After the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is fair to say that Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was something of a hotly-anticipated film by the time the summer of 1984 came around. In the United States,
this rather dark film had scraped by with a PG rating from the MPAA but an outcry from concerned viewers and parents of younger children had given the MPAA pause for thought. Following the film's release, Spielberg suggested to the MPAA that an
'in between' category was needed for films that were stronger in content than PG films but not strong enough to warrant a restrictive R rating. He suggested an age of 14, and within a month or so of the Temple of Doom's release, the MPAA
introduced the advisory PG-13 rating for motion pictures, which finally bridged the large gap between the PG and R ratings.
Despite the ruffling of a few feathers in the States, the Temple of Doom was passed uncut. But when the film came in for classification at the BBFC in the UK it ran into more troubles. In this month's edition of Cutting Edge, we'll be taking an
in-depth look at the classification of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and its history at the hands of the British censors.
The film's heart is cut out for UK cinema release
The Temple of Doom was first viewed by two examiners on April 30th 1984, with the film's distributors, UIP, keen to get a PG rating in order to attract the family audience that had enjoyed Raiders of the Lost Ark three years before. At this time,
the 12 rating was some five years away from being introduced as an option for theatrical releases, so the filmmakers very much wanted to avoid a 15 rating.
One of the Temple of Doom's initial examiners was a lady named Carol Topolski, who worked at the BBFC between 1982 and 1994. We interviewed her especially for this edition of the series and we'll be sharing her memories of the film later in this
article. But let's first take a look at the other examiner's report written after the film's initial screening. Much of the film's scary scenes were cited as being acceptable at PG, with the report arguing that:
...creepy-crawlies... threatening spikes and crushing ceilings... were legitimate entertainment for a young audience...
However, the violence that begins in the temple in around an hour into the film (with the sacrifice of a young victim) was flagged up as being problematic, as was the ensuing scenes of horror and action violence that continued into the film's
second half. The examiner report continued, stating that:
...the violence got stronger and sadistic pleasure crept in. A boy's heart is ripped out [and he is then] plunged live and screaming into molten fire and is seen to perish. I don't remember us ever passing a scene like this at 'PG' before.
The next scene that worried me at 'PG', which there is no doubt this film should be, was a mutual whipping of Shortie and Indiana because the latter, after force-feeding of evil blood, had spat it out again in defiance... The juxtaposition of
whipping with two sequences of force-feeding touched something very primitive in me and I felt revolted and also quite frightened. I cannot tell whether this... would have the same force on children but I have to say I would be worried about the
lower range of the 'PG' audience seeing this.
Carol Topolski's report also flagged up the sacrifice scene as being an issue at PG, and her report on the film was later sent to Spielberg himself. Topolski recalled her issue with the heart extraction scene when we interviewed her for this
What we asked to have removed was the grossest of the process shots; there was a rather loving shot of this heart pulsating in [the priest's] hand. It's certainly not gruelling for a grown up or an older child, but for a small child that was too
much, really. I thought that stepped over the line into causing a kind of anxiety. A child doesn't have the developmental resources to be able to resolve that. Like all children's books, often there's a threat but it has to be a threat that's
surmounted and is manageable.
Following these troubling examiner reports, the Temple of Doom was flagged as needing discussion by the Board at large and James Ferman, the BBFC's director at the time, soon became involved in the difficult situation that the film's
classification had presented. On May 15th, Ferman wrote a lengthy letter to the film's UK distributors, the main points of which we have quoted here:
...Reels 4 and 5 of this sequel go far beyond the limits of the British 'PG' category [and] the film cannot be considered for a junior category without cuts. There is absolutely no precedent in children's entertainment in Britain for the very
real world of terror, ritual violence, black magic and nightmare imagery which takes over this film quite suddenly in the Temple of Doom sequence. All of us at the Board are deeply concerned at the effect which these reels could have on a young
audience, and yet boys of 8 or 9 upwards will be breaking down the doors of cinemas all over Britain if we stop them seeing the sequel to RAIDERS.
Fourteen members of the Board have seen this film, and each, reluctantly, has conceded that the film in its present form cannot be passed below the '15' category, barring all children below that age whether accompanied or not. There should be no
misunderstanding of how seriously we take the problem this film presents... with the sacrificial ceremony bordering on '18'. Needless to say, I will make myself available in any way possible to assist in resolving this unhappy situation.
Continued communications between UIP and Ferman eventually resulted in Ferman flying out to Hollywood to meet with Steven Spielberg (who was not happy that the film was going to be cut), and producer Frank Marshall to supervise the cutting of the
film. As a result of this meeting, further cuts were also demanded by Ferman, particularly with regards to the film's soundtrack.
Cut Scenes: Sacrifice
The first scene altered was, of course, the initial sacrifice scene For a PG rating, Ferman's initial cuts list demanded:
In the sacrificial Thuggee ceremony, remove entirely the tearing out of the young victim's heart and all subsequent sight of it bloody and pulsating in the High Priest's hand... except the final one when it bursts into flames.
His cuts continued, stating:
Greatly reduce the prolonged terror of the victim as he is slowly lowered into the fiery vortex, removing in particular the low-angle shot of him screaming as the cage descends towards camera and all later shots of him being lowered past
camera to emphasise his agonised anticipation of death... [cutting] away as soon as he disappears through trap door, after which his death must be over as soon as possible.
Certain reports over the years have stated that the music in the sacrifice scene was also altered to appease the BBFC, but there appears to be no evidence that this change was mandated. Ferman's original cuts list sent to UIP makes no mention
of musical changes, nor does the revised list he drew up following his visit to the States. Furthermore, the cue sheets compiled by composer John Williams for the film's soundtrack indicate that no alternate version of the sacrifice scene's
music was recorded, and when we spoke to Carol Topolski for the purposes of this episode, she told us that:
I don't recall ever asking for music to be changed [in this] or in any other film.
Cut Scenes: Tainted blood
After Jones and Shortie are captured by the cult, Jones is forced to drink cursed blood and the duo are then whipped. Ferman instructed that further cuts be made here for the British PG, instructing the filmmakers to:
Reduce the sequence where Indiana cries out as his voodoo doll is burned in flames.
Reduce the forced drinking of blood and the brutal whipping of Indiana, and remove entirely the flogging of Shortie.
Immediately afterwards, more cuts were made as Jones convulses after the drinking of the blood. For this sequence, Ferman instructed:
Remove from the soundtrack Indiana's cries of agony as he writhes on ledge after drinking blood.
The cut UK version replaces Jones' anguished cries with heavy breathing instead.
Cut Scenes: Willie set for the drop
The next changes occur a few minutes later, as Jones prepares Willie for sacrifice. In his initial cuts sent to UIP, Ferman demanded:
Reduce the scenes of Willie being lowered into the flames and minimise her realistic screaming throughout.
When Shortie burns the guard's chest with the torch, remove the sound of flesh scalding.
Cut Scenes: Stone crusher
Shortly afterwards, the main fight scene between Jones and the overseer in the mine was flagged as needing multiple alterations in the letter sent by Ferman to UIP. For the UK cinema version, Ferman demanded:
Greatly reduce the brutality of the fight between Indiana and the huge, turbanned overseer, reducing the sounds of all impact blows, and removing at least some of the following details: sledgehammer blow at overseer's body, very heavy
punches to his back and chest, heavy blows to Indiana's face and chest throughout the sequence, fighting with pickaxes, and close-ups of Indiana's foot pressing down to crush his opponent's chest. Also reduce the sadistic horror of the
overseer being dragged under the stone-crushing roller and remove the sight of blood on the roller after his death.
Ferman went on to add another requirement for the film's soundtrack in this segment of the film, remarking:
Continue to reduce violence on soundtrack, including screams of real pain as fight leads into final chase in the mine car.
With regards to the reducing of impact sounds, Carol Topolski had this to say in her interview with us:
It was the Hong Kong product that started all that off, because the martial arts material that came from Hong Kong had very juicy, graphic soundtracks -- the kind of splatty, squelchy sound of blows landing. That was ordinary for Hong Kong
products, and of course it crept into Western soundtracks too because it's jolly effective. The other element [in the Temple of Doom sequence] was a real lingering on harm done to somebody else, and that kind of torturous aspect to it. I'm
not surprised we took the soundtrack down.
Cut Scenes: Rope bridge
The last scene affected in the Temple of Doom is the fight sequence on the rope bridge at the climax of the film. Ferman initially demanded one cut to this sequence, which he outlined in his letter to UIP in May 1984:
Remove High Priest's head bouncing off rock face as he falls into water.
However, the cuts were expanded upon following Ferman's visit to Hollywood:
Reduce sounds of punches to High Priest's head on hanging end of rope bridge... and remove sounds of his body bouncing off the cliff twice more before he hits the water.
Similarly cut on VHS and DVD
Following Ferman's extensive changes, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was seen again in full by the BBFC and passed PG on May 31st 1984. The UK cinema version removed one minute, five seconds and 16 frames of film in comparison to the US
release. This cut version was later submitted for a video release in 1986 and was passed PG without further cuts on September 30th and again in 1992 on September 15th. Some years later, a UK DVD release followed which, again, contained a cut
version. This version does not appear to have been formally classified by the BBFC however, and the cuts made in this version are slightly different to the ones carried out on the original UK cinema version. The BBFC issued new consumer advice
for the film, which stated:
Contains moderate violence, mild language and sex references.
Uncut and a highlight of the BBFC's 100 Years of Film Censorship celebration
In late 2012, the Indiana Jones films were released on Blu-ray. Times had changed in the 28 years that had passed since 1984, and Paramount Home Entertainment submitted the original uncut American version of the Temple of Doom to the BBFC for
classification. Finally, after almost three decades, UK audiences were granted access to an uncut home video release when the BBFC passed the film uncut with a 12 rating on October 2nd, noting that the film:
Contains moderate violence and fantasy horror.
The same uncut version was later passed for a cinema release with a 12A rating in January 2013, which was screened at the BFI Southbank "Uncut" season in the November of that year as part of the BBFC's centenary celebrations. To date,
all 12-rated home video versions of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in the UK feature the full uncut version and can be safely purchased by UK fans of the film seeking that version.
Cutting Edge extends its gratitude to Carol Topolski for her help in compiling this article.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode 42: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.