Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


Movie series usually follow a predictable pattern. The first one wows you, the second may capture some of the thrill of the first, and subsequent numbers are usually … by the numbers. It’s the peril of sequels. The power of sequels seems to be that most people don’t notice too much, or don’t care. Why else would people flock to The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor? As I’m sure they will, later this year. (Well, I don’t understand that one at all, because the first one wasn’t that good.)
The exceptions are almost as rare as ideas in the head of George W. Bush. I’m searching for examples, and have come up with only three. The Back to the Future trilogy held up until the end. The Lord of the Rings actually got better at the end. And this one held up for three installments.

Which is not to say it’s perfect. The second of a series is virtually always the weakest. (Only exception I can think of: The Godfather, Part II.) Even the above have the second act problem; BTTF II and The Two Towers were the weakest. We all know why this happens. Part Two is connecting material, taking what was established in the first one and leading you into the resolution in Part III.

That’s for stories that were planned as trilogies, though. The Indiana Jones series are stand-alone movies. You don’t need to know anything about the first one to understand the second and third, each is an independent adventure, complete in itself. (So is the original Back to the Future, but its success enabled Robert Zemeckis to go on, as is often the case.)
Yet {{Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom{{ is the weakest of the three, and it’s for another reason entirely. When something like Raiders or Star Wars or the original Pirates of the Caribbean redefines what it’s like to have a good time at the cinema, the creative people do their best to recreate the magic of #1 … but it can’t be done. (At least in my opinion. I know many people think The Empire Strikes Back was better than Star Wars, but I don’t.) Even if you get it 95% right—maybe even if you get it 100% right—you can’t lose your virginity twice. The joys of Part II are the joys of comfortable familiarity; if they keep the magic, that’s an extra bonus that you should not expect.
I say all this not to demean The Temple of Doom, only to point out that if it had been better than a masterpiece like Raiders, it would have been like the Second Coming. Raiders was an A++++. Doom was merely an A+. Someone said that, after hitting the bullseye, the creators of this series—Spielberg, Lucas, the screenwriters—wavered a bit on the second and third shots, just missing the dead center. In Doom they took it a little too seriously, with too much blood and intensity, too much gross-out. (I liked the dinner where nothing was edible, didn’t like ripping out the beating heart.) Recognizing their mistake, they over-compensated with The Last Crusade, going a little too much for light-hearted humor. I’ll have to see about that, but that’s how I remember it at the moment, almost twenty years after I saw Crusade, and I do agree with the assessment of this one.

I have one other (very minor) carp, just as those are minor. I thought the escape in the mine cars was a little too contrived, a little too transparent in its attempt to set up a later tie-in; i.e., a roller coaster ride at a theme park. (Just like the cuddly little Ewoks were obviously designed to sell Star Wars teddy bears.) We never did get that ride, though of course we did get an Indiana Jones ride, and it’s still one of the most technically advanced rides in Disneyland, better than a roller coaster.