, completely different. The trio of Lucas, Williams and Spielberg in the 80s is as close to a surefire in Hollywood. Fun, creative and dark at times, Temple of Doom is my favorite entry in the Indiana Jones franchise. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones is why I love movies.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Go watch it.
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