Just as “Return of the Jedi” seemed disappointing after the first two “Star Wars” entries, so does “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” come as a letdown after “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” This is ironic, because director Steven Spielberg has packed even more thrills and chills into this followup than he did into the earlier pic, but to exhausting and numbing effect.
End result is like the proverbial Chinese meal, where heaps of food can still leave one hungry shortly thereafter. Will any of this make any difference at the boxoffice? Not a chance, as a sequel to “Raiders,” which racked up $112,000,000 in domestic film rentals, has more built-in want-see than any imaginable film aside from “E.T. II.”
Spielberg, scenarists Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, and George Lucas, who penned the story as well as exec producing with Frank Marshall, have not tampered with the formula which made “Raiders” so popular. To the contrary, they have noticeably stepped up the pace, amount of incidents, noise level, budget, close calls, violence and everything else, to the point where more is decidedly less.
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Prequel finds dapper Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in a Shanghai nightclub in 1935, and title sequence, which features Kate Capshaw chirping Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” looks like something out of Spielberg’s “1941.”
Ford escapes from an enormous melee with the chanteuse in tow and, joined by Oriental moppet Ke Huy Quan, they head by plane to the mountains of Asia, where they are forced to jump out in an inflatable raft, skid down huge slopes, vault over a cliff and navigate some rapids before coming to rest in an impoverished Indian village.
Community’s leader implores the ace archaeologist to retrieve a sacred, magical stone which has been stolen by malevolent neighbors, so the trio makes its way by elephant to the domain of a prepubescent Maharajah, who lords it over an empire reeking of evil.
Remainder of the yarn is set in this labyrinth of horrors, where untold dangers await the heroes. Much of the action unfolds in a stupendous cavern, where dozens of natives chant wildly as a sacrificial victim has his heart removed before being lowered into a pit of fire.
Ford is temporarily converted to the nefarious cause, Ke Huy Quan is sent to join child slaves in an underground quarry, and Capshaw is lowered time and again into the pit until the day is saved.
What with John Williams’ incessant score and the library full of sound effects, there isn’t a quiet moment in the entire picture, and the filmmakers have piled one giant setpiece on top of another to the point where one never knows where it will all end.
Film’s one genuinely amazing action sequence, not unlike the airborne sleigh chase in “Jedi” (the best scene in that film), has the three leads in a chase on board an underground railway car on tracks resembling those of a rollercoaster.
Sequence represents a stunning display of design, lensing and editing, and will have viewers gaping. A “Raidersland” amusement park could be opened profitably on the basis of the ride alone.
Overall, however, pic comes on like a sledgehammer, and there’s even a taste of vulgarity and senseless excess not apparent in “Raiders.”
Kids 10-12 upwards will eat it all up, of course, but many of the images, particularly those involving a gruesome feast of live snakes, fried beetles, eyeball soup and monkey brains, and those in the sacrificial ceremony, might prove extraordinarily frightening to younger children who, indeed, are being catered to in this film by the presence of the adorable 12-year-old Ke Huy Quan.
Compared to the open-air breeziness of “Raiders,” “Indiana Jones,” after the first reel or so, possesses a heavily studio-bound look, with garish reds often illuminating the dark backgrounds.
As could be expected, however, huge production crew at Thorn EMI-Elstree Studios, as well as those on locations in Sri Lanka, Macao and California, and in visual effects phase at Industrial Light & Magic, have done a tremendous job in rendering this land of high adventure and fantasy.
Ford seems effortlessly to have picked up where he left off when Indiana Jones was last heard from (though tale is set in an earlier period), although Capshaw, who looks fetching in native attire, has unfortunately been asked to react hysterically to everything that happens to her, resulting in a manic, frenzied performance which never locates a center of gravity. Villains are all larger-than-life nasties.
Critical opinion is undoubtedly irrelevant for such a surefire commercial attraction as “Indiana Jones,” except that Spielberg is such a talented director it’s a shame to see him lose all sense of subtlety and nuance.
In one quick step, the “Raiders” films have gone the way the James Bond opuses went at certain points, away from nifty stories in favor of one big effect after another. But that won’t prevent Spielberg and Lucas from notching another mark high on the list of all-time b.o. winners.
1984: Best Visual Effects.
Nomination: Best Original Score