Friday, April 3, 2020

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
After jumping out of a plane over India, Indiana Jones helps a poor village by rescuing its children and its sacred stones from a Thuggee cult. 

Memorable Quote:
What is Shankara?  ~Short Round
Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.  ~Indiana Jones

Indy paying his respects to Short Round for saving him, followed by this tour de force:
  • Indy, now let's get out of here.  ~Willie
  • Right. All of us.  ~Indy
Indy's transformation from a fortune-and-glory seeker to a savior is complete, as we cut to the majestic Parade of the Slave Children theme and Indy freeing the children while wreaking havoc on the Thuggees. One of the greatest "make you feel like you can run through a wall" scenes in movie history.

It's too bad that Lao Che was never brought to justice, as far as we know.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
The diamond that Indy is looking to acquire in his meeting with Lao Che, in Club Obi-wan, is the Peacock's Eye (the diamond that young Indy, and his friend Remy Baudouin) go hunting for after WWI ends, in Chapter 18 of "The Young Indiana Jones Adventures" prequel series.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • As a kid, I had a framed Temple of Doom poster growing up, so my relationship with this movie goes back a long way. 
  • On paper, the Anything Goes musical number might seem kind of random, but it works here, in part because of John Williams's great arrangement. It is a little weird in the middle of the song when they show 30 caucasian ladies on a massive stage that looks way too big for the nightclub and that seems to be hidden from the view of the patrons. 
  • It's sad to see Indy reduced to giving a priceless historical artifact to gangsters in exchange for a diamond, but then again his character growth from a "fortune and glory" mentality to saving the children is the theme of the movie. And if the diamond really is the Peacock's Eye which he searched for many years earlier, it's a little more defensible. 
  • 9:02 mark -- I never noticed before how the band continues to play during the commotion, and a bit later they sit calmly a few feet away from Indy while the gangsters are throwing knives at him. 
  • The scene with Indy, Willie, Lao, and his sons around the table is fantastic. If there was an academy award for a maniacal laugh, the guy playing Lao's son (the one who doesn't get impaled by a skewer) would be the clear winner. 
  • Willie is a big American star who is headlining at a popular club, and she's known Indy for 5 minutes, but that doesn't stop her from getting on a plane with him at a moment's notice and without any belongings or knowing where they're going. 
  • 13:22 -- "Nice try Lao Che!"
  • Indy says he doesn't know how to fly the plane, but he knows how to fly in Last Crusade ("Fly, yes. Land, no"). He flew several times in Attack of the Hawkmen, but I don't remember if he actually piloted or not. 
  • 21:51 -- One of my favorite exchanges in the movie:
    • That's more food than these people eat in a week. They're starving.  ~Indy 
    • Oh, I'm sorry, you can have it.  ~Willie. 
    • Eat it.  ~Indy
    • I'm not hungry.   ~Willie
    • You're insulting them, and you're embarrassing me. Eat it.  ~Indy (with a big grin)

    • While I'm much less of a picky eater than I used to be, I'm still a bit picky. And there have been times where I've been at someone's house and have been repulsed by what's on my plate (I can think of one time where there was a fruit salad with mayonnaise), but in those moments I've thought of this scene and discovered the inner fortitude to eat it anyway with a smile on my face. 
  • I like the old guy in the village. Apparently he didn't speak English and recited his lines without knowing what they meant. I also like that Indy is familiar with Pankot Palace and speaks the same dialect as the villagers. 
  • The village scenes have a timeless, classic feel, and I love the nighttime scene where the village is aglow with firelight and the dying kid gives Indy the centuries-old parchment. 
  • Another fantastic nighttime scene when Indy and Short Round are playing poker while Willie is getting scared by animals and then unknowingly flings a snake, much to Indy's horror. That's why they call it the jungle, sweetheart!
  • Ford hurt his back riding the elephants and had to fly from Sri Lanka to the U.S. for surgery, which put the entire movie in jeopardy.
  • I don't know why Indy sternly tells the others, "Don't come up here!" when inspecting the statue and getting blood on his hands. He's already leading them into harm's way by taking them to the palace, so why be concerned by the statue?
  • Dinner scene = classic. While the menu gets all the attention with its eyeball soup and the monkey brains, the conversation between Indy and Chatter Lal is an underrated part of the scene. 
  • The bedroom cat-and-mouse scene between Indy and Willie is tremendous and includes some memorable dialogue, and I've always thought it was cool how the bad guy emerges from blending in with the mural. It's a good time to mention Kate Capshaw -- I don't recall seeing her in any other movie or tv show, but she's incredible in this movie: spunky, charismatic, pretty, funny, and sweet all at once. This movie is where she met Spielberg, and then they married in 1991. Some great lines in this scene:
    • What sort of research would you do on me?  ~Willie
    • Nocturnal activities.   ~Indy

    • She's not coming. I can't believe I'm not going.   ~Indy

    • This is the night that I slipped right through your fingers!   ~Willie
  • From one amazing scene to another as we head into the spiked room. Everything about this scene is perfect, except for the timing of the spikes (i.e. in the amount of time it takes Willie to pull the lever, the spikes would have killed them long before given the height of the room -- it would have worked better if the ceiling was higher). Nevertheless, it's an iconic, first-ballot hall-of-fame scene with memorable music, tremendous acting from Ford and Capshaw, and some of the best lines of the movie:
    • There are two dead people down here!  ~Willie
    • There're gonna be two dead people in here!  ~Indy

    • And then my favorite: We...are die!  ~Indy
  • I'd be remiss if I talked about the spike scene without mentioning the bugs. They are really disgusting, especially the part where Willie pulls the lever and these massive bugs (including a giant centipede) crawl into her hair. Really, really disgusting. 
  • More great dialogue: 
    • Have you ever seen anything like this before?  ~Willie
    • Nobody's seen this for 100 years.  ~Indy
  • That brings us to the human sacrifice scene. This movie led to the development of the PG-13 rating and is usually described as the darkest of the Indy movies, and that label is epitomized by this scene. Obviously, it's a dark scene, but I find it more cartoonish than scary or disturbing, and I don't know that it's any worse than the end of Raiders with the face melting Nazis. 
  • And yet another of my favorite lines! 
    • You could get killed chasing after your damn fortune and glory.  ~Willie
    • Maybe. But not today.  ~Indy
  • 1:08:54 -- It always gives me goosebumps when Indy takes the stones and starts walking away, only to stop in his tracks when he hears a child screaming.
  • Fun fact: the massive bearded Thuggee that Indy hits with a rock is played by the same actor who played two characters in Raiders: the Sherpa in the bar fight and the mechanic that gets propellered. 
  • With all due respect to Short Round, he's not knocking down any adult fighters when he weighs 50 pounds. 
  • Such an amazing set piece as Indy swings from the platform to the mine cart while the main theme plays. The filming of this and the following mine cart chase is all-time great. 
  • One thing about the first three Indiana Jones movies is that there's no wasted scenes or dull moments -- the plot just flies along. 
  • When Indy instructs Short Round to "Watch it on the curves, or we'll fly right off the track," I guess that means apply the brakes on the curves, although I'm not quite sure. Impressive driving for a 9 year-old kid, but remember, Shorty knows how to drive. 
  • Now we get to the climatic rope bridge scene, which my friend Joe Passman aptly described on my podcast as one of the best scenes in movie history. 
  • There's a great video in the special features DVD of Harrison Ford by himself on the rope bridge running at top speed like a maniac. 
  • 1:44:56 -- Hang on lady, we going for a ride!
  • Indy returns the children and the rock to the village and "sees its power now." I see one of the happiest, most glorious movie endings of all time. 

Final Analysis:
Quite simply, a tour de force and of the best movies of all time. It's also one of the most rewatchable -- there's not a bad scene or a dull moment, and the plot moves with the speed of a runaway mine cart.  The soundtrack is all-time great (I bought the CD a few years ago and often listen to it when I'm driving), the actors are all tremendous, and India is a magnificent setting and unique for a big-budget American movie.

Not everyone feels the same way as I do about this movie, including Spielberg who has badmouthed it quite a bit. Some feel that it stigmatizes India in a negative way and is culturally inappropriate -- India was so against it that they didn't allow filming in the country (the India scenes were filmed in Sri Lanka). I don't begrudge anyone who is offended or bothered by it, but I can only speak for myself when I say that it is one of my all-time favorites. 


  1. My copies of the "Indiana Jones" trilogy are on VHS. The only Indy movie I have on DVD is, ironically, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". It was quite a throwback three years ago when I was having movie night with my girlfriend and brought out "Temple of Doom" on original VHS! Of course the downside is my VHS collection doesn't have extras, and I'm guessing much of the information you imparted about the film came from the DVD extras. Much of the info was certainly new to me.

    How old were you when you had the "Temple of Doom" poster? The movie came out in 1984 so I'm guessing it was later than that given that I doubt you were an Indiana Jones fan at age three. Not sure if I mentioned but I had a "MacGyver" poster that I got in 1987 hanging in my room for several years.

    I was a big fan of the opening sequence. I seem to be partial to the whole "drugged hero needs to get the antidote before the poison kills him" trope, which was one of many reasons "Nightmares" was one of my favorite "MacGyver" episodes. Anyway, back to Indy, great action all around and the flurry of activity that led from Shanghai to the Himalayas to the Indian village was as much a roller coaster ride as the mine car sequence at the end.

    One point of disagreement I have with you is that the Willie Scott character annoyed me more than she charmed me. Obviously that was by design but some of her lines struck me as a bit hammy. She had her moments as the movie went along and I would never categorize her in the Zoe Ryan/Lulu realm in the "MacGyver" canon, but she was my least favorite of Indy's three main squeezes in the films.

    I also loved the vibe in the Indian village. The head villager was fantastic. Is he the one who couldn't speak any English? I'm also a pretty picky eater and have been in a situation where I have to grin and bear it and eat something I don't like. When I was a newspaper reporter, some old ladies would put a plate of obscure pie in front of my face that I really had to lather up with Cool Whip to choke down.

    Agreed on the scene where the starving boy stumbles into the glowing village. Indy's reaction was a good foreshadowing of his future desire to rescue the child slaves and return them to the village.

    That's the first I'd hear about Ford's back injury while riding the elephants. How long was the movie in limbo while he recovered? Must have been scary for everybody given the investment the film required....and the general high bar for the sequel to the iconic "Raiders". I also had no idea India hated the movie so much. They must have read the script before they decided to deny allowing them to film there. I sort of get being insulted about the presentation but for me, even at age 10 I never thought the movie was depicting India in a way that was supposed to be historically reflective. I certainly didn't walk away thinking India was a place that needed to be avoided because of the prolific presence of human sacrifice cults. As for the film being filmed mostly in Sri Lanka, I never realized that island had a mountainous landscape. I guess I've always conflated it with the notoriously low-elevated Maldives islands nearby.

    I probably better split this review in half or else I'll get a "exceeds word limit" warning when I try to post. More to come....

    1. I first saw the Indy movies around 1989, so that was probably around the time when I got the poster -- I don't remember where I got it.

      I'm probably in the minority being in the pro-Willie corner -- she was a celebrity crush for me growing up, so I was willing to forgive any dialogue or excessive-screaming issues.

      The head villager is the guy who couldn't speak English at all -- apparently Spielberg had to feed him his lines off camera during the actual filming.

      Yeah, Ford hurt his back pretty severely and had to fly back to the U.S. to have surgery and was out for 7 weeks. Some thought it would kill the movie, but Spielberg was amazingly able to shoot around his absence by using the stunt double.

      I agree on your India point, in that I didn't feel like it was meant to be an accurate depiction of what India is really like. But I generally try to be sensitive and tolerant and so would not critique anyone for being offended.

    2. Also, some of the mountain scenes were filmed in the U.S., like the raft falling off the cliff was in the Snake River Canyon (Idaho) and the raft sledding through the trees and then some of the whitewater rapids was in California.

    3. Impressive that the raft scenes alone were filmed in two different states hundreds of miles apart.

      Did you watch the three movies sequentially when you first viewed them? I watched "Temple of Doom" and "Raiders" in 1987. Obviously I watched "Last Crusade" when it came out in 1989.

    4. And then some of the raft scenes were filmed in Sri Lanka too.

      My memory is that I watched them in order with one of my sisters.

  2. As a kid, I was too distracted by the dining menu at Pankot Palace to pay attention to Indy and Chatter Lal's banter, but rewatching the film as an adult I'm much more intrigued by their conversation than the eyeballs in the soup. By the way, my mom had to make her exit from viewing this film on ABC when they sliced open the snake at the dinner table. That was it for her, although she saw the second half of the film on a separate viewing at another time. It originally aired on ABC, with a rare-at-the-time "parental discretion advised" warning, October 1, 1989, the night before "The Black Corsage" episode of "MacGyver" originally aired.

    I knew Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg married but didn't realize it took seven years after the film was married for them to exchange vows. The moment when the Thuggee assassin "came at them from out of the mural" was intense and unexpected, and the follow-up scene in the spiked room even more classic. Not sure about the logistics of the spiked room being mostly bug-free while the next door room was crawling with bugs, but I guess one might want to consider suspending disbelief from the opening salvo of an Indiana Jones movie.

    Now I'll speak in defense of the intensity of the human sacrifice scene as orders of magnitude above and beyond the melting faces of "Raiders". The heart extraction was more raw, done by one human to another rather than a curse inside an ark, complete with the imagery of heart still pumping in Mola Ram's hand several moments later and the extended follow-up where the victim is lowered into a pit of molten lava in slow motion. It's a bit cartoonish, yes. But for a child it was the paragon of intensity and certainly led to the fleeing of droves of crying children out of the movie theater in 1984 above and beyond and reports from "Raiders". If Spielberg wanted to portray the Thuggees as "even worse than the Nazis" that Indy did battle with in the original, he certainly conveyed that effectively with the sacrifice scene. Did you find it more cartoonish than scary when you originally watched the film? I sure didn't!

    The movie's darkness held for the remainder of the scenes in the temple, with Indy forced to drink the blood and then go through his metamorphosis to evil. After all of that darkness, the scene where he pays respect to Short Round and vows to rescue the slaves was all the more needed to restore the film's humanity.

    The long swing to the mine cart was spectacular and the mine track itself, allegedly constructed in miniature with a track made of toothpicks or something like that, was the film's high adventure crescendo with one incredible image after another of narrow escapes and dispatching Thuggee villains.

    The release of the water and the escape from the temple's mountainside and onto the outdoor suspension bridge kept the momentum rolling. I'm assuming that bridge was constructed specifically for the film and I'd be fascinated to see Harrison Ford running up and down it like a maniac. Presumably it wasn't really hovering hundreds of feet in the air on the movie set. If it was, then Ford needs to have his head examined!

    I notice you didn't mention the stones burning through Indy's bag and burning Mola Ram before he dropped to his death. I'm guessing you saw that as the less enthralling supernatural aspect of the episode and was surprised it wasn't listed as your "lowlight". I was okay with those passing moments of supernaturalism so long as they didn't dominate the movie which of course it didn't.

    I'll do a separate post for final thoughts to avoid exceeding the word count limitation.

    1. I don't remember how I felt about the pull-out-the-heart scene when I was a kid, but for whatever reason now it doesn't really affect me (maybe because I've seen the movie so many times) -- the Raiders face melting or the Last Crusade rapid-aging is more graphic and disturbing to me, but I certainly take your point.

      You're right that the bridge was constructed for the film, and Harrison Ford did actually run across it when it was hundreds of feet in the air. Spielberg was scared to walk on it, and I don't remember if Ford did it to try to show him it was safe, but there's video of him doing a full-on sprint across the bridge -- it's crazy.

      Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of the supernatural stuff as you know, but it's kept to a minimum here and so doesn't bother me too much.

    2. I looked online for the clip of Harrison Ford running like a madman across the bridge but couldn't find it. Hard to imagine based on looking at that bridge's construction that anyone could ever deem it safe enough to run across with no inhibition like that.

    3. I couldn't find it either. I could see RDA doing the same type of thing with his daredevil persona -- perhaps in both cases their innate sense of daring translated to the screen in the portrayal of their characters.

  3. In some ways, "The Last Crusade" was the more technically perfect movie, but in my heart (no pun intended) "The Temple of Doom" will always be my favorite. As you've said, reviews are mixed. Roger Ebert defended to the end that it was every bit as good as "Raiders" but others treated the movie like it was not only a lesser film than the other two in the original trio, but generally a bad movie. I don't get it as this was a beginning-to-end tour de force as you suggest.

    Part of the reason I like it so much is the same reason so many others bad mouth it.....that it was just very different in scope and vibe. It wasn't just different from the other "Indiana Jones" was different from any other movie....globe-trotting high adventure with an intensely dark side. And that uniqueness helps it stand out in the Hollywood landscape for me. I actually watched "Temple of Doom" before I saw "Raiders"....which in a way didn't serve me well because my expectations were a bit too elevated for watching the other three given that my first sampling of the series was poised to be its untoppable high point for me.

    1. I totally agree -- Last Crusade is like the perfect movie (which I'll discuss next), but this one is so different and such a unique setting for a big-budget movie, and I dig everything about it.

      I didn't talk about Shorty too much, but he's really dynamic, especially for a first-time actor. And I talked enough about Ford in the Raiders post, but once again he delivers in a perfect way.

    2. For a couple of years after playing Shorty, actor Ke Huy Quan was a hot commodity. He was in "The Goonies" a year later and the following year he was in the short-lived family sitcom "Together, We Stand" which was quickly canceled and retooled as "Nothing is Easy". Years later he was apparently in the show "Head of the Class", which I watched on and off but I didn't even realize he was in it. Looks like after that he got out of acting and was primarily in special effects.