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This film is the second installment of the Indiana Jones film franchise.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, George Lucas
Stars: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan
Release Date: May 23, 1984 (United States)
Run time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
In 1935, American archeologist Indiana Jones survives a murder attempt from Shanghai crime boss Lao Che, who hired him to retrieve the remains of Nurhaci. Jones flees from the city in the company of the young orphan Short Round and nightclub singer Willie Scott, unaware that the plane he is traveling on is owned by Che. The plane’s pilots dump the fuel and parachute away, but Jones, Scott and Short Round escape using an inflatable raft. The trio ride down the slopes of the Himalayas and fall into a river before arriving at the Indian village of Mayapore. There, the villagers plead for Jones’ aid in retrieving a sacred lingam stone stolen along with the village’s children by evil forces from the nearby Pankot Palace. Jones agrees to do so, hypothesizing that the stone is one of the five Sankara stones given by the Hindu gods to help humanity fight evil. Traveling to the palace, the trio are warmly welcomed and allowed to stay for the night as guests, attending a banquet hosted by the palace’s young maharaja.
At nighttime, Jones is attacked by an assassin, but manages to kill him. He discovers a series of tunnels underneath the palace and explores them with Scott and Short Round. There, they discover Thuggee cultists conducting a human sacrifice. The cult, which possesses three Sankara stones, are revealed to have abducted the children of Mayapore, using them to find the remaining stones. During an attempt to retrieve the stones, Jones is captured alongside Scott and Short Round. Thuggee high priest Mola Ram forces Jones to drink a potion that places him into a trance-like state which makes him prepare Scott for sacrifice. Short Round is put to the work in the tunnels, but escapes and interrupts the sacrifice by freeing Jones from his trance, who rescues Scott in turn.
The trio defeat the Thuggee, collect the Sankara stones and free the children, escaping an attempt by Ram to drown them. As they cross a rope bridge, Ram ambushes them again, leading Jones to cut the bridge in two. As all four struggle to climb up the broken bridge, Jones invokes the name of Shiva, causing the stones to burn through his satchel; Ram tries to grab one and falls into the river. Soldiers arrive and defeat the remaining cultists, and Jones, Scott and Short Round return to Mayapore and hand over their last remaining stone. As the villagers are reunited with their children, Jones and Scott embrace.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the second installment of Harrison Ford’s archaeology adventurer franchise, a follow-up to 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although it lacks some of the magic of its predecessor, Temple of Doom is nonetheless a highly entertaining sequel and worthy of a re-watch.
I have to begin the review by discussing its rating. If you’re a parent, and you see “PG” as the rating, you might misremember the content of this movie and wrongly conclude that it is appropriate to share with your kids. I want to remind you that the ratings system in the 1980s made absolutely no sense. Among other things, this PG movie features a a child trafficking and slave labor camp, voodoo, and a high-ranking member of the Indian occult of Thuggees ripping the beating heart from someone else’s chest. That someone else was dropped into a fire as a human sacrifice shortly after. That’s probably the worst of it, but that’s not nothing. Don’t try to make sense of movie ratings in the 1980s. Don’t show this movie to small kids, either.
Of course, back then, it helped to know that the movie’s Temple of Doom was fictional and/or from a long-distant past. That type of thing didn’t exist in real life, so you could make light of it and joke about it. Can you even imagine an actual occultic child trafficking operation in real life?
Moving right along…
Temple of Doom is a movie that feels like an amusement park ride that has been reverse engineered into a story. Two of the film’s major action scenes – the tube ride down the mountain, into the river, and the underground mining cart with the broken brakes – look visually like park rides. The movie also leans hard in the direction of secret stone door entrances and booby traps. I remember being highly impressed by all of this, a long time ago, but with older eyes I see what looks like set design ideas that ask for inclusion into the story, somehow, wherever they might fit. Spielberg does a great job of making it fit.
Is it weird or endearing that Indy has a child sidekick? I lean toward endearing and it’s a credit to Harrison Ford that his Indy doesn’t give off even a whiff of creepy vibes. From the perspective of the story, I guess you can argue that Dr. Jones did not really plan for Short Round to be with him for the duration of the movie. It just kind of happened that his kid getaway driver in Shanghai ended up with him on the plane to start this trip. It was fortunate that Short Round did go with him, though, because the Chinese orphan was the hero of the movie – as much or more than Indiana Jones himself. Shorty saved Indy (and thus Willie) from the mind-control substance after rescuing himself from literal shackles. I’m usually pretty annoyed by child actors, in these types of movies, but Ke Huy Quan is so charismatic on camera that I was happy for his presence.
The other main character in Temple of Doom is Willie, a beautiful woman who finds herself unwillingly on this adventure with Dr. Jones and his Shanghai sidekick. Kate Capshaw is a great actress. I think she plays her part here perfectly. I also found myself, throughout the movie, wishing that she was not there. The idea of Willie, I think, is that she is a stand-in for the audience, verbalizing our fears and anxieties for comedic effect throughout the film. If the situation is icky? She screams her head off. If the situation calls for being the love interest of Harrison Ford? She’s the woman for the job. On the whole, though, I mostly found her to be unnecessary to the story – except that her being there makes it less weird that Indy is traveling with a little kid. I felt like her character needed more to do, or a moment where she really comes through, and we never really got that.
One criticism I have of the film is that I think they overdid it a bit with the gross-out food at dinner. In my mind, while watching it, I pictured a tourism director somewhere in India throwing something at a television and shouting in frustration. The movie comes across almost like an attempt to discourage anyone from visiting the country at all. Exotic food should always be expected when dining abroad (and obviously exotic is relative to where one is from.) However, the audience saw people eating live snakes, enormous beetles, and chilled monkey brains. Ew. The impression probably needed to be offset by a more accessible depiction of India, somewhere in the film, and we never get one.
The movie ends with one of my favorite scenes in all of the Indiana Jones franchise – hundreds of newly freed children are joyfully reunited with their tearful families as Dr. Jones returns the Sankara Stone to the village from where they were kidnapped. It’s a great moment for the character and it is cathartic after what we as the audience just endured with him.
The stones themselves have real world counterparts:
The Sankara Stones are based on the Sivalinga Lingam, which are carved symbols representing the Hindu god Shiva. According to Hindu lore, Sankara was a priest who ascended Mount Kalisa, atop which he met the god Shiva before she passed on five stones invested with magical properties that Sankara could use to combat evil.
The Lingam of the Shaivism tradition is a short cylindrical pillar-like symbol of Shiva, made of stone, metal, gem, wood, clay, or precious stones, as seen in The Temple of Doom. These Lingam stones are revered as an emblem of generative power by those practicing Shaivism. The Lingam are commonly found within a lipped, disked structure that is an emblem of the goddess Shakti, with the two portions of the Lingam and disk representing the totality of all existence.
Overall this is a pretty enjoyable Indiana Jones story, with a lot of exciting action scenes, a great cast, one of the character’s scariest villains, and arguably the most heart-warming moment in the entire run of the franchise. The movie is certainly not without its flaws (ranging from its PG rating to using too much gross-out humor) but the end product is still very good.