Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. It's not often I get to introduce a piece by Harry, but here I am doing just that. In my biggest dreams for this series I thought maybe I could arrange an interview with John Williams about his score to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which even the most ardent critics of the film still revere. Sadly that was not to be, but I was trying to figure out a way to still include a love letter to this magnificent score.
When I was laying out my plans for this column to Harry and the other editors, Big Red said he'd love to write about the score. Problem solved. I knew that Harry was just as giddy about this particular soundtrack as I was and I hoped he'd go full Harry-excited with the piece and full Harry-excited he went.
Without any further ado, here's Mr. Knowles with his multi-thousand word geekout recorded as he went through both the film and the soundtrack.
You can follow along with Harry for free via Spotify. Click here to listen along!
I love Quint’s dedication to INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, as I have always loved it. I first saw the film at the LOGAN’S RUN Mall Theater in the DFW area. It was post-divorce and Dad took me and my little sister to it. Because it was a post-divorce film, I didn’t have access to all the movie magazines that I did when I lived in Austin, so I went in pretty blind. And the first thing that grabbed me? That musical number that begins it all: ANYTHING GOES.
My personal favorite film genre is The Musical. Both my parents loved 30’s – 50’s musicals with a passion and raised me accordingly. As a film geek growing up in what felt like the greatest era to be a declared film geek, I was acutely aware of composers and the scores for film. I was also a Band Geek, played both Tenor Saxophone and Trombone. Getting to play the classic RAIDERS MARCH in band has always felt like the height I achieved as a film geek. To sit there and breathe actual musical life through the skills my band director, Henry Driskill, instilled in me… it was a supreme geek moment in life. To be one with the music.
Walking into TEMPLE OF DOOM, I was expecting aurally what we’d heard before from Williams, and really it kinda is. For a while. It isn’t until Indy slams the LAO CHE airplane door that the score begins shifting and a lot of that is because Indiana Jones is headed for uncharted territory.
The Willie Scott romantic theme keeps coming up, it isn’t the soulful yearning of Marion’s Theme, which made us fall magically instantly in love with Marion, but it is a playful ditty… a fling of musical notes that makes you understand this is a crazy fun girl that’s gonna get ya in trouble, but she’s the kinda gal you’d get into trouble with.
Once the inflated raft hits the side of Mt Humol you’ve got such a beautiful musical aggression… it is unrelenting and it screams speed racing through your mind, accepting totally in the insanity of what Spielberg and crew are flashing before our eyes, but once it becomes more still and they catch their breath something mysterious creeps into the score. You begin to hear the same influences that came into George Harrison and the Beatles music once they traveled to India as well. It's unmistakable… aurally, we’re in India. The only link to the music from Shanghai is Short Round’s theme, playful, jaunty and with a headstrong determination in its notes to move forward. But this is also where we first begin to hear the beginning of the Temple of Doom… it is in the shadow of the more youthful joyful spirit that is in the Short Round’s Theme track. It makes you want to scurry like a child in the jungle.
That’s one of the joys of this film. It drove the Moral Majority at the time in their holier than thou maw… but TEMPLE OF DOOM is all at once a horror film and the adventure every kid dreamt of. Boys and Girls both love Short Round. I mean, when I saw this film I was both Short & Round. But there’s no kid on the planet Earth that I’ve ever envied the way I envy Jonathan Ke Quan. To go on an adventure with Indiana Jones, to have John Williams write you your own theme, to go on this adventure with Lucas and Spielberg… both of whom were my cinematic deities of the day… splendid. But his presence drove adults in this country with zero sense of humor crazy.
Lucas & Spielberg were making the greatest and most intense Republic Serial of all time. Taking the best cut scenes from Raiders and adding horror that is visually is terribly frightening, but with Slocombe’s Technicolor lighting, and most importantly WILLIAMS’ score, it’s beautifully instructing your soul to dance in perfect time with the action, horror and emotion that is on screen.
Next we have “The Scroll / To Pankot Palace” – and here aurally we’re descending into the mystery and magic before us. For Indiana Jones, he’s never seen magic before. This is the adventure that made him believe in legend and become “a careful guy”. As Indy learns the story of the village the score feels ever so slightly a tad Miklos Rosza from GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, but in a great way. Williams forges ahead as the purpose of the music becomes to take us from the distraught dying lands of the village to the wonders and mysteries of the jungle with it’s percussion seeding our fears with what’s under the canopy. GIANT VAMPIRE BATS! Then the majesty of Pankot Palace…
Now not on any of the TEMPLE OF DOOM soundtracks is the music around the palace activities, which seems to be traditional Indian music. I’ve always been curious about that music as it isn't on any of the soundtracks.
The next score piece we get is the silly playful/turned violent acts of Nocturnal Activities.
There’s a sensual tease to the music, pulling upon Willie and Indy as Short Round sleeps. Willie has the severe hornies for Dr. Jones, but Indy is trying not to succumb, to prove he’s in control of his other penile thoughts. I love Williams' orchestration here. Lots of staccato to accent their frantic pacing and thoughts that they speak out loud in their own privacy. The music begins yearning… making you WANT to move on… C’mon, let’s do this! It’s so playful it's delightful.
Entire Thugee assassin, the music scored a slight bit to Herrmann’s Psycho mixed with the yearning pacing of Willie Scott and it’s so playful and menacing and even heroic with a touch of the classic Raiders theme. This scene could have been tedium, save for Williams. Like so much that he scores he makes every second count. He’s needed on this scene almost more than any other. And the way the track ends, with the passageway opened and the mural matching the scroll… the game is afoot.
The next track is “BUG TUNNEL / DEATH TRAP” – The music crawls along your spine, hitting you with sharper than sharp notes that make your spine wiggle. Then the room of death… that classic Republic Serial death chamber… LOVE IT. But we also cut to Willie and the bugs… more spine wiggly music, then the deliberate inevitable weight of the spike room of death’s constant consistent doom! I’ve always felt that Williams had to be a huge Max Steiner geek because his use of Leitmotif is genius in that master's same usage. To take themes and make them stick to characters and dangerous situations, and then intercut between them and develop those themes… It’s a dance, and Williams is genuinely PLAYING with the action we see. It is purely delightful.
Now – APPROACHING THE STONES. Here’s where the score uses an unsettling tone to make you dread this temple, the low bass dissonance grips you, the choral work, for the first time in the film, builds you to something beyond understanding, to magic. The glowing of those diamonds, you might conjure a more developed and magical score work that came in the unveiling of the Ark in Raiders, but it’s the human voice that brings us that feeling of otherworldly magic.
Then there’s “CHILDREN IN CHAINS.” Suddenly you’re in full on horror. The music, by itself creates a tone of oppression. The scene visually begins the the flapping of the skinned children’s bodies used like window decorations upon the Temple of Doom, the last thing Indy sees before discovering the horror: forced child labor seeking occult powers to be used by the evil of Mola Ram. There’s an enormity to this tragedy. The sheer numbers of kids in chains… The theme here… we heard earlier in Short Round’s Theme. Just a tad, but more fleshed out. It is this OPPRESSION THEME that I fucking love most in the score. At least at this stage. There is something about the music of mines that I dearly love, from Snow White’s DIG DIG song to this oppressive slaving away music here. Even the countless souls toiling for the Egyptians in something like PRINCE OF EGYPT. There’s a beat to the drudgery that feels universal, but with TEMPLE OF DOOM this drudgery music… I got so much High School work done to this score. I totally saw a connection between being a child forced to learn Physics and Trig and being chained breaking rocks in a mine for Mola Ram. Sure, that’s outrageous, but I felt that way all the same.
Which brings us to Track 13 “THE TEMPLE OF DOOM” – Oppressive… Evil… CHANTING… and that thing that’s struck that gives a feeling like Dwarves are forging gold somewhere. This is some of the weirdest most awesome stuff Williams has ever done. Human sacrifice is what this music is meant to accompany. The feeling of the music conjures a memory of something ancient that you don’t want to stumble into. And that strange tortured animal whine that ends the track… fucking hell, man! What is that?!? All I know is it gives ya heebie jeebies late at night!
“SHORT ROUND ESCAPES” – is a fave, cuz at this point in the film the forces for good are screwed royally. Willie, as usual, is totally helpless. Indy ain’t Indy anymore. His will is tied to the will of Mola Ram. And Short Round is chained in the mines, cracking rocks, and his chains when nobody looks. He doesn’t accept his fate. He’s not a powerless child waiting to be rescued, he’s a little man getting set to rescue. Every emotional beat is there in the score. I can see the film play out, the pace picking up once he’s free kung fu-ing the bad guys, scurrying and jumping and climbing all while the downtrodden enslaved children look on with inspiration and hope. Hope for the first time in who knows how long.
Musically we skip my favorite moment of TEMPLE OF DOOM: Short Round vs Indiana Jones. I may be 42 years old, but Jonathan Ke Quan was born in 1971, same as me and when I watch TEMPLE OF DOOM I am Short Round. Also,just personally, in my parents divorce my Mother changed. Changed in ways like Indy changed. The mother I knew was gone. Her family on her side did some very fucking shady shit, like Manson Family persuasion, and she was unhappy in her soul, but dedicated to the path that was chosen for her. My dad’s friends referred to it as somebody ejecting the VHS for Austin Helen, and put in some new VHS that was Ranch Helen. And my love of INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) had me convinced Martians were involved, but after this film, I knew I just needed to push a flaming torch into her stomach to wake her the fuck up. Sadly, I never did. It’s easier to be brave when your actions are scripted for you.
“SAVING WILLIE” – Musically is more busy music, scoring specific moments of ups and downs, but then there’s the resolution, which is “Exhaustively endearing” as though coming out of the worst sauna ever. Before a reprisal of the Willie & Indy romantic theme which gives way to a determined version of Indy’s theme before the LOVING Leitmotif exchange of Indy and Short Round’s themes. It’s wonderful stuff that gives way to…
SLAVE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE – Here we get the full version of the drudgery music and it is spectacular. Williams is swirling the emotion and drive to free this mass of children. About a minute in, we begin the moment scoring, before reprisal to the awesome slave music – and Indy’s fight with the big evil plane Nazi in makeup continues. Then the evil fucking kid and that DOLL to fuck with our hero. I love this so much, cuz now Short Round must fly into action to AGAIN save Indiana Jones. What a fucking kid!
Thus “SHORT ROUND HELPS” comes in, which has Short Round’s theme mixed with the uncertain peril of Williams swirling strings. This plays absolutely perfect with the images on screen, and when the Indy theme kicks in, it’s been a long time and it feels like everything is going to be great, like, we’re almost at the end, but then swirling strings and screeching woodwinds remind us there’s more peril, more danger. Again we hear Indy’s march and Short Round’s heroics, then the heroic musical singing brings absolute euphoria before Willie’s theme reminds us she needs help. It finishes with strong Indy heroic marching and again… PERIL NOTES… What could possibly be next???
THE MINE CAR CHASE - Music to be placed into a frenzy by. I would love to just see a video of the orchestra playing this part cuz fuck you FLIGHT OF THE BUMBLE BEE we’re in full PRESTO musically, racing at a speed where you would swear the strings section was seconds from smoking. Less cat gut and more kindling and you’d have an orchestra bonfire while recording this section. I love this track. Williams does this better than anyone. You can shut your eyes and see the rush of caverns and perilous leaps, but by no means will you catch a breath. There’s no calm, just aggressive prestissimo and it’s wondrous! When the horns come in they’re heroic.
However, then there’s the WATER! – and it’s kind of jaunty, until the music tells us to shit our pants and run! Run and don’t look back…
THE SWORD TRICK is a brief 1 minute track of excitement – with Indy march and Short Round’s jaunty tune before...
THE BROKEN BRIDGE / BRITISH RELIEF – Every time I see this scene I know they shot it on 3 continents, that it was made possible through amazing rigging and brilliant storyboarding, but musically this is for all the ropes. You have the soaring magic and the oppression, the swirling strings, the menacing sense of urgency and the perilous fall to the gaping jaws of the alligators below. Mola Ram and Indy clinging to a rope bridge,each hating upon one another. This man took everything from Indy and made him hit his best friend. Fuck Mola Ram! And then, in my favorite moment of Indiana Jones, Archeologist, while clutching sacred Sankara Stones in a bag, in a tug of war with Mola Ram, the definition of evil mystic zealot… he reaches into that mind palace of his and invokes the holy fucking spirit of SHIVA to punish and destroy Mola Ram and the music to that shit is SOARING, MAGNIFICENT, MAGICAL SONICS! Then those British horns arrive and everything is fine dandy! Just like in the best Bond flicks, the calvary arrives after Bond has done the hard shit. We have the music for returning to the village before…
THE END CREDITS – which tells ya right off the bat, this is the end credits to yet another awesome adventure of Indiana Jones, may they never end. This 6+ minute track takes through all the themes for the film and nobody does a medley better than Williams.
As a boy I hated Willie Scott cuz she wasn’t Marion and after Raiders I was all about Marion, but there’s a truth to women that you learn the older you get in life and that’s that no two are exactly the same, but they all deserve to be loved for some reason, if you care to find it. I’ve found it. I am now completely fine with Willie Scott. She gets on your nerves, rides Indy like someone that refuses to let him get the upper hand until she wants him to, then he plays stubborn and she dares him back and that’s what crawls in his mind. I get that. Having a great woman means having someone that will call you on your shit. That’s actually a trait that Marion shares. It’s just… oh man, I love Marion most.
Now – to read these other articles that Quint has put together! Hope you enjoyed!