Indiana Jones seeks fortune and glory in The Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

In order to catch up on the overwhelming backlog of movies I intend to cover here on this blog, this Dork Reporter is going to keep it brief with a few disconnected bullet points:

• An opening caption places the action in “1935.” Raiders of the Lost Ark was set in 1936, so, The Temple of Doom is actually a prequel! Interesting, but why? Everything is basically the same, except for the absence of Marion (Karen Allen). Had that caption not been there, Indy would have seemed to have unceremoniously dumped her, offscreen.

• On the topic of “Indy Girls,” how could Steven Spielberg and George Lucas trade in the spunky, resourceful, independent, strong Marion for the helpless screaming ignorant bimbo Willie (Kate Capshaw)? It’s a crying shame only partially excused by Marion’s belated return in the fourth installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

• In the DVD bonus features, Spielberg and Lucas both desperately defend Temple of Doom’s “dark” tone, comparing it to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This is puzzling, as to my eyes, The Temple of Doom is notably more jokey and cartoony than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Worse, it is casually sexist and racist, and not to mention, quite unkind to the cuisine of India.

• The globe-trotting begins in Shanghai, with an old-school Hollywood musical number. Jonathan Ke Quan (Short Round) is actually Vietnamese, and clearly a good sport.

• Hey, it’s that guy! Can you spot the Dan Akroyd cameo?

• The Temple of Doom has the least compelling MacGuffin of all the Indiana Jones films. While the others concerned the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy freakin’ Grail, and UFO artifacts, this time Indy must recover and return a stolen relic to a starving Indian village. He only learns of the injustice in the first place by accident.

• It must be said that this is the only film in the series that has Indy grapple with the moral grey areas of his profession. Not exactly a stand-up model archeologist, he explicitly vocalizes his motivations for the first time: “fortune and glory.” So this time around, his relic-hunting is in the service of justice and not his own personal gain.

• Indy and pals stumble upon a sacrificial pagan ceremony dead for only 100 years? That’s not very exciting. If you’re making up a fake religion, why not make it a thousand or more?

• One of many tragic flaws that cripple this film is the obvious tinkering with the formula, made in the mistaken belief there would be more for the kids to identify with. Yes, I’m talking about all the annoying children running about the place: obviously Short Round, but also the horde of child slaves toiling in a mine (a straight lift from Pinocchio). Memo to Spielberg and Lucas: kids had no trouble flocking to Raiders of the Lost Ark, so you don’t need to give them an on-screen cypher.

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