Today I watched Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The origins of Indiana Jones lies in the same burst of inspiration as Star Wars, an attempt to recapture the joy of classic pulp serials in a contemporary and relevant way. Harrison Ford is also in both series, here playing the protagonist of Jones himself, an archaeology teacher, adventurer, and part time Nazi fighter, there is a very subtle gag that Jones is an absolutely abysmal archaeologist and teacher. In his first outing he is contacted by the American government because they need him to infiltrate a Nazi dig in Egypt, preventing them from gaining possession of the mythical Ark of the Covenant which in this film is a mythical super weapon of apocalyptic power. Along the way he enlists the help of old flame Marion Ravenwood played by Karen Allen in a career defining performance and must contend with evil French archaeologist who has sided with the Nazis.
This movie is so well paced that it feels like non-stop action without sacrificing some nice quiet moments and character development. It is almost unbelievably entertaining with an incredible amount of awesome action sequences and fight scenes. One particular sequence of scenes sees Indy and Marion trapped in a snake pit which they escape through a harrowing hallway of corpses only to wind up in a massive fist fight in and around the spinning props of a German plane which then transitions into a crazy chase sequence as Indy catches up to a truck carrying the Ark. From the opening sequence of traps to the explosive finale, this is a mile a minute thrill ride of the best kind.
Marion Ravenwood was a seminal character in my developing desire for stronger female characters, though in this re-watching I find her a lot weaker than I remember. She is quite sassy and does kick a lot of ass throughout the film, but she ends up being a damsel in distress maybe one too many times for my liking and it undercuts Karen Allen’s excellent performance somewhat. Indy on the other hand is made a fascinating character because of his vulnerability, he gets the tar kicked out of him from the start to the finish of this film. Harrison For portrays him with a gruff sense of vulnerability covered up by a droll straight man routine, it ends up being a rather nuanced performance in film that never asked for it but is certainly much better because of it.
One of this film’s more subtle, yet totally defining, characteristics is the sound design. The punches in this film have ludicrously over the top sound effects attached to them and there are so many wonderfully silly screams. It really drives home the pulp atmosphere and works together with the incredible John Williams score (has he ever done a bad score?) to create a larger than life feel to this grand adventure.
The unending action and Indy’s penchant for quips works to make this both a hilarious and thrilling flick. This wonderful sense of humour cuts the intensity down to a managable level making this a perfect blueprint for a Hollywood adventure film. Despite the concept’s basis in George Lucas’ and Steven Spieberg’s childhood nostalgia, the film plays just as well for an adult audience as it does younger viewers. It delivers a story filled with absurdity with the requisite wink and nod to show the audience that you are not stupid for enjoying this adrenaline fueled ride, it is an invitation to celebrate a love for pure fun and adventure. 5/5