Before Indiana Jones And The Ridiculously Long Title That Could Have Really Been Cut Down came along and nearly made Shia LaBeouf an archaeologist, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom got a lot of abuse from nerds. But it shouldn’t. Sure, it’s a movie with flaws, but in the end, in many ways, it’s the best movie of the entire series. As today is the thirtieth anniversary of the movie arriving in theaters, and with the twenty-fifth of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade arriving tomorrow, here’s a look at why.
Indy Has A Character Arc
In the other Indy movies, Indy is pretty much Indy. Even when he’s working out his feelings towards his dad or working out his feelings towards being a dad, he doesn’t go through a lot of growth and change.
Not so in this prequel. In the opening of Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom, Indy is, well, a jerk. He’s a grave-robber for hire who thinks nothing of selling priceless artifacts to gangsters and throwing his friends under the bus to save his own ass. Over the course of the movie, Indy gives into his dark side before being pulled back from the brink and becoming, well, the Indiana Jones we know and love, a two-fisted ass-kicking pulp hero. And it’s great.
The First Twenty Minutes And Last Forty Minutes
Even people who hate this movie are forced to admit there’s at least an hour of great entertainment. The movie opens with Spielberg paying tribute to ’30s musicals and Hitchcock movies, a breathless sequence that goes from tableside negotiation to madcap scramble to insane chase scene only to be capped off with “Nice try, Lao Che!”
The last forty minutes are equally breathless, going from conveyor belt fistfight to mine cart race to bridge collapse at ridiculous speed. The mine cart sequence in particular is so seminal it’s practically a given that anything ripping Indy off will feature mine carts.
The Sheer Technical Accomplishment
One can argue that this is Spielberg’s most technically accomplished film as a director. Spielberg hunted down Douglas Slocombe, the cinematographer on the first three Indy movies, for a reason, and much of this film’s gorgeous, lurid look is thanks to Slocombe’s skills. That assassin stepping out of a mural? All Slocombe.
Similarly, few people will argue this isn’t among John Williams’ best work as a composer. It’s probably his most elaborate score in some ways, and definitely his most disturbing.
Short Round Is Probably The Only Decent Child Sidekick
The movie does everything possible to sabotage Short Round. It gives him crappy dialogue (“HOLD ONTO YOUR POTATOES!”), it tries to make him obnoxiously adorable, and it names him Short Round, for God’s sake. But Harrison Ford and Ke Huy Kwan have a believable chemistry as friends, whether they’re cheating each other at poker or sharing a perverse big-brother-little-brother moment of beating the crap out of people, and it gives Indy, who we’ll remind you is something of a jerk in the opening, a bit more of a human side.
Yeah, There Are Terrible Parts
This isn’t to say the movie doesn’t have problems. Willie Scott is annoying, although not quite as annoying as people insisting Marion Ravenwood from the first film was somehow a more effectual character. The screenplay is from the people who’d go on to write Howard the Duck, and it tries a little too hard to riff on screwball conventions.
And yeah, it is racist. Not nearly as bad as some movies at the time, perhaps, but it’s not hard to see why the Indian government was upset with the movie. Depicting your country as full of either inscrutable noble savages or homicidal death cultists isn’t exactly what you call “enlightened.”
That said, though, the movie has aged surprisingly well. If you haven’t seen it in a while, give it another shot: You might be surprised by how good it is.