Here's why Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is Spielberg's most underrated film
Slated upon its release, it's still ridiculously fun.
Over the last decade, films like Lincoln, The Post and Bridge of Spies have pleased the critics, but like most other filmmakers, Spielberg has also had his fair share of criticism.
In fact, Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is one of his lowest rated films - according to Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. On the review-aggregator site Metacritic, Temple of Doom actually ranks lower than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (how?!?!).
In fact, of Spielberg's films, only Hook, The Terminal, 1941, Always, and The Twilight Zone: The Movie (Spielberg directed a segment), rank lower than Temple of Doom.
Again, who in their right mind thinks that Shia LaBeouf hanging from those CGI vines was better than Temple of Doom?
Anyway, we think it's time that Indy's second big-screen adventure gets the credit it deserves. Here's why.
After the monstrous success of Raiders of the Lost Ark - it won four Oscars and helped to solidify the concept of a tentpole picture - both Spielberg and Lucas said that they wanted to go much darker with their follow-up. The prequel to Raiders (Temple of Doom is set before Indy's famous adventure with the Ark of the Covenant) really reflects a traumatic and dark period that both Lucas and Spielberg were going through in their personal lives.
Lucas was midway through a divorce at the time the film was being put together, and Spielberg himself had seen a long-term relationship of his own fall apart.
This was going to be a very different film as seen by the opening act. After Raiders rewrote the action book with that iconic boulder sequence, Temple tore it apart by opting for a musical number instead.
Audiences might have expected to see another rip-roaring action sequence. Instead, they got the complete opposite because Club Obi-Wan was turned into something that would make Cole Porter and Busby Berkeley proud.
That took some balls.
Fun fact, the original opening was going to see Indy being chased on a motorcycle along the Great Wall of China.
Clip via - Surreal Self
"No time for love Doctor Jones."
John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Brody), Paul Freeman (Belloq) and even Alfred Molina (Sapito - the guy that betrays Indy and steals the artefact at the very start of Raiders) all help Harrison Ford to carry the on-screen burden throughout Raiders of the Lost Ark. In Temple of Doom, the 'sidekick' role falls to Jonathan Ke Quan as Short Round. Feisty, adaptable and capable, Indy's "little bodyguard" is still beloved by film fans because he got some very cool scenes and lines.
Lines like, "Hold onto your potatoes," " I keep telling you, you listen to me more, you live longer!" and, "he no nuts, he's crazy!" are still endlessly quotable. Also, the entire scene where they're sitting at the campsite and playing poker while Willie is scared out of her mind is a perverse joy to behold.
Speaking of Spielberg's future wife, Kate Capshaw.
"I hate the water... and I hate being wet... and I hate YOU!"
When it comes to the female characters in Indiana Jones, nobody is going to top Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood). Tough, independent and resourceful, Marion was one of the very few people that shared Indy's spirit of adventure and ballsy streak. This being said, Spielberg was clever in recasting the role because while Willie Scott might appear to be a pampered singer, she proves herself to be resolute by the end.
The sequence where she's openly flirting with Indy - "Why, you conceited ape. I'm not that easy. I'm not that easy either" - is some of the best verbal sparrings in the saga and that's just a prelude for what's to come.
"There's gonna be two dead people in here! Hurry!"
One of the many reasons why Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was so poor is because the final third of the film lacked any memorable set pieces and tension. Compare this to the scene where Indy and Short Round were trapped in that chamber and facing imminent death. About to be impaled by those slowly-descending spikes, the two guys only have one hope... Willie.
All she has to do is walk through the chamber, find the lever and pull it. Sounds simple.
Yeah, just ignore the fact that there are millions of spiders, insects and other creepy-crawlies in the way! In real life, Kate Capshaw had to take a Valium before shooting that sequence.
During this scene, Spielberg shows that he's the master at balancing comedy, tension and horror. Kudos for including the little moment when Indy reaches under the trap door to rescue his hat.
Fun fact, there were 50,000 cockroaches and 30,000 beetles from various London bug farms being used here.
This behind the scenes documentary is a joy to behold.
Clip via - JonesKW
"Om Namha Shivaye, Om Namha Shivaye, Om Namha Shivaye."
In an interview with the Sun-Sentinel back in 1989, Spielberg expressed regret at how dark he made the film. "I wasn't happy with the second film at all. It was too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific. I thought it out-poltered Poltergeist. There's not an ounce of my own personal feeling in Temple of Doom".
How dark does it get?
Well, it manages to top The Empire Strikes Back because we've got all of the following in play; child slavery, starvation, poverty, human sacrifice, mutilation, voodoo, supernatural possession, the occult and people being eaten alive by alligators. All this without mentioning the infamous "heart being ripped out of the chest" sequence that was so brutal, it inspired the Motion Picture Association to create the PG-13 rating specifically for this film.
To be fair, regarding the rating, Spielberg stuck to his guns and he was right.
"Everybody was screaming, screaming, screaming that it should have had an R-rating, and I didn't agree," Spielberg said in 2004.
Clip via Angra Miao
Truth be told, a large reason why I love this film is because it's not afraid to go dark. Temple of Doom is violent, brutal and incredibly visceral but it taps into something that very few filmmakers get; kids don't mind being scared.
Granted, that's just my opinion, but its imagery, set pieces and tone still resonates today because it's so different and unexpected. It really stands out.
The production design on the film is exquisite because those various stalagmites/stalactites in the Thugee lair, the pools of lava and the unforgiving terrain genuinely made you think that you're in hell. All this without mentioning the very cool design on the Sankara Stones themselves.
That chanting was so ominous and haunting that the human sacrifice scene still stays with you... 30 years after the film was released!
To be honest, the film was never going to be any other way. In fact, the screenwriter of Raiders even turned down Lucas and Spielberg's request to write the film. "I just thought it was horrible. It's so mean. There's nothing pleasant about it. I think Temple of Doom represents a chaotic period in both their lives, and the movie is very ugly and mean-spirited," he said.
Thank God it wasn't watered down. After Nazis, where else can you go in the evil stakes?
"Chilled monkey brains."
And now we arrive at the controversy. The local government rejected the film's permits to film at the City Palace in Jaipur because they found the script to be offensive to Indian culture. After its release, Temple of Doom was banned in India, but the ruling has since been rescinded.
To be honest, the famous scene where Indy and Willie are offered to eat snakes, eyeball soup, bugs and chilled monkey brains is massively culturally insensitive. In terms of the film's villains, the Thugees did exist - although the film stylises their history of murder, violence and human sacrifice.
The authorities also didn't like the use of the term Majarajah and they wanted final cut over the film.
Roshan Seth who played the corrupt Indian Prime Minister Chattar Lal said: "The banquet scene was a joke that went wrong. I got a great deal of flak for it because people kept saying, “How does an intelligent man like you agree to be in a film which shows Indians dining on beetles and eels?” Steven intended it as a joke, the joke being that Indians were so fucking smart that they knew all Westerners think that Indians eat cockroaches, so they served them what they expected. The joke was too subtle for that film.”
In their review, the Christian Science Monitor said: "Indiana Jones is shown as a great white hero, battling evil Chinese at first, then rescuing the hordes of India from a foe they're helpless to face by themselves. The message is plain: White people are good, yellow people are shifty, brown people are weak or sinister." Whether you agree or not, that's your prerogative.
Other critics took umbrage with the fact that the Indian village is depicted as being impoverished and poor. Well, isn't that the fault of Mola Ram? After all, he took the Sankara Stone from the village which caused the river to dry up and the crops to die. Once Indy returned with the sacred stone, life, vitality and food was restored to the village.
Anyway, the film is definitely not without its faults and those aforementioned criticisms are valid.
"Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory."
This genuinely could be one of the best lines in the original trilogy. Cocksure and confident, it's a perfect Indy moment.
Clip via NeraMorte
After drinking that poisoned blood, our hero falls into the Black Sleep of the Kali Ma and turns evil. Yep, Indy hits Short Round and tortures Willie. Just like it seems that there's no way back for Indy, Short Round breaks free and burns him free from the curse.
After awakening from his slumber, we're reintroduced to the Indy that we all know and love. No longer is he going to stand by and let these children be abused. With one shot, we know that Indy's back, the gloves are off and he's not going to stand for this shit anymore.
After being beaten, tortured and enslaved, Indy's about to unleash hell on a biblical scale and after the gathering darkness, there's finally light at the end of the tunnel.
It also helps that John Williams provides one of the greatest ever scores for this exact moment. Genuine goosebumps.
The mine cart and *that* stunning bridge sequence...
Speaking of tunnels, did you know that Spielberg spent five months in London preparing the shots for this final sequence and, despite the fact that he suffers from vertigo, he orchestrated one of the finest - in my money, it's the very best - action sequences of all time on the rope bridge?
The mine cart chase and the skydiving raft sequences were originally in the script for Raiders but had to be left out. The mine cart chase was going to take place after the Ark is opened, and would have shown Indy and his companion, Marion Ravenwood, loading the Ark on a mine car to escape with the rest of the Nazis in pursuit.
Thank god that Spielberg found a way to include them in Temple of Doom because the mine cart chase epitomises the rollercoaster of action, fun and adrenaline that is Indiana Jones. As for that collapsing bridge sequence, Spielberg used nine cameras to capture different angles for the shot that could only be done once.
After realising that he's trapped, enemies are closing in and he has no way off this bridge, Indiana Jones turns to the cameras and says "shit!" In that one crystalising moment, audiences around the world realise why they love Indiana Jones.
Beaten down, outnumbered and facing incredible danger, he still fights on because he knows what's right.
Temple of Doom might have gotten a lot wrong, but it's still one hell of an adventure. After all, anything goes.