‘Temple Of Doom’ Takes Indiana Jones Down Into The Depths Of True Horror

The Indiana Jones franchise can best be described as a casserole of genres all thrown together. They’re all set decades in the past making them period pieces with mixes of historical drama. They include action-adventure with elements of comedy thrown in sprinkled with some romance. And there are hints of the supernatural, fantasy and horror. And even though Kingdom of the Crystal Skull produced aliens at the end, I’m sure some people may have thought the concept of evil spirits coming out the final 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to destroy all the Nazis and their collaborators was far-fetched.

But I think most people, especially with Crystal Skull, missed the joy the movies brought. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were giving us stories the kids in us want to hear around the campfires and at sleepovers where the only light is from a flashlight under the teller’s face. Just like Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford) said in Raiders, “I’m making this up as I go.” It’s just a move and you really should just relax.

Raiders was such a huge success that a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, there were complications in Lucas’ private life. As I discussed in a previous post, he had intended to take a totally different approach with the Star Wars movies following The Empire Strikes Back but had to wrap things up with Return of the Jedi. His wife, Marcia, had asked for a divorce during Jedi‘s production, but they didn’t finalized things until after the movie was released to avoid the publicity.

But Lucas wanted to switch things up. Rather than make a sequel, he made a prequel where the movie is set in 1935 in Asia. He said this was to avoid audiences’ wondering what would happen with Marion Ravenwood. Opening in Shanghai, China, Indy is meeting with crime kingpin Lao Che (Roy Chiao) for the exchange of the cremated remains of Nurhaci, a emperor for the 1600s.

Naturally, Indy and Che and his goons getting into a disagreement resulting in Indy unintentionally drinking a poison followed by a shootout at Che’s nightclub. He leaves with Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) a pampered night club singer who has cozied up to Che. She has stolen the antidote from Che. They escape through the streets in a car driven by Indy’s associate, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), narrowly making it to an airport thinking they’re safe from Che and his goons. However, little does Indy now, Che owns the plane and has special instructions for the pilots.

As they fly over the Himalayas, the pilots dump the fuel and parachute out, leaving Indy, Willie and Shortie to crash while they sleep. But they awake and find a inflatible life raft to escape on falling through the air as they make it down the slopes and into the river. After time, they find themselves in India where they are greeted by a shaman (D.R. Nanayakkara) of the village of Mayapore who feels they have been sent by Shiva to retrieve a sacred Shankara stone believed to be stolen and hidden in the Pankot Palace.

Indy, at first isn’t interested and believes the shaman is mistaken. However, he’s heard of the stones and is intriqued. But he also learns that whoever stole it also stole the village’s children, one of which manages to escape and return to the village. It takes them two days to make it to Pankot and Indy discovers some superstitous statues with freshly cut fingers as warning signs. The villagers who helped them at first run away with their elephants leaving Indy, Shorty and Willie to walk on foot.

They discover the Pankot Palace, believed to be deserted for decades, is actually open and thriving as a banquet is being prepared for Zalim Singh, the Maharjara (Raj Singh with a voice dubbing by Katie Leigh). Later Indy is attacked by an assassin in his room, which he is able to kill. He then discovers a secret passage in Willie’s room that leads through tunnels to an underground Thuggee cult temple.

After narrowingly escaping dangerous obstacles they witness the Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), the high priest perform a human sacrifice to Kali by ripping the heart out of a victim, who still remains alive. Later, the victim is put in a cage where he is lowered down into an underground volcano where his body is burned. Indy sees that they have three of the sacred stones and after the cult disbands, he tries to take them.

However, Indy hears some voices from a nearby area and discovers a mine where the children of the village are forced to work and whipped even though they are too weak. Unable to control himself, Indy throws a rock at one of the workers alerting him to their presence. Shorty and Willie are also captured by the Thuggee cult members.

Mola tells Indy that the children are searching for the two remaining stones believed to be buried. Indy is forced to drink the Blood of Kali after the Mahajara, under a trance, violently whips Shorty. Indy goes into a trance-like state as the Thuggee plan on sacrificing Willie next. Shorty is sent to work in the mines. But he is able to escape and help stop the sacrifice and free Indy from his trance.

Reportedly there was a lot of deleted scenes that helped explained how Willie was captured. She actually made it back to her hotel room to seek help but discovers that Chatter Lal (Rosahn Seth), a prime minister for the Maharaja, is working with Mola Ram as he is a Thuggee worshipper. This also gives Indy more scenes as he’s under the trance as he fools Willie himself.

My guess is Spielberg cut these scenes for pacing as the final movie is already at two hours with credits. Considering that a shorter movie leads to more viewing times which in turn leads to more people in theater seats, I can understand why the cuts were made. However, it would’ve given the movie more of a creepy vibe to see Indy more into the trance he is under where he is actually working as a bad guy. Instead, we just see Chatter and Indy standing together as the sacrifice of Willie is prepared. There are hints that Chatter will be an antgaonistic character at the banquet where he talks with Indy alongside Capt. Philip Blumburtt (Philip Stone) with the British Indian army.

This deleted scenes also explains how the children were able to escape and run through the palace considering that a trap had shut off a door leading from the tunnels to the Temple and mines. There was also an explanation of how burning someone can break them out of the trance. Here, it seems a little deus ex machina. In the end, it’s just assumed that Willie was captured along with Shorty. But these are minor issues that can easily be overlooked.

But what can’t be overlooked is the movie’s violent content as well as criticism that the movie has a racist view of both Indians and Chinese people. The movie is too violent for a PG movie even if it’s an old-school PG. Spielberg and Lucas discovered this same problem in Raiders mainly with the melting faces of Nazis along with the French collaborator Belloq’s head exploding. Not only is a man’s heart ripped out but he screams as he is burned alive lowering into lava. There’s also the images of the severed fingers and one of Che’s goons getting a flaming skewer thrown into his chest/abdomen area by Indy.

Following the outcry from this movie and Gremlins (which Spielberg produced), he advocated with the MPAA for a new rating code that became PG-13. Even though Gremlins doesn’t have much human violence and gore, it was the over-the-top deaths of the titular characters, such as one exploding in a microwave as well as the melting death of Stripe that upset parents. (Incidentally, my great-granddaughter who was younger than I when the movie came out saw it a few year ago and thought it was funny.)

Spielberg had faced similar issues with Poltergeist as the scene were the Martin character hallucinates his face is peeling off left the MPAA debating on whether it deserved an R or PG rating. I think because the movie was from Spielberg and Lucas was the deciding facor in the PG rating for Temple of Doom. Another other filmmaker would have been given an R rating. I agree that it was more violent than Raiders. It was the tone of the movie that kept Lawrence Kasdan away, even though he had worked with Lucas on Raiders. Kasdan, whose sons, Jake and Jonathan, were both young at the time, said Lucas’ concept of the enslaved children turned him off. He found the whole story more darker than Raiders.

Lucas brought on the husband-wife team of William Huyck and Gloria Katz, who he had worked together with on American Graffiti. They also had more knowledge of Indian/Hindu cultures and customs. And this is where some of the criticism has been for the past 40 years. No one would really object to seeing the Nazis get their comeuppence. Actually, some scholars have theorized that it’s Spielberg’s middle finger to Nazi Germany and cinematic payback for the Holocaust.

But Temple is set during the British Raj era. And some people might question the portrayal of Indians as the villains. In the years since the 1980s, the concept of Thuggees has been questioned as British propaganda to portray Indians as bad people the same way Americans have portrayed black and brown-skinned people by false stereotypes. This was the justify the British colonization of India if the were portrayed as more savage than the British. Mola and his worshippers end up mostly falling to their deaths in a riverbed where they are ripped to shreds by alligators. Capt. Brumburtt is seen as the white savior whose army including Indians shows up to help defeat the Thuggees.

Yet, I think there is a subtle context about the dangers of colonialism at work here. And this is where I think Willie has become an underappreciated character. Willie represents the gullibleness of white Americans. While some people might question why Capshaw, who off screen is known for her strong political activism and feminist views, I think she understood the character’s meaning. Willie behaves like so many tourists in other countries. She expects everyone to adapt her to her needs, not the other way around.

When she is seen performing in Shanghai, she is performing “Anything Goes” in Chinese but she obviously expect to take the center of attention. Off-stage, she is too pampered and expects to be treated better by Lao Che and his wealth. At the Mayapore village, she objects to the villagers’ generosity by giving them their food which she isn’t interested in. The same happens at the palace where they dine on snakes, beetles and chilled monkey brains. This is a bit over the top but I think it shows the arrogance of Americans.

In many ways, Indy himself comes off as a little ignorant and condescending. When he is speaking to the shaman, he talks to him in a tone about how he teaches at a college as if he’s talking to someone who might not know what a college is. His disbelief of the power of the Shankara stones is changed at the end where he returns it to the village which has been rejuvenated as the children arrive with them. Indy also doesn’t listen to Shorty who has been advised by the Maharajara on which route to take on the mine carts on their escape.

Shorty himself comes off as a little insensitive as he gets to close to the sacred area where the stone was located. Indy sees this and pulls him away. There’s also some criticism Willie has that the Mahajara is a kid instead of an adult, even though many non American countries and kingdoms have often had children in high offices and positions for centuries.

But aside from exposing culture insensitivities, the Temple of Doom functions more as a horror story than the other movies. During the tunnels, there are many bugs who crawl all over Indy, Shorty and Willie. This is far more terrifying than the snakes in Raiders. This probably made some audiences squirm when they first saw it and still does. And the sacrifice scene is one so disturbing it makes you realize that the Nazis at least chose to be more humane at times. Even Quan has admitted he wasn’t allowed to watch the scene.

Originally, Temple of Doom has always kinda been the least favorable one following the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989 as it was more a return to form. However, since the release of Kingdom of Crystal Skull, Temple has found a new appreciation and fanbase. While both Raiders and Crusade were road movies, Temple is mostly a twist on the haunted mansion format as they find themselves in a claustrophic location, cut off from the sun, civilizaton and any hope of getting out.

Despite the change of pace, Temple, released in early May 1984, ended up grossing $333 million worldwide against a $28 million budget. It includes some thrilling action sequence such as the mine cart chase. And the scene on the rope bridge over the waterbed of alligators brings some nice tension to it. I think people have forgotten that Spielberg sometimes likes to scare us and does a good job at it.

While the fifth and reported final Indiana Jones movie is set to open in late June, who knows how it will compare. Spielberg isn’t directing but has spoken fondly of it. Despite problems people may have had with Temple of Doom over the years, I would ask they consider another more open-minded look.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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