Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz; story by George Lucas
Cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe
Producer: Robert Watts
by Jon Cvack
Spielberg would shift in a radical new direction after The Temple of Doom, making both The Color Purple ('85), Empire of the Sun ('87), and Always ('89) before returning to the series with The Last Crusade ('89), making me think this drift into drama might have inspired the more somber and profound story that The Last Crusade provides.
What I like about Temple of Doom and was failing to expect was the complete lack of exposition. I think most assume the usual formula is what The Last Crusade, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ('08) and Raiders of the Lost Ark ('81) follow, which is an action-packed intro, followed by Indy’s return to university, to then be recruited for another adventure. In Temple of Doom, we are with Indy on a journey that just so happens to lead to all the best parts we remember. There was no grand mission, it was all coincidence, and while that typically wouldn’t work anywhere else, so goes Spielberg’s amazing talents.
Honoring Indy’s desire for everything to belong in a museum, I think this introduction should belong in an art museum. There is so much that is suggested - from drinking the poison to using the Lazy-Susan to exchanging the items to the champagne popping as the gunshot goes off - all if it happens with perfect space and speed, culminating in a great use of a set piece, as Indy takes cover behind a Gong, knocking it down, to follow it and jump out the window, as the man sprays bullets and we see all the strikes and marks. Everything operates at the most exciting level of realism and practical effects. I could just see the same scene being made today, completely dependent on computer graphics. This cool because it all looked so genuine, limited to how elements within a scene would physically operate, rather than honoring dull imagination. If Spielberg abandoned as much CGI as possible, and returned to this formula it would be one of the most successful films to come out in a decade.
We get to meet Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), who’s the film’s greatest character. And as much as I was thinking of all the films that have used this offensive trope, not having seen it in so long, I did see where someone might get offended. I just don’t agree. Short Round is never presented as stupid or attempting to mimic racist stereotypes, but is often courageous and intelligent with an incredible amount of heart.
We then get to meet the most annoying Indiana Jones Girl, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), who while providing a few laughs, really made me see this film in a new light. I remembered a genuine love interest, but in this film their entire relationship is based upon pure lust and desire. Indiana clearly finds her annoying, she clearly finds him rude, but they’re both just so attracted to each other. It was quite lascivious for a Spielberg film. Yet Willie’s role as the dumb blonde actually is one of the film's weakest elements. While I could say I’ve met people like this, as many probably have, it doesn’t really make it any more interesting. What’s so good about Elsa Schneider and Marion is that they’re both smart, deliberate women. Doesn’t mean Willie had to be more of the same, but this became pretty grating by the end.
The bug scene always reminds me of my mother who would verbally react with the same exact “Oh my god” every single time this scene came on. I also began thinking here about whether or not it’s offensive to assume these exotic people would consume the most vile food possible, but point aside, it’s one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history.
When this movie is discussed it’s this scene and the bugs that first pop into people’s mind. Again, for Spielberg to create images that have continued to exist in popular culture, made over thirty years ago just goes to show how phenomenally talented the guy was. When I watched that cart racing scene, I imagined the vast amount of imagination and talent it must have required to pull off a sequence that looks so real and incredible which rivals any CGI-infused action sequence. People watch this and are blown away because of how real it looks, and boy am I at loss for how he pulled this off other than rigging up a rollercoaster to a mountain he carved out.
The entire concluding sequence also brings up ideas of modern day slavery through spiritual exploitation, as when piecing together how this whole operation worked, it was clear that Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) had somehow devised a religion that demanded the killing off of adults, leaving the children as slaves, who could only look forward to when they’re sacrificed in order to go and join their parents and live a better life in heaven. At least that’s what I got. It’s a pretty heavy idea; with religion able to control the masses into doing terrible things all to be motivated by a better life in the hereafter.
BELOW: One of the all time most memorable scenes from action-adventure cinema
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