Here we go again, with Fishing in the Discount Bin, as I blog about a movie I happen to own. I'm marching through the Indiana Jones franchise right now, which brings us to the second the series (but first chronologically), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This is originally in my notes at October 20, 2013.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom looms large in my childhood. The first comic book I remember owning, reading cover to cover, and just generally devouring, was the comic book adaptation of Temple of Doom. It was a 3-issue mini-series, and I had issues 2 and 3. Those two comics got me hooked on comics and hooked on Indiana Jones.
Temple of Doom came out in the summer of 1984, when I was but a wee lad of 7. With the comics as my gateway, I read up on everything I could Temple of Doom related. I remember watching the "making-of" TV special, showing the intricate models they used to create the legendary mine cart chase. I remember humming the Indiana Jones theme on school nature walks, to the annoyance of my classmates. I remember discovering this other Indiana Jones movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark and begging my parents to rent it. (See last entry.) The local arcade got the Temple of Doom arcade game, and I plugged a lot of quarters into that. Thanks to those two comics, my entire summer was Temple of Doom.
I finally got to see the whole movie about a year later, when it was my corner video store, and I talked my parents into renting it. Not having the first issue of the comic book adaptation, it was shocking to finally see the beginning of the film. I finally experienced the opening set in the Shanghai night club. (Called Club Obi-Wan, in one of the franchise's many Star Wars references.) I finally saw how Indy met his female sidekick, Willie Scott, and it took me many, many years to finally see the "blink and you'll miss it" Dan Aykroyd cameo.
Comparing the film, back then, from the comic book adaptation to the actual film, I was a little stunned. In the comics, the infamous gross-out moments were toned down quite a bit. In the infamous dinner scene, the only gag that I remember making it to the comics was the chilled monkey brains. I remember a lot more dialogue, too. With comics and movies both being a visual medium, you'd think that comics would also follow the "show, don't tell," philosophy. But in comparison, I found the comic much more talky.
And in some sense, I did prefer it.
Temple of Doom was my first summer romance, and that's why it always holds a special place in my heart. Which is why it disappoints me sometimes that it's generally regarded as the worst of the Indy films. (Well, second-worst after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.) I mentioned in Raiders how I like my Indy films with the lighter touch, which is why critics were stunned in 1984 at how Temple of Doom had no light at all. It is a relentlessly dark movie. I mean, child slavery is one of the main plot points. It's well documented how the gore and violence in this film led to the creation of the PG-13 rating. And both Spielberg and Lucas have kinda sorta apologized for the darkness of the film, simply saying that they made it during dark periods in their lives. (They were both going through their first divorces during the making of the film. In fact, on the DVD bonus features, Lucas admitted that whole "child slavery" angle came out of his fears of losing custody of his kids.)
And of course, with our heroine. Night club singer Willie Scott is just such a step down from Marion Ravenwood in the last film. Marion was a tough cookie and could easily hold her own in a fight. Willie, on the other hand, just doesn't stop screaming. And when she's not screaming, she's whining. Words cannot describe how annoying she gets. If she at least had some kind of character arc where she found her brave and stopped being scared of every little thing, it'd probably be OK. But she whines and screams from beginning to end.
But we do get a pretty awesome sidekick in the form of Short Round. Indy's wisecracking kid sidekick, an orphan Indy rescued from the streets of Shanghai. When they made Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I really hoped that they would have included a grown-up Short Round to join in on the adventure, and get one of the bigger Hong Kong action stars to play him. That's part of my fanboy musings. That's probably why Temple of Doom had so much appeal to my 7-year old self. I could picture myself as Indy's sidekick, battling evil and saving the world.
I was texting a friend about Temple of Doom as I write this, and he just told me that, when he first saw it, he didn't realize it was a prequel. That's what most don't realize. When you read the opening caption, Temple of Doom takes place 1 year before Raiders of the Lost Ark, making it the first Indy film. Spielberg and Lucas say they did this as an homage to one of their inspirations for Indy, James Bond. Since Bond's first appearance in Dr. No was in a tux, they wanted Indy's first appearance to be in a tux, too. That's why it opens in the night club, and we see Indy in a tux.
The plot, in case you don't remember. It opens in a Shanghai night club as Indy is selling an ancient Chinese artifact to some mobster. (Which is why this works as a prequel...we see Indy's not quite the, "IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!" principled person that we see in the other films.) Of course, there's a double cross, a battle ensues, Willy gets dragged along for the ride, there's a car chase, a plane crash, and before long, our heroes are lost in a village in India. The village elder says that Indy was sent to them from Shiva to help them through their difficult times. The elder explains that there's a new Maharaja instilled at Pankot Palace, and fortress was renowned for its evil, and that evil is once again starting to spread across the land. Troops from the palace came and stole their sacred stone from the village temple, and then kidnapped all the children. When clues reveal that the sacred stone is one of the fabled Sankara stones, Indy heads off to recover the artifact to claim his fortune and glory...oh, and rescue the kids. They head to the palace, discover a secret passage, and beneath the palace they find the the titular temple, which is used by the evil Thugee cult to conduct human sacrifices to god Kali, and led by the villain of our piece, Mola Ram. Indy is about to make off with the Shankara stones, but he hears the cries of the children, and see that they are being used as slaves in a vast mine. Indy tries to rescue them, but is quickly captured, and turns to the dark side, courtesy of Mola Ram's dark magic. Short Round, though, is able to break the spell, and Indy frees the children, defeats Mola Ram, and saves the day.
If there's one thing this film does have, though, it's great action sequences. The opening plane crash leading to the raft/toboggan chase, and let's not forget the still-iconic mine cart chase. Yeah, it's quite obviously model work, but dude, it's still so awesome.
Add my name to the growing list of names that says this movie gets a bad rap. It's not the best Indy film, but I still love it. I tend to watch it and think that we'll always have the summer of 1984.