Sam on Temple of Doom

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about showing Sam (6) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s darker than Raiders, its sexuality is bothmore “adult” and more juvenile, its violence is more brutal, it shows children being whipped and people being lowered into boiling lava after having their still-beating hearts ripped out, its protagonist turns evil, all that stuff.

I needn’t have worried — Sam ate it up.

With one exception. The character of Willie Scott didn’t bother him for her whining, shrieking girlishness or her shallow, conniving gold-digging — she bothered Sam because she wasn’t Marion Ravenwood. “Wait — there’s a different woman every time?” he asked, a little worried. I’m not sure what his concern was, and I wasn’t sure how to discuss it, but it seemed to worry him that Indiana Jones, having professed his love to Marion in the last movie, is now running around with anyone else. In his world, I reckon, a man chooses a woman and that’s his mate for the rest of his life. After all, Anakin Skywalker doesn’t have a string of honeys on his way to becoming a Jedi — he picks his mate when he’s nine years old and sticks with her until she dies in childbirth, and then he’s alone forever. That’s the way it’s supposed to go.

(Once he got accustomed to the idea of Indiana Jones’s serial monogamy, he began to wonder about who might be “the woman” in the new movie. He’s kind of hoping it’s this person, but I assured him that Marion Ravenwood is back — and about damn time too, in my opinion. Karen Allen, one of my all-time movieland crushes, looks fabulous.)

Apart from that, Sam was terribly excited by Temple of Doom. He accepted the “wtf?” dance number that opens the movie, he loved the nightclub shootout and the car chase through the streets and the dive out of the airplane. As usual, he had no trouble following the exposition, even when it was delivered by men with strong accents during scenes of people eating live snakes and chilled monkey brains. I think that’s all down to Spielberg’s uncanny visual sense — I can’t think of another director, from Hollywood or elsewhere, who is able to convey so much story simply through choice of images. When Indy and company show up at the deserted Indian village, with its brown fields and bare trees and homely, sad people, Sam, who has never been to India and knows little of Hinduism, immediately said “What’s the matter with the village? Where is everyone? Did someone take the children? Why would someone take their children?” None of these plot-points had been hinted at in the dialogue, yet Sam instantly understood the emotional hook of the movie and its central mystery, instantly knew what the protagonist would want. He was easily ten minutes ahead of the narrative, which eventually has a bony child wandering into the village clutching, for no discernible reason, a fragment of an ancient scroll that explains the thing about the magic rock that blah de blah de blah.

Sam did crawl up into my lap when the Thugee ceremony began (let’s face it, it’s not every day you see a man lowered into boiling lava), but minutes later he was confiding in me that he liked Temple of Doom “better than the first one” and by the time the mine-car chase came along, Sam was moved to start this conversation:

SAM: Is the movie almost over?
DAD: Oh no — they’ve got a whole lot more to go.
SAM: Good! I don’t ever want it to end.

I’m totally with Sam on this point. For all of Temple‘s brutality and darkness, once the third act of kicks in it becomes a non-stop cliff-hanging thrill machine, one unrivaled in cinema in terms of sheer inventiveness, joy and wit.

(I intend to analyze the Indiana Jones movies, and the rest of Spielberg’s work in the near future, but Sam pointed out one piece of art direction that had eluded me through many viewings of this movie: the stage in Willie’s nightclub act at the beginning of the movie is echoed in the Temple of Doom design, with the symmetrical dragon head being replaced by a giant skull. Both Willie’s act and Mola Ram’s sacrifice ritual are, essentially, show business, created to achieve an emotional effect. Both ceremonies also include unexplained, fantastic events: Mola Ram is able to take a man’s still-beating heart from his chest and have him stay alive, and Willie is able to enter her dragon’s mouth and participate an elaborate, impossible dance routine.)
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39 Responses to “Sam on Temple of Doom”
  1. zodmicrobe says:

    I’ve always believed that Temple of Doom to be underrated while Last Crusade is unbelievably overrated.

    I had one of Those Movie Experiences You Never Forget when I was 12 and sitting in the Saturday matinee of Temple of Doom in Philadelphia in 1984, its opening (rainy) weekend, the theater packed so full the walls were almost sweating. Absolutely every seat, including the very very front row, was filled and the median age had to be 14, if that. The first moment when there was a Communal Major Reaction was to the bug scene. By the time that long legged thing crawled up the back of the absurdly bad fake Kate Capshaw head, the audience was literally drowning out the movie soundtrack with sheer SCREAM. And not just one, a prolonged, minute-long scream. The Scream was revisited when the dude’s heart got ripped out, and again when the big Thugee got crunched up in the stone cylinders.

    I felt nothing from Last Crusade– no major reactions from anybody, not even a lot of real interest. Granted, I didn’t see it opening weekend and I was no longer 12, but it still didn’t seem like it was really hitting a groove. I’m still waiting for anybody to tell me why the heck that Old Knight Guy having all those lines was a good idea. (“He chose wisely.”?? Was he serious? Horrible.)

  2. emeraldsedai says:

    Hello. I’ve been following your LJ for a few weeks now and enjoying it a lot, but not commenting because I’m just a film “consumer” with no claim to expertise.

    If I recall correctly (and I usually do), the PG-13 rating was created specially for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Didn’t they need to account for the specific scenes you mention, while not giving an R rating to a movie otherwise of great interest to kids?

    So…hey, and thanks for the great posts.

    • Todd says:

      Your memory is almost correct. The PG-13 rating was created not for Temple exactly, but because of it (that is, Temple was not, at least initially, rated PG-13). And yeah, the movie gets pretty hairy at times.

  3. moroccomole says:

    Temple of Doom is, without reservation, my favorite of the Indiana Jones trilogy, and I’m not ashamed to say so.

    And I guess the hard-wiring of gayness was in me from the get-go, because at age six, I wouldn’t have just “accepted” a musical number, I would have been enthralled. The exuberance of this film’s “Anything Goes” sequence, along with the jitterbug number from 1941, makes me wish that Spielberg would do an old-school song and dance EX-TRA-VA-GAN-ZA.

    • Todd says:

      I’m actually with you — it’s hard to beat the originality and zest of Raiders, but for me Temple is a much meatier, saltier snack.

      I didn’t mean to imply that Sam is suspicious of musical numbers per se(we just watched Disney’s Cinderella together the other day), it’s just that putting one at the beginning of an Indiana Jones movie must have seemed like quite a leap to him.

      Spielberg has often mentioned his desire to make a musical, but something else always comes up apparently.

      • moroccomole says:

        Granted, a splashy Cole Porter routine in Raiders flick qualifies as a bit of a disconnect. I just had a flashback of being around Sam’s age the first time they showed That’s Entertainment! on TV — I seem to recall “tap-dancing” around the house for days.

      • curt_holman says:

        The best of the trilogy.

        Temple over Raiders? You and are crazy. How’d you get so crazy, Crazy?

        I was actually hoping you’d go through the Spielberg body of work in anticipation of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a la your readings of the Coen Brothers and James Bond.

    • edgarpond says:

      Oooooh. I love that jitterbug number from 1941. Such a delightful guilty pleasure. Great musical dance number in a film without break in story or stepping out of reality.

  4. black13 says:

    It’s kind of funny, but I always felt that Temple of Doom was more of a movie for children. It has a child co-star, half of the adult leads (Willie) behaves in a very childish manner, and the crimes are committed to children. The opening at the theater-restaurant is totally cartoonish. The final escape is an amusement park thrill ride.

    On the whole, I always felt that children would and could relate better to Temple of Doom than adults would, and that the movie is actually made for them.

  5. Thanks for posting these. I’m enjoying your analyses and Sam’s reactions equally. It’s also reminding me that, while I think of Spielberg as heavy-handed in his directing, sometimes he gets it right. Or maybe I just cut him a lot more slack because I love the pulpish feel of the Indy films.

    Can’t remember where I first read it, but someone put out the theory that this trilogy of movies covers all aspects of manhood. Raiders is Indy the Man; Temple is Indy the Father (via Short Round, the “son”); Grail is Indy the Son. I like this theory, but it leaves me still nervous as to where and how the new movie will fit into things.

    Still, I’m ecstatic that Karen Allen’s back for this film. And thanks for the pic–you’re right that she looks phenomenal.


  6. Couldn’t agree more

    I’m loving these movie reviews you’re doing with Sam. Definately keep posting more in the future! Also, it’s great to hear all the positive comments about ToD. I’ve always been a fan, as I mentioned in a comment on you discussion of Raiders, but it seems that most people really dislike it! I find it captivating from start to finish, and have done from the first time I saw it as a child.

    And finally, I have to agree that it’s great to see Karen back! The new movie looks like it’s going to be a blast! Between her return and an action scene inside Warehouse 23, this is looking to be rip-roaringly fun!


  7. I agree with most everyone else here, Temple of Doom gets a bad rap, IMO because it’s not Raiders. But even though I love the first film (saw it 11 times in the theatre. Ah, to be young and less concerned with time & money again) I thought Temple was the correct route to go.

    First, to help Sam’s confusion, let him know that Temple occurs before Raiders. (I think each film has the date at the very beginning). If I recall correctly, each sequel was supposed to be a prequel. I think they did this so Spielberg wouldn’t be “saddled” with Marion as Indy’s only love interest and he could keep using Nazi’s as villains.

    I thought having Indy dealing with Willie as his female companion, who’s the exact opposite of Marion, was great. I couldn’t understand why everyone (the audience) was so hung up about that. I love Karen Allen’s Marion too, but I liked how Indy had to put up with the kind of partner that was needy and couldn’t stand on her own.

    How did Sam feel about Short Round? I’m always curious to hear what kids say about kid sidekicks. I remember when I was Sam’s age I used to love watching reruns of Jonny Quest. I’m sure producers felt that kids watching would relate more because Jonny was a kid, but not me. I didn’t know anyone my age than who wanted to be Jonny, we wanted to be Race Bannon!

    • Todd says:

      I have a feeling telling Sam that Temple takes place before Raiders would only make the issue more confusing. Indy, so goes the script, wooed and left Marion when she was a teenager, which would still mean that he’s a cad now running around with a nightclub singer.

      What can I say? Sam’s got a really stable family life and it surprised (perhaps troubled) him that Indy trots around the world with a new woman every movie.

      Willie gets a bad rap because, in 1984, the idea that America’s Beloved Filmmaker would make a big budget tentpole movie that cast a woman in a less-than-positive light rubbed people the wrong way. Heck, it rubbed me the wrong way at the time, I thought it was a dumb, tone-deaf choice. Perhaps we could say that the advances of feminism in the past 24 years have given us a broader picture of what’s “acceptable” for a woman to be in an action/adventure movie.

      Sam had no problem with Short Round, although he did mistake him for Indian at one point (Shanghai, Delhi, these are only words to him).

      I thought of showing Sam Jonny Quest, but the show’s 60s racial attitudes made me a little queasy.

      • moroccomole says:

        I didn’t have a problem with Willie when the movie came out (I was 17 at the time), because I knew in my heart of hearts that if I were to suddenly find myself along for the ride on one of these adventures, I was much more likely to behave like Willie than like Marion.

  8. davejustus says:

    If it helps Sam with the issue of Indy’s monogamy — or the baffling question of how anyone could choose Willie over Marion — you might explain to him that Temple actually takes place before Raiders. Which begs the question of why Indy didn’t devote a good chunk of time in Raiders to fond reminiscence of Short Round, but still….

  9. mr_noy says:

    I agree, ToD is underrated and superior to the good, but not great, Last Crusade.

    As a child I too was slightly bothered by the absence of Marion, mostly because her succesors left a lot to be desired (first a gold-digging ditz and then a Nazi).

    ToD’s chronological placement in the series smacks of Lucas’ serial retconning which always creates more questions than it answers. Ok, so ToD era Indy hasn’t reconciled with Marion yet but one gathers that the purpose of going back in time was to show an earlier Indy more concerned with “Fortune and Glory”. The treasure seeking Indy of Raiders might have better intentions but when he says he doesn’t “believe in magic…[and] superstitious hocus pocus” you can’t help thinking, “Uhhmmm…remember the glowing stones, and the voodoo trances and the still beating hearts bursting into flames?” What do you think that was? Really, after Shankara Stones, the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail I don’t think Indy would bat an eye if he was told he had to retrieve the Easter Bunny from the clutches of the Abominable Snowman.

    I enjoy your posts about Sam’s reactions to films but these Indy posts have had an additional resonance for me. A while back a friend of mine ran a series of polls to determine the “Most Awesome Movie of All Time” (“Awesome” being its own quality beyond “good” or “great”. In the end Die Hard just barely beat Raiders out, which was my pick. Everyone who wrote in offered a brief rationale for their choices. My ultimate reason for choosing Raiders was that if I ever have a son this is the movie I would most looking forward to introducing him to.

    And for what it’s worth, I still love the opening musical number and the whole Club Obi Wan sequence. By the way, did Sam catch the Obi Wan reference? I know I got a kick out of it when I was 10.

    • Todd says:

      1. Die Hard is indeed Awesome, but nowhere near as awesome as Raiders. And as long as we’re here, let me say that, if we accept “Awesome” as a quality unto itself, I find Die Hard with a Vengeance more Awesome than Die Hard.

      2. The fact that the Indiana Jones movies take place at different times means little to me. Jones, like his movie father James Bond, is like “Coyote” of Native American stories, or for that matter the “Coyote” of Warner Bros. cartoons. He resets at the beginning of each story. “One day, Coyote went out — ” He’s not a character, per se, he’s a collection of ideas and attitudes, fresh-born into each adventure. Like Bond, he never learns and never changes — or rather, he has to keep learning the same lesson over and over again.

      3. I pointed out the Obi Wan reference to Sam, but he was too busy watching the car chase. He did mention, when he saw Indy in the white dinner jacket, that he looked suspiciously like Han Solo.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Good thing Sam’s not terrified of bugs, unlike a certain 36 year old I know.

    — Kent M. Beeson

  11. mimitabu says:

    “but Sam pointed out one piece of art direction that had eluded me through many viewings of this movie: the stage in Willie’s nightclub act at the beginning of the movie is echoed in the Temple of Doom design, with the symmetrical dragon head being replaced by a giant skull.”

    wow, that’s awesome. i never noticed that either.

    i agree with you and sam, the first two movies are excellent. i enjoyed the third and am looking forward to the fourth without shame.

  12. 55seddel says:

    You must be proud of Sam for having such a good eye. I totally didn’t see that either! Tell him thanks for showing you!

    • Todd says:

      The weirdest part is that he doesn’t do these things as an “aha!” moment, he just says “oh look, the big skull looks like the dragon head from the song part.”

  13. ajr says:

    When I was Sam’s age (alright, slightly older, actually), the Temple of Doom was my favourite Indiana Jones film. The sexism and child endangerment you mention in your other post clearly went right over my head, as the young me chose to concentrate instead on how cool it all was. The eyeball soup was satisfyingly gross, and the whole turning bad stuff was edge-of-the-seat. But the best part? The mine-car chase.

    Seriously. That mine-car chase was, for many years, the best thing I’d seen in a movie. Ah, happy days.

    I did see Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was Sam’s age, and it scared the crap out of me. Indy may hate snakes, but me? I hate spiders. And I think Raiders might be to blame.

  14. Anonymous says:

    My Indiana Jones knowledge is a bit rusty, but if I remember correctly, Temple is a prequel. In which case Ravenwood’s MIA is understandable.
    That of course, doesn’t explain why she wasn’t in The Last Crusade.

  15. Prompted by this post, I rewatched Temple of Doom a couple of days ago. I can see where the negative reactions come from — there are a few false notes, and they’re all in the first half just as you’re forming an overall opinion of a film. The “who’s better at sex” argument in the palace, for example, is just embarrassing more than anything else. But starting from the first Thuggee ceremony, after the awkward Indy-being-brainwashed, it’s all gold.

    Doctor Jones has some funny ideas about travelling, mind you. In the village, he’s annoyed because “Pankot is not on the way to Delhi”, yet scant minutes (in runtime) ealier, he had no problem going over a thousand miles out of his way in order to fly from Shanghai to Chungking via the Great Wall.

    • Todd says:

      I like how the pilots of the tiny twin-engine prop plane, whose mission is to kill Indiana Jones, fly him so far from Shanghai that they have to stop and re-fuel in Chungking before diving out of the plane over India. I guess the pilot-assassins had business in the Himalaya.