Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Worst Films: #8: Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984)

Ponty keeps the train wreck a-rollin’ with his eighth installment of Ponty’s Top Ten Worst Films (here are #9 and #10, in case you missed them).   This week, he’s going for one of the big boys:  1984’s Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.

I used to take the contrarian position that I liked The Temple of Doom.  As a kid I loved the whole opening sequence—Short Round, riding an inflatable raft to safety, etc.—and who could forget that quasi-Aztec Indian dude pulling the heart out of people’s chests?

Then I grew up and, as is often the case, the rose-tinted glasses of childhood gave way to the jaded monocle of experience.  While I still don’t think the movie is that bad, the love interest is incredibly obnoxious.  And as Ponty points out, the artifact is quite lame compared to THE HOLY GRAIL and THE ARK OF THE COVENANT!

Of course, how are you going to top those?  Unless it’s a piece of the True Cross or Noah’s Ark, there’s nothing else that really competes.

But don’t let me steal Ponty’s thunder.  I don’t want him ripping my still-beating heart from my chubby chest.

Here is Ponty’s review of his eighth worst film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984):

I’m well aware that my entry this week might have a few people muttering so let me preface this piece by saying that much of what we consider worst and best tend to be personal choices rather than flat out horrific. I can understand that some people might like this movie, even if I don’t see the point in it. I know I’m not alone in this, not that it would bother me if I was. Even if I was the only person in the world who views this film as a 2 hour waste of time and space, I’d still say so. I don’t mind being isolated in my opinions.

When I was a lad in the 80s, I adored this series. A reluctant hero, a man of action and intellect travelling the world in search of mysterious artefacts was right up my street. Of all the things you might disagree on here, one aspect I think we can agree on is blokes and boys alike wanted to be like Indy. Danger, adventure – what’s not to like? He got the attention from the ladies, he won out in the end and he got to stick it to the Nazis. University aside, he was his own man and he did things his own way. You just can’t knock the character. The films, however, are another matter. Where I could see a point to the first and the third, I wonder what the hell was going on with Temple of Doom.

When I think of the run up to this movie, I envisage Spielberg sitting with his people pondering what to do. ‘Well, we did a Christian artefact, with the war against the Nazis as the backdrop. What next? Where haven’t we sent him? India? Yes, I like that but what is he looking for? A religious artefact revered by its entire population? An ancient burial ground housing old yet magnificent terrors?…(muttering in the background) magic stones? Yes, yes, I like that idea, let’s run with it!

Magic stones? MAGIC STONES?! What a terrible premise, almost as bad as aliens in the 4th or wheeling an ageing Indy out for a possible 5th film. In many ways, I’d probably understand this movie more had Indy been an octogenarian who’d wandered, Biden like, into the Indian jungle by mistake but he, like Spielberg, had full control of his senses; just not the good sense to leave this idea on the cutting room floor where it belonged.

The film starts when Indiana escapes from a nightclub in Shanghai with Data from The Goonies (1985) and a lousy lounge singer played by the increasingly irritating Kate Capshaw. Taking a plane to nowhere, manned by pilots who work for the villain whose clutches he has supposedly avoided, he finds the plane abandoned and has to take drastic measures to escape. He uses an inflatable boat to float to the ground and they find their way to a river where they’re spotted by a village shaman. They’re led to the village where they’re told that their kids have been kidnapped and their magic stones stolen so equipped with elephants, they voyage into the heart of the Indian jungle to seek out the stones and return the children.

I should iron out that I don’t believe Temple of Doom to be a badly made movie, just not thought out very well. It has the stunts, the action, the playfulness of the first film but it was lacking in ideas. The story didn’t, for me, take hold as, say, Lost Ark (1981) or The Last Crusade (1989). The substance of finding lost artefacts with the added threat of the Nazis on top of a mystical journey made those films more interesting. It was hard to get invested in a bunch of magic rocks, even if they had been taken by a mad cultist. It was worse having to make the trip with a screaming narcissist and a wisecracking kid.

To reiterate, many readers will wonder how on earth I could find a space in my top ten for this movie and I’d understand that perfectly. Its redeeming feature is that it works as an action movie but I’m not sure it works as an Indiana Jones flick. As Indy moves from Shanghai to the Himalayan jungle, from village to palace to mines, I just wondered whether Spielberg had winged it, scene to scene, unaware of what he was doing from one frame to the next, making it up as he went along. To me, his heart just wasn’t in this film and I could see that. I’m not sure Harrison Ford was invested in it either.

This, for me, just pips The Crystal Skull (2008) in terms of a lack of ideas but I think that’s mostly down to the Cold War theme in the last film. The 4th feature, with its unnecessary nostalgia trip and aliens was bad enough but at least it kept my attention until the reveal, the alien skull, around the time I threw something at the screen. I hope they don’t make any more but this is Hollywood. When Harrison Ford is properly infirm, they’ll no doubt bring him back for Indiana Jones and The Lost Catheter (Release Date TBD—TPP).

Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade are excellent Indy films. They should have left it at that.


15 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Worst Films: #8: Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984)

  1. Cheers for the intro, Tyler. Don’t worry about your still beating heart. I have enough worries with my own chubby chest! 🙂

    I don’t know if it came across but my overriding feeling from this film was disappointment. It’s easy enough sticking to the same formula but if you don’t add to it, it can plummet like a lead balloon. Stupid stones though, I ask you! If Indy had thrown 2 of them at Short Round and Willie and then used the final one on himself, it might have been watchable. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes—disappointment did come across. It’s a good formula for the films, but the artifact matters, as do the supporting characters. I didn’t mind Short Round too much, but Willie was insufferable.


  2. Indiana Jones movies were specifically made for nine year old boys. By and large. We only have one tv and so my 9 year old husband forced me to watch the movies. (We forgive them because we love them. Eye roll.)

    Agreed – the best were the Crystal Skull and the Ark of the Covenant.

    Indiana Jones movies pride themselves on the worst female actors they were able to find; if an actress had one jot of talent, her name was crossed off the list. But I’m certain that nine year old boys thought the women were ‘hubba hubba’, as they used to say in America many long years ago.

    Chez Myers, Indiana Jones movies are played every time they are spotted in the guide. Along with The Karate Kid (eye roll), Home Alone (double eye roll), and Roadhouse (I’m getting very dizzy right now).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes—very much for adventure-loving nine-year olds. Indeed, a friend of mine in the fifth grade and I wrote an entire play based around _Indiana Jones_. I have no idea what the plot was now, but we cast a number of our friends as various circus animals, reminiscent of the scene from _Holy Grail_. We were also influenced by the excellent Lucas Arts game _Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis_, a stellar adventure game from the early 1990s.

      The thing is, his love interests aren’t all that “hubba hubba.” I think Willie is _supposed_ to be, but she is supremely unattractive, in large part because of her personality. Looks-wise, she really wasn’t that attractive, either. Marion had that kind of tom boy appeal, but definitely wasn’t “hubba hubba.”

      Your husband has good taste in films. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen _Roadhouse_, but I like the premise. _The Karate Kid_ is the quintessential nine-year old boy film: an isolated fish-out-of-water makes unlikely friends and overcomes his psychotic bully. Good stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ‘Agreed – the best were the Crystal Skull and the Ark of the Covenant.’

    Nope. The ark and the grail were the best.

    As for Karate Kid, I like; Home Alone, I like (in spite of MacAuley Culkin) and Roadhouse, I haven’t seen in years but it’s Patrick Swayze kicking butt so a thumbs up for me. Your Lon is a good egg! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Indiana Jones and TTOD is a very strange movie – I first saw it at the cinema and it worked a treat, being a lovely combination of the thrilling and the funny and the cinema audience were swept along by it.
    I couldn’t wait to show it to my parents (who enjoyed ROTLA) on video 6 months later. We all sat down to watch it, but some sort of strange alchemy had occurred: it was awful on the small screen. Since then, I have re-watched it 3 times, hoping that somehow, the original magic might reveal itself; sadly, to no avail. It just doesn’t work and if ever I decide to have an Indiana Jones movie weekend, it won’t be included.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is something magical about seeing a flick like _Temple of Doom_ on the big screen. It makes it easy to overlook its flaws, I imagine—the spellbinding effect of the celluloid and the popcorn by the silvery light of movie magic.

      It’s unfortunate it doesn’t hold up. I enjoyed it as a kid, and still have a bit of a soft spot for it, but it’s definitely the odd man out in the trilogy. The other two films are *much* better.


  5. Yes – I can only think I left my brain in the cinema foyer. Since then, I’ve never encountered such a disparity between the cinema and TV-watching experience; I’ve seen movies whose special effects are far less impressive on the TV, but not to the extent that this destroys the pleasure of watching. The ToD still has a couple of effective scenes: the nightclub and the tunnel death-trap, but it’s poorly written and suffers irredeemably from the presence of Short Round – who seems to have wandered onto the set from The Goonies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s funny is I think _Temple of Doom_ predates the _The Goonies_ (I should take two seconds to confirm that, but I don’t wanna), but now we can’t help but think of Short Round as the tech kid from _The Goonies_.


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