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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg, 1984)

Worthy sequel (actually prequel) to the magnificent "Raiders of the Lost Ark", containing all the ridiculous fisticuffs, quips, traps and globetrotting peril that one could ask for.

While it never manages to top the impossibly bravura opening sequence, "Temple of Doom" is constantly thrilling and fluidly scripted, with seldom a drag in the action. Even teaming Indy up with both a precocious brat and prima-donna singer (Kate Capshaw, managing to be simultaneously incredibly irritating and hugely attractive) can't harm this punchy, sassy thrill-ride.

However it's still a sequel and the shadow of the original hangs over it throughout. It's not as funny or as clever and the music is not as good. Even the settings simply can't match up to the perfectly-chosen locales of the original film.

And although the action is consistently first class, the concepts are far weaker. With a child co-star, child villain and the kidnapped children subplot, it's clearly aimed at a younger market, and despite being fairly violent it's a much simpler effort than the previous film. The good guys and bad guys are clearly defined, and even Indy himself isn't as complex or interesting as he used to be. "Temple of Doom" is often praised for being dark, but eating monkey brains and pulling out hearts just isn't as compelling or interesting as Indy's implied cradle-snatching antics in "Raiders."

The side is further let down by the uninteresting villains. A hundred Indian cultists in a jungle somewhere just isn't as scary or potentially overwhelming as the evergreen Nazis. What is their plan actually supposed to be? It seems like they're intent on getting rid of the world's pantheon of gods, which isn't especially worrying if you're an atheist.

If the Nazis got their hands on the Ark they'd be an invincible army, and that's a frightening thought. What the world has to fear from the Thuggee is unclear, especially as the cultists have already proven themselves particularly vulnerable to bullets and karate kicks from small Chinese children.

"Raiders" handled the supernatural elements far more intelligently, you didn't need to believe in God to appreciate the power, and danger of the Ark. Here it's too overt and clumsily-handled, and sticks out a mile.

Despite these flaws, it's still an excellent film; technically superb, amazingly paced and beautifully shot. Its passing into the halls of pop-culture infamy is well-deserved.

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