INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM —-or Indiana Jones And The One That Grossed Everybody Out. The 1984 prequel to the Spielberg/Lucas/Ford blockbuster from ’81 reunites director, story spinner and leading man: the archaeologist adventurer is set back a few years to 1935, fleeing Shanghai gangsters only to end up battling a barbaric death cult in India. Bring the kids! Everyone did, and the ensuing storm of protests from ticked parents, appalled by the dark deeds and grisly doings, ushered in a new rating category, PG-13, at a chastened Spielberg’s suggestion. Moms bemoaning the yuck didn’t prevent their gore-lapping youngsters from making the $28,200,000 thriller claim 3rd place for the year, a homeland scoop of $179,900,000 part of a global haul of $333,000,000. Pass the chilled monkey brains. *
Harrison Ford, 41 and looking fit as heck, has to keep company with–and shield his eardrums from—‘Willie’, a shallow showgirl, played by Kate Capshaw (attractive in an unattractive role) and a spunky orphan,’Short Round’ (12-year-old Ke Huy Quan, picked from 6,000 kids who tried out). The forgettable banter is mostly of the fling-insults variety. Filming was accomplished in Sri Lanka (after Indian officials refused the script), Macau, England and the U.S. The script, written by Willard Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz, reflected the moods both Spielberg and Lucas were in after their marriages ended—as in, sour.
There’s a great villain, thanks to casting Bollywood actor Amrish Puri as the diabolical Thuggee priest ‘Mola Ram’. He’d acted, usually as a bad guy, in over 500 Indian films. Taken alone or apart, there are scads of good stunts and clever setups, the camera work is excellent (Douglas Slocombe), the art direction, costumes and makeup all praiseworthy. It won an Oscar for Visual Effects, while John Williams score dutifully got a nomination for his bombast. **
The “gross stuff” isn’t the main problem: kids love that gunk, and this movie is directed (literally) at kids. More troubling is how much of it is just plain brutal–actions so mean that critics and parents reacted with dismay. Even that would be more bearable (it’s a cartoon) if everything wasn’t pitched at a frenzy, with action sequences that are stretched out to such extent that their elaborate construction is buried under a relentless onslaught of noise that doesn’t exhilarate but exhausts. The kid yells (you want to throttle him), Ford yells, the music blares, and Capshaw screams constantly–at least six dozen times. It’s punishing.
With Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Roy Chiao, Raj Singh and D.R. Nanayakkara (well-respected Sri Lankan actor, playing the village chief). Dan Ackroyd has a cameo. Future director David Fincher did some of the matte work At 118 minutes, it’s too long by a good twenty. Cut it down, but you’d still need ear protection.
* Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter of Raiders of the Lost Ark: “I didn’t want to be associated with Temple of Doom…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 (Lucas and Spielberg) lives, and the movie is very ugly, and mean-spirited.”
Spielberg commenting five years on: “I wasn’t happy with Temple of Doom 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…. “Well the greatest thing that I got out of that was I met Kate Capshaw.’ We married years later and that to me was the reason I was fated to make Temple of Doom.”
Puri: “It was a chance of a lifetime working with Spielberg, and I don’t regret it even for a moment. I don’t think I did anything anti-national; it’s really foolish to take it so seriously and get worked up over it.”
** Now, finally, the whole Oscar’s Endless Love of John Williams Thing. Yes, the guy is Great, but putting him up for this was feeble–he was also on the slate that year for The River. Maurice Jarre’s pleasing work for A Passage To India won–it should have gone to Randy Newman’s stirring The Natural. Anyway, lazily slotting Williams in (twice yet) shut out three composers and scores good enough to be nominated: Vangelis for The Bounty, Basil Poledouris on Red Dawn and Harold Faltermeyer’s Beverly Hills Cop.