Home > Reviews > INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM – John Williams


September 11, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

indianajonesandthetempleofdoomTHROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Even after thirty years, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom remains one of the most iconic and beloved action films of the 1980s. A darker, scarier prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg’s film has Harrison Ford returning as the archaeologist-adventurer Indiana Jones, crossing paths with Chinese jewel smugglers in Shanghai in 1934. After his deal with the Triads goes wrong, Indy flees on a plane with his diminutive sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) and nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw), only to crash over the Himalayas, washing up in a remote Indian village. Before long, Indy is embroiled in yet another adventure, this time involving missing children, ancient mystical stones said to have magic powers, and a terrifying cult that worships the Hindu goddess Kali. The film was a massive commercial success, ending up the third highest grossing film of 1984 with an adjusted-for-inflation gross of almost $436 million, and received two Academy Award nominations, including one for its score by John Williams.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom marked the seventh collaboration between Spielberg and Williams, exactly ten years after their first film together, The Sugarland Express, in 1974. As one would expect, the score is an action-adventure knockout, filled to the brim with memorable themes, rich and vivid orchestrations, and sparkling action writing. Additionally, taking into account the nature of the film, the score is also significantly darker than its predecessor, often encroaching into horror music territory, while the Chinese and Indian locations are brought to life with some tasteful allusions to the musical traditions of the cultures. Temple of Doom was written at the tail end of what is, arguably, the most fruitful period of any composer in the history of film music – from 1975 through to 1984, when Williams wrote the majority of his seminal scores: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and so on. Temple of Doom fits right in with the stylistics of each of those brilliant works, and can easily be considered right up there with his best.

Ever the adherent of the leitmotivic style of writing multiple themes for characters and concepts in every score he writes, Williams built his score around the familiar Raiders March for the Indiana Jones character, but expanded upon it with three new major character themes – a love theme for Indy and Willie, a theme for Short Round, and a theme for the ‘Slave Children’ at the center of the story – as well as a number of smaller recurring motifs for other thematic aspects.

Unusually, the score actually opens with a song, a lushly orchestrated version of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”, performed in Mandarin Chinese by Kate Capshaw, and choreographed on-screen as a Busby Berkeley/Esther Williams-style dance routine of glitz and glamour – a fun but throwaway moment to confound audience expectations. After this brief diversion onto Broadway, and a period of tension in “Indy Negotiates”, Williams settles down into the first of the score’s many rollicking action set-pieces, comprising “The Nightclub Brawl” and “Fast Streets of Shanghai”, both of which feature heroic renditions of the Raiders March, as well as the first performance of Short Round’s playful and mischievous theme, with its pizzicato effects and feather-light metallic percussion. Although there are no really overt Oriental influences to the music in terms of orchestration or melody, Williams’s writing technique nevertheless provides a superb pastiche of the speed and movement of Chinese classical music, combining it with his own magnificent blend of orchestral action that is terrifically entertaining.

This is the sort of stuff that made his Star Wars, Raiders, and other late-70s/early-80s scores so astonishingly brilliant. In each instance, Williams has sections of the orchestra playing off each other in call-and-response fashion, in combination with dense and intricate rhythms that move around the players, and flamboyant instrumental touches. The furious string writing around the 1:00 mark of “The Nightclub Brawl” is especially noteworthy, as are the brass phrases which flash around the horn section at around the 2:00 mark of “Fast Streets” .

Once the action shifts from China to rural India, the idiom of the music changes slightly to take into account more regional variations; sitars, tabla drums, and more stereotypically ‘Indian’ flavors occasionally pepper the score, identifying the film’s new geographic setting. We get a first, fleeting performance of Willie’s classic Hollywood love theme in “Map/Out of Fuel”, before another barnstorming action-adventure moment comes by way of the “Slalom on Mount Humol”. In this breakneck cue Indy, Willie and Short Round enjoy the ride of a lifetime on an inflatable raft down a mountain river, accompanied by wonderful whirligig brass phrases, thunderous string writing, and brief flashes of Willie’s theme, accompanying every fall, swell and drop the trio endures.

The film’s final setting is the mysterious Pankot Palace, where the apparently benevolent rule of a child-like maharajah masks the terrible truth of the place: that the sacred Sankara Stones, ancient rocks said to hold magical powers, have been stolen from the village and taken there, and that the children of the villagers are being used as slaves in an enormous mine, extracting the material that is being used to construct a temple where the resurrected Thuggee cult can worship their evil goddess, Kali. At first everything is fun and games; the journey from the Indian village to Pankot Palace has a sense of anticipation at the adventure to come, mainly by way of a new fanfare motif for the palace itself that first appears in “To Pankot”. Later, the playful “Nocturnal Activities” between Indy and Willie in one of the palace’s lavishly appointed rooms gives a first full performance of Willie’s theme, a wash of Hollywood strings and swooning melodies, interjected by comedic pizzicato sequences and dance-like see-sawing cellos.

Things turn much darker hereafter, as the intrepid heroes venture deep within the palace, discover its dark secret, and must deal with its nightmarish reality. The “Bug Tunnel/Death Trap” sequence is one of Williams’s few ventures into pure horror scoring, building as it does to a relentless, staccato climax of roaring brasses as Indy tries to escape his imminent death one more time. Worse is yet to come as, in “The Temple of Doom”, we hear the frantic demonic chanting of the Thuggee cult members as their terrifying high priest, Mola Ram, sacrifices one of their own to the goddess. In “Approaching the Stones” the sitar-based motif for the Sankara Stones themselves (which was briefly hinted at earlier in “The Scroll”) comes roaring into life as a massive choral outburst. Later, “Children in Chains” provides the first tangible performance of the so-called Slave Children’s March, a persistent, rolling piece which is both despondent and hopeful at the same time – I’m not quite sure how Williams manages to accomplish this feat of juxtaposed emotions, but it’s yet another testament to his skill.

As the score builds to its finale, Williams structures his score around numerous performances of these core ideas, tweaking them as necessary, and allowing each of them to have a moment in the sun. Both “Short Round Escapes” and “Short Round Helps” feature heroic statements of his theme, offset by fanfare performances of the Slave Children’s March; this latter theme emerges into a full-fledged concert performance of great power and orchestral might during “Slave Children’s Crusade”, one of the highlights of the entire score. Brief bursts of the Raiders March infiltrate during moments of special note, while the incidental action writing continues to be superb, adding levels of excitement and energy to each new sequence. Listen to the mind-bogglingly fast high-pitched woodwind writing all the way through the breathless “Mine Car Chase”, and the way it allows performances of the Pankot motif, Short Round’s theme, and quick bursts of the Raiders March to bounce effortlessly off the action material.

“The Broken Bridge/British Relief” is where the Pankot motif is finally revealed to actually be the theme for Mola Ram and his minions, clearly identifying him as the true power inside the palace. The intense climactic fight on the bridge high above the river gorge, and Mola Ram’s final plummet into the mouths of the waiting crocodiles below, is underscored with a high-energy combination of the Pankot motif, the Thuggee chant, and a heavenly choral version of the Slave Children March, as well as a wonderfully pompous piece of brass-led Britishness as the blustering Captain Blumburtt arrives with the cavalry to help Indy see off the villains. The final performance of the Raiders March, the Slave Children’s March, Short Round’s theme, and Willie’s theme in the conclusive “End Credits” brings things to a rousing close.

The soundtrack for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was originally quite rare, and for many years was only available on CD as an expensive import from Japan on the Polydor label, which contained 11 cues and ran for just over 40 minutes. This injustice was finally corrected in 2009 when all the Indiana Jones scores – including this one – were released together in an extensive set from Concord Records and producer Laurent Bouzereau, which presented a substantially expanded version of the score, as well as a couple of bonus cues on a fifth bonus disc. Although the set is expensive, it’s well worth seeking out. Despite its brilliance, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is often overlooked by Williams collectors – it’s virtually never played in concert, and Williams aficionados rarely mention it when compiling lists of his most esteemed works (although, to be fair, he has so many to choose from). However, this lack of acknowledgement is a huge oversight in my opinion; I personally feel that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom can be classed as one of the great composer’s highest career accomplishments, and is an essential addition to the collection of anyone who appreciates his high adventure shenanigans and his knack for writing memorable themes.

Buy the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Anything Goes (written by Cole Porter, performed by Kate Capshaw) (2:49)
  • Indy Negotiates (3:58)
  • The Nightclub Brawl (2:30)
  • Fast Streets of Shanghai (3:39)
  • Map/Out of Fuel (3:21)
  • Slalom on Mt. Humol (2:23)
  • Short Round’s Theme (2:28)
  • The Scroll/To Pankot Palace (4:24)
  • Nocturnal Activities (5:53)
  • Bug Tunnel/Death Trap (3:28)
  • Approaching the Stones (2:38)
  • Children in Chains (2:41)
  • The Temple of Doom (2:58)
  • Short Round Escapes (2:20)
  • Saving Willie (3:34)
  • Slave Children’s Crusade (3:22)
  • Short Round Helps (4:49)
  • The Mine Car Chase (3:40)
  • Water! (1:55)
  • The Sword Trick (1:03)
  • The Broken Bridge/British Relief (4:46)
  • End Credits (6:19)
  • Indy and the Villagers (3:51) [BONUS]
  • The Secret Passage (3:28) [BONUS]
  • Return to the Village/Raiders March (3:26) [BONUS]

Running Time: 40 minutes 16 seconds – Polydor release
Running Time: 86 minutes 22 seconds – Concord release

Polydor POCP-2014 (1984/1991)
Concord CRE-31003-2 (1984/2009)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Orchestrations by Herbert W. Spencer and Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Bruce Botnick and Lyle Burbridge. Edited by Ken Wannberg. Score produced by John Williams. Album produced by Laurent Bouzereau.

  1. September 12, 2014 at 7:00 am

    Excellent analysis! For my money this is one of Williams’ neglected gems, overshadowed by the Indy scores that came before and after. A quick nitpick: the film was set in 1935, not 1934 🙂

  2. Alonso
    September 12, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Thank you so much for reviewing this score. It’s definitely my Indiana Jones Score, probably my most favorite Williams score, and just might be my favorite score overall, with all of the rousing themes and action material. I totally agree that this one is overlooked; it’s definitely one of Williams’ most thrilling efforts.

  3. jin choung
    April 19, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    cool article and i totally agree. but was wondering if you could help me out with something about the score – i distinctly remember hearing during the movie a point where you hear short round’s theme playing and them amazing, the raiders theme comes in and is played right on top of it and the two fitting together perfectly… and even as a kid, i was thrilled at the symbolism of that but i could never find that in any of the youtube clips… was i imagining it??? thanks.

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