4. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark is like Steven Spielberg’s teenage dream. A great mix of comedy, fantasy and adventure. The film takes inspiration from countless Saturday morning serials and combines them to make the definitive fantasy adventure film. The film travels to places all over the Middle East. There is the mysterious and magical Ark of the Covenant. There are high-octane chase scenes involving trucks and cars. But most importantly, there are Nazis getting their butts kicked.
Spielberg knows how to make films entertaining in an intelligent way. Raiders is an excellent example of a summer blockbuster with a heart, a brain and a soul. That soul transcends beyond the borders of the film screen and makes you want to go on an adventure. It certainly did for me. Steven Spielberg, being Jewish, is having fun with Nazis getting wasted in the film. He has of course dealt with the issue in a more serious matter in Schindler’s List but who wants to live in a world without fun?
The film is essentially about Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), sometimes referred to as “Indy”, who is an archaeologist and part-time teacher. He is tasked with bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to the museum. He is then tangled into a huge Nazi plot. Hitler wants to take the Ark as well to use it for his own benefit, to make the Nazis an unstoppable force. The Nazis really should’ve done their Bible homework because it didn’t end too well for them. Spielberg, oddly enough, doesn’t portray the Nazis in a stereotypical way as the Saturday serials did. Nazis are usually portrayed as idiots with mustaches and funny accents. Spielberg “respects” their evil beliefs in Raiders but crushes them as well.
The action in Raiders is unbelievably awesome. In an era where all Hollywood action movies are shot with nauseating shaky cam and rapid editing, Raiders reminds us of an era where action actually LOOKED like action. The fight between Indy and the muscular man near an airplane is breathtaking. John William’s score again doesn’t disappoint. The chase scene where Indy fights for a truck with Ark is the most intense, energetic, entertaining and thrilling chase scene ever. There are not enough words to describe it. Nothing is too violent, nothing is too fast. Spielberg wants you to enjoy the action, not cringe at it.
One of the reasons the action is extremely entertaining is that Spielberg and his screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan added a lot of humor throughout the film. Everything is treated very light-heartedly. Spielberg uses the action as an opportunity for great visual comedy. The dialogue is also fantastic, especially the banter between Indy and Marion (Karen Allen). You can really see a strong and well-developed relationship between the two. Nowadays, blockbusters seem devoid of any sense of humor (with the exception of Marvel movies) after the release of The Dark Knight. Raiders feels like a breath of fresh air. The film tells you that you can laugh in a movie where people beat each other with their bare hands.
The acting in the film is good but not the greatest, with the exception of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. This was the role that really launched Ford as a great actor and is still his most memorable role to date, even more so than his role as Han Solo in Star Wars. He does a great job at performing the stunts for the action sequences but also manages to encompass a wide range of emotions. He is charismatic and cheerful to people close to him. He is straight to the point, cunning but cool-headed near villains and he is truly a vulnerable hero. Too many Hollywood heroes are portrayed as near freaking invincible. They never get shot, they never get hit and each hit they do get doesn’t leave a single scratch. Indy has the ability to get his nose broken and his teeth kicked out, and still smile about it at the end of the day. That’s what makes Indy such a memorable, likable and awesome character.
I hold Raiders of the Lost Ark near and dear to my heart for what it has done in my life. It was the first movie that I watched over and over again. I dressed up as Indiana Jones for Halloween in second grade. I watched the rest of the Indiana Jones movies (including the horrible fourth movie). But Raiders’ largest impact on me is my premature love for film and my growth in imagination. Spielberg, you are truly a masterful director.
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