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Help Support Features Articles The Common Concept of Indiana Jones
The Common Concept of Indiana Jones
by Michael French - posted on October 30, 2003

Say the words "Indiana Jones" to an Indiana Jones devotee and the images conjured up in their hatted heads are widely varied. Say the same words to the average film buff or just the honest Joe on the street and the response is surprising.
Most die-hard Indy fans have volumes of images, quotes, and favorite moments in their mental library. The words "Indiana Jones" mean everything to them. Every scene in every film has something memorable to offer and suddenly a three hour conversation about the intrepid archaeologist begins.

click to enlarge
Indiana Jones

For the normal person or casual fan, the response this writer found was markedly different. "When you hear the words Indiana Jones, what do you think of?" was the question.
Some Indy fans said things like "The whole truck chase," while others picked minute moments from such sequences. "I like it when he hits the motorcycle with the truck," for example.
For the non-fans, the responses were broader and more simplistic, with an interesting commonality. Many remembered Indy "running from the boulder" of course, but the vast majority also recalled "the guy who rips out people’s hearts," and "the eyeball soup and monkey brains," and "'You call him Dr. Jones!'" There were many mentions of "the rope bridge" and "Shorty!"
Interestingly, after these initial impressions, the snakes and Indy’s father eventually crept into the conversation. While Raiders of the Lost Ark is "the first one... that one with the snakes," and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the most beloved film for the non-fan because of the comedy and Sean Connery, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the film that defines Indy for many causal fans, and this is something that Indy’s creators have taken to heart.

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Temple of the Forbidden
ride at Disneyland.

Die-hard fans of all franchises often feel slighted by the creations they support. They accuse the latest installments and licensed collectibles of pandering to the common person rather than the true believer. What many fail to realize is that the common person, the non-fan, is the one that makes or breaks the success of a creative idea. If normal people do not buy it, it fails. Hence, Hollywood shoots for the broadest audience.
With Indiana Jones, Lucasfilm has capitalized on the indelible and somewhat infamous images of Temple of Doom time and again. This is most evident in the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride at Disneyland in California. For starters, the name of the ride incorporates the word "temple" and the exterior of the ride building looks like something of a Thuggee fortress. While waiting in line, patrons pass spiked chambers with skulls suspended from them, a clear reference to the spiked room in Temple of Doom.
When the ride begins, the Indy music starts up and not surprisingly, the majority of the cues are from the score from Temple of Doom. The mine cart-like ride sends the participants twisting and turning through a room of bugs into a cavernous temple with a massive statue, countless skulls and a deep lava pit that can only be traversed when the ride takes one over a rickety rope bridge. While the boulder and the snakes make their appearances, Temple of Doom is the real influence for this ride.
All three of the recent original video games based on Indiana Jones incorporate elements from Temple of Doom. Fate of Atlantis is filled with lava pitted temples, Indy swings across a number of such pits in Infernal Machine, and in both Emperor’s Tomb and Infernal Machine Indy traverses rickety rope bridges and wields the machete sword that Harrison Ford carried in the climax of Temple of Doom. Infernal Machine even includes a whole level in which Indy travels by mine cart to various areas of a tomb.
Incidentally, Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb is literally a prequel to Temple of Doom. Wu Han makes his first appearance and there is a mention at the end of the game of Indy’s assignment for Lao Che.
The image of a battered Indiana Jones in a ripped shirt with a massive blade, swinging over pits with his whip is the quintessential image of Indiana Jones. During the ad campaign for Last Crusade, a Pepsi promotional poster painted by Drew Struzan incorporates an image of Indy from Temple of Doom rather than the film it is promoting.
Yet, in spite of all this, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the underdog of the series, the film most commonly disliked or at best, liked least, by many fans and non-fans alike.

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The mine cart level in the Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine
and a rope bridge moment in the
Emperor's Tomb game.

Considering the massive popularity of Raiders and Last Crusade, Temple of Doom’s influence on people’s perceptions is surprising... or is it? At first glance, it is a riddle, but look just under the surface and the answer is staring right back in defiance. When Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theatres in 1981, it was wildly successful as everyone knows, and the anticipation for the sequel was huge.
However, unlike Lucas’ Star Wars series, Raiders of the Lost Ark was not as heavily merchandised. There was a board game or two, some Kenner action figures that did not sell very well, and standard fare like posters and the soundtrack record. When Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom slammed into theatres in 1984 it was a totally different ball game.
No fewer than three posters were made for the movie theatres alone. Wendy’s gave away posters as well, while LJN produced action figures, another board game hit the shelves, Aladdin made two metal lunch boxes, and Atari created an arcade game with real voices from the film thrown in for effect. Stetson Hats threw in for licensing rights to Indy’s famous lid and sold brown fedoras commercially during the summer of the film’s release. Not even Last Crusade had a merchandising campaign comparable to the second film.

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The "Trust him." poster.

Just compare the tag lines of all three films in the series and it is evident which one had the most attitude. The Raiders tag lines were mainly to let the audience know that Spielberg and Lucas were involved with quotes like "From the creators of Jaws and Star Wars comes the ultimate hero." Last Crusade placed heavy emphasis on Indy’s father with the lines, "The man with the hat is back, and this time he’s bringing his Dad." and "Have the adventure of your life keeping up with the Joneses." Temple of Doom didn’t emphasize the director or the guest stars, it emphasizes Indiana Jones. One poster simply said "Trust him," showing Indy with the sword over his shoulder and a confident grin on his face. But the tag line for the main campaign poster of Temple of Doom became the Indiana Jones marching song. "If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones."
The anticipation was high and Temple of Doom was on its way to being remembered, but not as its creators expected.

It was a film that would live in infamy upon its release. It was not a bomb, as the box office gross of well over $100 million attests, yet it was not what the public was expecting and controversy came from all sides. The film was notably darker than the original, as the creators intended, with Indy confronting a sacrificial cult that killed innocent people and enslaved children in graphic detail. Parents were outraged by the gore, the scares, and the dark atmosphere. Critics and fans were unsure of the slightly zanier humor and the less dignified supporting characters.
Actually, when compared with Temple of Doom, Raiders of the Lost Ark arguably lays claim to a darker and more frightening story due to the lack of humor to offset the darkness and the horrific climax with screaming Nazis melting before the viewers’ eyes, but the audiences in 1984 had spoken, and loudly. Temple of Doom was too much.
In the wake of the film, the Motion Picture Association of America at Steven Spielberg’s suggestion created the PG-13 rating for films like Temple of Doom, which were too intense for young children, but not scary or obscene enough to warrant an R rating. Five years later, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would get the PG-13 rating, but interestingly it was the most tame and unoffending of all three films.
The second, controversial film in the Indiana Jones series lives in the memories of the audience and has defined Indy’s character and exploits for the public. A combination of its heavy ad campaign and its cinematic infamy have contributed greatly to its influence on how people remember Indiana Jones. Additionally, it is often the case that the sequel of a Spielberg or Lucas trilogy is the defining film for the series.

The most famous misquoted line in history is "Luke, I am your father," which is a paraphrase of Darth Vader’s "No, I am your father," from The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the Star Wars series. Everyone who remembers Back to the Future recalls two items, the flying Delorean and the Hover Board, both of which made their appearance in Back to the Future: Part II. Taking this idea of the second film outside Spielberg and Lucas, just look at the Superman films with Christopher Reeve. What do most people remember? "Kneel before Zod!" Superman fighting the three criminals, which takes place in Superman II.
The same can be seen in video game series as well. Yeah, Mario Bros. was first, but Super Mario Bros. is the one that defined the Italian plumber as the mushroom-eating, high-jumping, fireball-throwing adventurer. Likewise of the Tomb Raider series, in which the first action figure and some of the most famous photos are of Lara Croft in the Sola wetsuit, which takes place in Tomb Raider II.

The second film or game in a series has the opportunity to define a character that the first film does not. The first of any series is often preoccupied with necessary exposition, leaving the sequel free to let the main characters do what they do best, and in Indy’s case, it’s swinging over lava pits with his whip, chopping bridges in half over high chasms, and fighting off evil with his bloody knuckles, be they Nazis or Thuggee cultists.
Regardless of how you feel about the first sequel, whether you love it or absolutely hate it, Temple of Doom’s go-for-broke action, controversy, and heavy merchandising did something in the mind of the public that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade only supplemented. In 1984, it gave adventure a name that from then on had to be Indiana Jones.


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