It must be almost fifteen years since I last saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Between the ages nine and twelve, Harrison Ford was a regular stand-in babysitter for my parents when needed they 118 minutes alone and the Motley Crew obsessed teenager across the street was unavailable. My VHS of the film, with its warn label and slightly delayed pauses between the ads, was lost sometime in the mid-90s and I’ve not seen it since. Despite not spending any time with Indy and his adventures in India over the last decade, I found in watching the film again for this review that I could quote scenes almost verbatim and felt that flutter of familiarity that one experiences when reading an old journal entry.
There’s a there’s a special kind of magic that the fedora-wearing Harrison Ford wields on the young adolescent mind. Since my first screening, not a year has gone by that I haven’t at one point or another shrugged off a question by asserting “no time for love, Dr. Jones.” Similarly, whenever I find myself face-to-face with a suspicious looking meal, ordered at an exotic restaurant, I’m immediately drawn back to the monkey brains scene and begin shrill like Kate Capshaw. With all this being said, I have to admit, sadly, I’ve been looking back at the prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark with rose-coloured glasses.
Returning to the film for this review I found a different Indy adventure altogether than the one I had remembered. The pace that thrilled me so much as a kid seemed rushed and haphazardly put together. The action was still there, but appeared hallow and more run-of-mill in its construction. Make no mistake, Harrison Ford is still terrific as Indiana Jones and the film begins with a big enough bang – its explosive rumble in Shanghai’s fictional Obi Won bar and later human sacrifice scene below Pankot Palace are as engaging as anything in Raiders of the Lost Ark – nevertheless something was missing from the Indy of my childhood and this version which seemed pale in comparison to the original.
The most obvious answer is that kids love big, fat action movies, whose constant explosions and chase sequences tap into their pleasure receptors with continual force. If it’s loud with fighting and the decent bad guys, ten-year-olds are going to love it. Growing older, the things that made us laugh and jump out of our seats with excitement as kids rarely manage to produce the same effect in the adult. I can’t say I still love Funniest Home Videos or Police Academy as much as I once did, but I remember loving them.
A more academic reason for Temple of Doom failing to impress all these years later can be pointed to two major production differences between the film and the original, Raiders of the Lost Ark, namely the exclusion of Lawrence Kasdan and Karen Allen from the film’s credits. Kasdan, the writer behind the original Indy instalment was notably absent from the production of Temple of Doom and it shows throughout. Where the original still resonates, this prequel seems rushed and like a poor imitation, lacking the wit and punchy dialogue that defines the rogue character of Indiana Jones. Likewise, where Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood proved an equal match for Ford in nearly all aspects, outfighting and out drinking the Nazis and male characters alike, Wille (Kate Capshaw) does little more than whine, screech and lust after diamonds, playing little more than the last woman on Earth who Indy pursues for no other reason than she’s the only woman around.
Paramount have recently remastered a 2K print of the film and despite my misgivings with the picture, the studio have done a terrific job with the restoration. The exterior footage of rural India is stunning and all but jumps off the screen and heightens the beautiful matt paintings the film has to offer, while the action sequences are clearer than ever.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is being showcased at Melbourne’s Astor Theatre later this month and while it didn’t live up to the hype I been carrying all these years, I suspect seeing it with a full cinema of devoted Indy fans may help carry some of those children emotions to the surface. If you’ve never seen the film, now is certainly your chance.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom plays at the Astor Theatre from 27th January until the 2nd of February.