Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981
Starring-Harrison Ford, Karen Allen
Scott’s Review #757
Reviewed May 15, 2018
A film that kicked off the tremendously successful and ever so fun 1980’s trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a treasure in the adventure genre time capsule. Director Steven Spielberg embarks on the journey of one of the most highly visible film heroes in that of Indiana “Indie” Jones, a swashbuckling, aww shucks kind of guy. Harrison Ford is perfectly cast in a role that perfectly fits him and, besides Han Solo, defined him during the decade- his best role of his career if you ask me.
Wonderful to watch in sequence with the even more superb Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), these two films are pure pleasure as our hero faces dangerous obstacles at every turn while either chased by or pursuing sinister robbers or other undesirables. All the while Indie keeps his familiar sly grin and numerous jokes to entertain audiences.
As a piece of film making Raiders of the Lost Ark has it all with superior writing, editing, cinematography, art direction, sound, and visuals effects. The reaped many Oscar nominations, quite uncommon for an adventure tale, but nonetheless the merits were warranted. Atypical compared to other films of this type, the film is not overly saturated with phony machismo or unnecessary “guy” stuff, but rather appealing and genuine.
The time period is 1936 and archaeologist Indiana Jones works as a professor at a University. Known for retrieving ancient artifacts he is contacted by Army intelligence officers who ask him to help stop the Nazis from acquiring the Ark of the Covenant which they believe will make their armies invincible, allowing them to conquer the world in sinister fashion. Events lead Indie to Marion (Karen Allen), who harbors resentments towards him for a failed past romance. The rest of the film follows the pair throughout Nepal and Cairo in an attempt to recover the Ark before the Nazis do.
Raiders of the Lost Ark contains all of the elements for a successful “hit” movie and has blockbuster written all over it. This is not a slight against the film, but rather a testament to all involved. Led by successful Spielberg who knows how to connect all the dots, first and foremost Ford infuses charisma into his character so that the audience enjoys his sensibilities and desire for the truth. Indie is intent on protecting humankind so Spielberg carves a “good versus bad” approach- making the villainous Nazis the antithesis of Jones which creates a clear rooting value.
My personal favorite scene in the film comes towards the conclusion. Nicknamed the “face melting scene” this scene contains then state of the art special effects that compelled and mesmerized me and also led to light nightmares for any kid under the age of twelve. The way that the bad guys see swirling, benevolent ghosts- first beautiful and peaceful, but soon turning deadly- cause their faces to literally melt off or shrivel-the scene is both inventive and dramatic.
Not to be dismissed as trite or fluff are the exciting and memorable scenes dubbed “the snake scene” and “the rolling boulder scene”. In the former Indie wryly admits his fear and trepidation of snakes as he must traverse a huge pit filled with thousands of them and he comes face to face with a deadly King cobra. In the latter scene, Indie must outrun a speeding boulder as he takes an ancient artifact from a sacred spot inside a cave, causing boulders to collapse around him. Both scenes are enormous fun and immeasurable edge of your seat sequences.
I never sensed much chemistry between actors Ford and Allen, but writing the characters of Indie and Marion as former lovers adds a good bit of tension and sparring between the characters- this provides for some good fodder and humorous situations. Thankfully the romance between the two is neither the focal point of the film nor all too important, but rather, in the safety that the 1980’s cinema was- merely a necessity.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a superb adventure film holding up better than it should decades beyond release. The film is rich with good old fashioned action, a charismatic hero, thrills, intrigue, and a good history lesson for those interested in the build up to World War II. The accounts are fictional of course, but Spielberg offers a fine 1980’s cinematic experience that’s got it all.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Original Score, Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Visual Effects (won)