"Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory." - Indiana Jones
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: George Lucas, Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz
Principal cast members:
Without question, the original 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was a film that begged for a sequel. We loved the main character, dashing, tough-guy archeologist, Indiana Jones, and his paramour, the ball-busting Marian Ravenwood. We also loved his sidekicks, the scholarly Dr. Marcus Brody and the resourceful Arab friend, Sallah. Ah, yes, we definitely left the theater wanting another look at this bunch.
Unfortunately, what we got was a prequel, not a sequel. Worse, the tough-yet-hot Marian was replaced with a whining blond showgirl named Willie and the two resourceful sidekicks were replaced by an Asian kid in a ballcap with a strange nickname. To top it off, someone decided to replace the perfect movie badguys - Nazis - with a strange Indian cult and then turned up the gore meter to 11.
What we are left with is a fast-paced action-adventure film in which our heroes are placed in constant peril and then creatively (if barely believably) find their way out. In a climax that suggests once again that supernatural forces are more real than academics with whips want to believe, the hero finally saves the day.
But somehow, we are left a bit disappointed.
In retrospect, it isn't hard to understand why Temple of Doom is always regarded as a slightly unworthy sequel. The fact is: taken on its own it isn't a bad action flick. But with the bar set so high by Raiders, it could hardly be expected to live up to expectations. Point by point, when you break down Temple of Doom it has a lot going for it, but in almost every case, when you compare it to the original, it comes up lacking.
The film opens with a strange showgirl routine in a Hong Kong nightclub in which the damsel in distress, played by future Spielberg spouse, Kate Capshaw, is the headliner. An assassination attempt turns the club into chaos and after some rather spectacular action scenes, our hero and his new heroine escape into a getaway car driven by a four-foot tall chauffer with blocks tied to his feet so he can reach the pedals.
The story winds into the mountainous wilds near the borders of India and Nepal and eventually leads to a murderous cult that is part human sacrifice and part child slavery. Either one is evil enough to drive Indy into action. Taken together, both his new female love interest and his adorable sidekick end up needing rescuing which provides plenty of tension and excitement.
There should be enough "wow-factor" here to sustain any film. Bailing out of a DC-3 in a life raft followed by an uncontrolled sleigh-ride down the Himalayas is certainly breathtaking. Zooming through a dark mine on an uncontrolled ore car is equally thrilling. And of course, rescuing human sacrifices from a would-be pit into hell is just icing on the cake. Make no mistake - many of the scenes of Temple of Doom resemble an enormous thrill-ride.
Which is really the heart of the problem here. Movies are at their best when they engage audiences through character, not through adrenaline. Raiders did that. We saw a very human side of Indiana Jones as well as the people most important to him. We also got a very good sense of the qualities of Marian Ravenwood, Marcus Brody, and Sallah and we liked them all. We cared about what happened to them.
Temple of Doom just doesn't take advantage of that same level of character engagement. This Indiana Jones, for example, really seems more like a superhero avenger of the oppressed than an adventurous seeker of history. While Kate Capshaw is a fine actress when she gets the chance, her role here tended to consist of looking hot and screaming often. Ke Huy Quan is an adorable moppet and an entertaining deliverer of cute comments, but we never really get a firm grip on why he and Indiana Jones are such good friends. His character isn't really explained as part of the series and that leaves us scratching our heads.
To top it off, the action here is really far more over-the-top than anything in Raiders. The life-raft skydiving scene is just ridiculously unreal and some of the geography they encounter is other-worldly and impossible. Make no mistake - it is spectacular. It is also jaw-droppingly unrealistic. Part of the overall appeal of Raiders was that even in its most spectacular moments, we could actually accept some slim possibility that it COULD happen. Temple of Doom just goes a bit too far in the suspension-of-disbelief realm.
Ironically, it goes the opposite way when it comes to one of Spielberg's trademarks - innovative aviation scenes. Raiders had that cool Nazi flying wing machine and the third film had the dirigible with the parasite biplane. Temple of Doom has the ubiquitous pickup-truck of the early 20th century, the DC-3. By using possibly the most generically boring airplane in aviation history, I felt Spielberg let us down a bit.
In the end, Temple of Doom isn't a bad action-adventure film. Unfortunately, it is saddled with the inevitable comparison to one of the best adventure films ever made - its predecessor. In comparison, it just doesn't measure up.
Coolness factor: 7
Overall entertainment: 6