Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is my favorite Indiana Jones movie. It always has been and it is always going to be my preference. That’s not to say that Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t the structurally better movie. What it is saying is a testament to those cinematic impact points that happen in your life. That’s why when I hear older people praising Last Crusade or younger people trying to cancel Temple of Doom, I instantly go to another realm. That realm being a Proxy account where I enlist a crack team of angry young men to scream them down for my amusement. But, that’s enough about my Saturday night.
Short Round enters the scene as Indy’s most capable sidekick. Taking his name from an anachronistic reference to The Steel Helmet, the character just works. He is every bit of a strong independent helper to Indiana, but he has his own agency. Unlike that dumb Willie Scott. After coming off the strong Marion Ravenwood, this prequel effort feels like a step back. Especially if you’re casually forget that Indiana Jones romanced her as a teenager. She was a teenager, he was a grad student.
What am I supposed to say? It was the 1920s and things were different back then. As long you didn’t get cholera or Polio, everything was on the table. If your dad has a grad school kid helping out on a site, it wasn’t that big of a deal that his eyes lingered a little too long on that Nepalese hilltop. But, what does this say about Indy’s choice in women when just a scant period of time before reuniting with adult Marion, that he feels so bothered to handle Willie?
Mola Ram and Willie Scott are the same character. I mean that in the larger spiritual sense. They are both exotic figures who fall into Indy’s path because of his current adventure. While Short Round is the biggest source of help in Temple of Doom, these ancillary characters are hindrances to be handled. Indy eventually romances the female Willie, while the foreign male Mola Ram has to be killed with the aid of the local British military garrison.
To make that sync in deeper, I ask that you understand the Temple of Doom world. The Thuggee Cult had been doing this for over a 100 years in the region. When the local government is cool with it, the native population accepts it and all the authorities are chill with the heart ripping….does that necessitate a white savior figure having to step into the mix? Not necessarily. Hence, the use of the Sankara Stones.
Kate Capshaw continues to fascinate me. Among Indy fans, she has been unfairly besmirched for a fair amount of things. But, what she does in Temple of Doom is so subtle that most ignore it. Capshaw’s Willie Scott undermines the entire Indy mythos. Indiana Jones by and large is this Western white male savior figure who encompasses the best of the academic and physical worlds. He shares knowledge, he punches faces and he sexes up the ladies. But, a hero is only as good as the biggest struggle he faces.
We’ve seen Indy fight Nazis, stare down Holy Grail ghosts and beat up psychic Soviets. But, how does he handle himself with an outsider that doesn’t buy into the adventure and just wants to be wined and dined? Energy compatibility is a real as hell thing. All relationships feed off of it and when it’s off, you see things go crazy. Multiple times in the movie, Willie almost gets Indy killed because she can’t handle the adventures.
She shouldn’t have to handle it. Willie is a low-rent nightclub act that travels anywhere that the latest man pays her to appear. Asking her to deal with mine car chases, bridge drops or even Chinese cityscape shootouts is a bridge too far. What’s crazy is the narrative even shows from the start that she isn’t fit to exist in this world. But, what does the oil of Willie do when applied to the water of Indy’s world?
There is something about watching The Temple of Doom as an adult that hit me between the eyes. Whatever Indiana Jones does in his adventures is based on the world accepting his authority. Temple of Doom grants Indy authority as a righteous crusader protecting children and restoring religious artifacts (The Sankara Stones). The child helper Short Round is an extension of this, but again everything returns back to Willie. She’s too glamorous to live in a world like this.
But, her continued existence threatens the quest for the Sankara Stones and the efforts to defeat the Temple of Doom. While Indy was touched by the hand of fate to restore religious order to the land, Willie is the agent of chaos calling attention to the fragility of these narratives. She is the Superintendent Chalmers to Indy’s Skinner. As such, it’s not hard to see why the casual moviegoers and ardent fanbases hated her.
Nobody likes a loud voice calling attention to the shaky conceits and suspensions crafted to make a fiction work. But, what about Mola Ram? Well in the world of the 1930s, a female voice of derision gets treated differently than an outsider male. Willie eventually gets tamed and brought back in line with the narrative by the film’s end. Meanwhile, Mola Ram gets fed to crocodiles for daring to abscond with children and upset the natural religious order.
I’m at a point in my life where I prefer classic films on 4K to the usual new schlock. Some of our Twitter users have brought that up and honestly it’s true. While there is still amazingly great stuff arriving in theaters now, 90% of the material is as deep as a puddle. Temple of Doom got accused of being shallow popcorn cinema in the Summer of 1984. There is something to be said for time and distance allowing for fresh views to emerge.
However, there is also something to be said for the sheer volume of misreads, tepid takes and agendas to grind with outside material. In the last 10-20 years, Spielberg and others have downplayed Temple of Doom as being something dark and negative. Others have bemoaned how heavy it relies on things like Gunga Din and how the creators’ divorces impacted a lot of the movie. The only one who naturally and originally called this out and refused participation was legendary screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.
What else is there to say about Temple of Doom? It’s a film that followed one of the biggest hits of all-time by trying to show us an early take on one of the great cinematic heroes. However, the sheer volume of ideas juggled in the film irritated some people. Given that it took 5 years to get Last Crusade into theaters, that was a lot of time to go by for none of that Temple of Doom energy to go anywhere. Hell, I’d go so far as to call this one of the last great highlights of Peak Spielberg.
While The Last Crusade will be covered next, I’m not a fan of the movie. Time has been super unkind to it as it became one of the biggest cornerstones of Spielberg crafting Boomer fetish material instead of movies. With its Bond wankery and overpowering father issues, you almost expect the film to slap on a Cosby sweater and tell dad jokes. Temple of Doom had no time for that. This was a darker take on Raiders, but with the questioning of why things like this work.
Paramount brings Temple of Doom to 4K UHD with quite the package. Sporting easily the best 4K transfer out of the set, I would wholeheartedly recommend the film to any serious home theater enthusiast. You get featurettes and various behind the scenes materials compiled over the years. But, the winner is that stunning 4K transfer and impeccable Atmos track. It’s an easy recommendation.