Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

(1984) *** Pg
118 min. Paramount Pictures. Directors: Steven Spielberg, Michael D. Moore, Frank Marshall. Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth.

/content/films/3065/32.jpgThough Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 1981, it was redolent of filmmakers' flexing of style and exploration of new territory during the '70s. In no small part due to the influence of the film's producer George Lucas and its director Steven Spielberg, a summer season of genre blockbusters became the norm. By mid-1984, audiences seeking air-conditioned entertainment were acclimated to the likes of Ghostbusters, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Gremlins, among others. Then there was the return of a certain adventuring archaeologist, his fedora, and his whip in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

If it was a sign of the times for Indiana Jones to take on more of a comic-book aspect, the film's accomodation of darker themes and explicit imagery came as something of a shock to many. The still-PG-rated film is widely credited as the impetus to create the PG-13 rating, suggested by Spielberg to MPAA head Jack Valenti after a firestorm of controversy surrounding Temple of Doom and the Spielberg-produced Gremlins (also rated PG). Despite Jones' temporary domination by a blood cult and imagery of a beating (then flaming) heart ripped from the chest of a hapless Indian slave, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is more of a child's fantasy than its predecessor—only it's styled as much on the gruesome gross-outs of an E.C. comic book as it is on pulp adventure and cliffhanger serials.

For proof, look no further than Indy's pint-sized sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan, in a vibrant comic turn), and a heroine who seems more likely than Marion Ravenwood to carry those dreaded cooties: nightclub singer "Willie" Scott (Kate Capshaw, who in short order became Spielberg's wife). The film—a prequel to Raiders—opens in 1935 Shanghai, where Jones and Scott escape death at the hands of Chinese gangsters in a manic, Rube Goldbergian action sequence (as preparation for the film's creative abandon, the title sequence is a full-fledged song-and-dance staging of, natch, "Anything Goes"). An impromptu flight on a cargo plane makes an unscheduled drop over India—there the threesome investigate the theft of a sacred, supernatural Sankara Stone from the impoverished village it's said to protect.

The splendor of Pankot Palace, home of a boy maharajah, conceals the dark underworld of the Thuggee cult, lead by rapacious high priest Mola Ram (Amrish Puri). A hidden mine worked by indentured slaves seeks the missing Sankara Stones that will exponentially increase the power of the three already in the Thuggees' hands. The script—by Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz from a story by Lucas—provides opportunities for a booby-trapped chamber, a horrifying blood mass, multiple brawls, and a mine-chase sequence designed to emulate the experience of a roller coaster: a self-conscious metaphor for blockbuster cinema. Much like the first film, Temple of Doom in its second hour amounts to an uninterrupted series of eye-popping threats to the heroes, including a memorable climax on a rickety rope bridge high above a croc-filled gorge.

Not everything works in Temple of Doom, the punching bag of the franchise. The attempts at gross-outs are overtly juvenile (especially a stupid dinner sequence that broadly caricatures Indian cuisine as defined wholly by bizarre delicacies such as live snakes and chilled monkey brains), the valid character of Willie (well handled by Capshaw) is nevertheless a disappointment after the pluck of Karen Allen, and the claustrophobic depiction of cultish evil borders on over-indulgence. But the fact that Temple of Doom resists playing it safe is commendable, and kids get the compensation of reassuring heroism (from one of their own yet, in Short Round) to chase away the nightmares.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 5/13/2008

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

For the first time on DVD, each of the Indiana Jones films gets an individual special edition, packaged together in the three-disc set Indiana Jones—The Adventure Collection. The Doom disc kicks off with a Trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (1:55). A familiar menu points the viewer to a fine anamorphic transfer of the film and a suite of brand-new extras, many of them featuring the cast of "Indy IV."

"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: An Introduction" (5:59) is a concise an entertaining overview of the salient points about the prequel, with comments (filmed separately) by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. "Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies" (11:55)—with an optional (and a bit cheeky)  "Pop-Up Trivia" subtitle track—covers the three films' respective snakes, bugs, and rats, with a coy tease about the fourth film's contribution to the tradition; participants include producer Frank Marshall, Harrison Ford, Spielberg, animal wrangler Jules Sylvester, and Karen Allen.

"Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations" (10:31) allows producer Robert Watts to walk us through the trilogy's locations around the globe, with additional comments by Ford and Allen and another "Pop-Up Trivia" track. All of the above features are produced by the top talent in DVD extras: Laurent Bouzereau.

Also included are "Storyboards: The Mine Cart Chase" (2:31)—which compares, in a top-bottom layout, the concept drawings to the finished sequence—and four Galleries: "Illustrations & Props," "Production Photographs & Portraits," "Effects/ILM," and "Marketing."  Lastly, a test of your sense of humor: the Game Trailer (1:19) for Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.

For the details on the other DVD special editions, click the reviews on the right.

NOTE: The disc of bonus features included with the 2003 set The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection has not been replicated here, so that set (with its terrific feature documentary by Bouzereau and featurettes on the music, sound, special effects, and stunts) has not yet been made obsolete. A Blu-Ray reissue of the trilogy seems inevitable to accompany the already announced Blu-Ray debut of the fourth film.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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