Raiders of The Lost Ark; The Last Crusade; Temple of Doom; Kingdom of The Crystal Skull. This is the order in which I rate the Indiana Jones films, in terms of overall quality and re-watchability. Whilst most consider Crystal Skull to be the worst in the series, it’s Temple of Doom that has always been the most controversial; often maligned for its darkness and blatant racism. Making ‘Raiders 2’ was going to be no easy task and the sequel (actually a prequel in the Indy timeline) is undeniably flawed, in no small part due to the input of the hero’s creator, George Lucas. Having experienced critical and commercial success with Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back – which even today is still considered to be the best of the series by the majority- Lucas felt the key to its popularity was the much darker tone that the film had in comparison to A New Hope and tried to replicate the same success with Temple of Doom. Going through a divorce at the same time, Lucas partly blames this on his decision to make Indy’s second adventure a horror film, complete with black magic, child slavery and flaming hearts.
So intense were some of scenes of violence that when it was released in 1984, it very nearly became a 15 (the 12 rating didn’t exist at the time). Cuts were made to ensure a PG rating, specifically in the scene with the human sacrifice and the torture sequence in which Indy and his child sidekick, Short Round, both got the whip. It’s only until very recently, with the Blu-Ray release of the film, that has seen Temple of Doom restored to its original glory; re-rated by the BBFC from a PG to a 12. Having seen the film many times over the course of my life, even I was taken aback at how gruesome the added material was, with a sticky and squelchy emphasis on the moment in which a man’s heart is ripped his from body. I suddenly understood what all the fuss was about when it was originally released and despite relishing the opportunity to see the completed film the way it was to be intended, I admit that I would have been completely traumatised had I watched this version as a child. Proof that, as always, the BBFC are spot on in their rating system.
The most talked about scene in the film though, is one that doesn’t feature any violence at all, but instead has been accused of racism. The portrayal (or lack of) of the Indian characters is often accused of being stereotypical throughout the entire film, but the borderline racism reaches its pinnacle in the now infamous ‘monkey brains’ sequence. The scene in which our protagonists have a dinner of beetles, snakes and chilled monkey brains with the Maharajah of Pankot palace, is completely mis-judged and yes, racist, albeit unintentionally so. I’m not saying this makes this particular sequence right, but I think it’s quite clearly played for laughs and is another attempt by Spielberg to make the audience squirm in their seats from all the of nauseating nibbles. Most people did indeed squirm, but for reasons other than the on-screen feast I’m sure.
With all the controversy surrounding it, I still can’t help but love Temple of Doom. It has a lot of issues and does sit rather strangely amongst the other films, but it’s easy to forget just how much fun it is. From the opening shootout at Club Obi Wan (wink wink) to the final confrontation on a rickety bridge (“Hang on lady, we going for a ride”) the action is relentless; an adrenaline fuelled roller coaster ride (literally at one point) that most action films fail to replicate today, even with all the computer generated tools available. Its b-movie stylings make the film all the more appealing if anything. It all feels a bit grungy, repugnant and adult, which bizarrely appeals to me a great deal. While it becomes bleaker as the film continues, it never loses the sense of fun that runs throughout all the Jones films; boasting a loveable sidekick and some of the most absurd, but easily the most quotable lines in the franchise.
Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom may not be the best film in the series, but it is perhaps the most interesting. A guilty pleasure; its dodgy stereotypes, its grisly violence and irritating female lead (always with the screaming), are somewhat made up for in the level of entertainment the film otherwise offers. It still has the magic (“Fortune and glory kid”), the tongue-in-cheek humour, the masterful set-pieces and the storming score from John Williams, that make the Indiana Jones films as popular as they are. It may not be perfect, but in a twisted way, that’s exactly why I love it.
Trivia Tidbit: Steven Spielberg said that he did not enjoy this film as much as the rest of the Indy films, but said that it was a great experience for him because he met his future wife, Kate Capshaw, during the production of this movie.
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