Due to the recent release of the fourth installment, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, in the long-time trilogy, now turned ongoing “Indiana Jones” series; I felt the need to go back and re-watch all the classic original films that started this whole franchise. Without further ado, let us begin with the 1981 adventure flick that made Harrison Ford even more of a household name, with his second most iconic character’s first film, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (as it was known when initially released to theaters) follows the adventures of Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford), an archaeology professor/tomb raider. After being contacted by members of the U.S. government concerning a former colleague’s connection to the Nazis and Hitler’s interest in all things related to the occult, Indy embarks upon a quest to discover the powerful Ark of the Covenant before the evil Nazis can get their hands on it. To do so, Indy must ally himself with a former love, Marian Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who fully lives up to the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, and do his best to keep both of them alive as their harrowing journey takes them from South America to the streets of Cairo, and beyond.
Many movie fans have long held “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” in extremely high regard as being one of the all-time classics of American cinema, along with being heralded as the best in the “Indiana Jones” series. I agree with the first half of the statement, but I beg to differ on the latter. Although I do enjoy “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, I do feel that in the early stages of the movie, the story seems to struggle to find its footing. This results in some rather uneven pacing problems in the first 30 to 45 minutes of the film. While the lulls in the story are never so problematic that the movie begins to truly suffer for it, these moments do tend to draw some attention and caused me to become a bit restless early on. That being said, all the minor problems were fully taken care of by the 45 minute to 1 hour mark, when the movie really kicked into gear and the pace began moving along at a very steady clip; but without going so fast as to make the early parts feel too out of place.
I think my biggest problem with the story for “Raiders”, is that early on in the movie there seems to be so much backstory between Indy and Marion, and while it is dealt with to an extent, it never quite seems to get the attention it deserves. I mean, this woman clearly despises this man for something he’s done in the past, yet she seems more than willing to let bygones be bygones. And she does so in a manner that makes her anger in the beginning seem immature and irrational. Now, I will be honest that I’m a little at odds with myself on my viewpoint for this aspect of the story. On the one hand, I wish that they would have fleshed out the history between Indy and Marion a little further to justify her intense anger for him; while on the other hand, I’m glad they didn’t because this was the very portion of the story that I felt caused the movie to seem uneven. So, I guess I can’t have it both ways, but the resulting conundrum regarding this part of the film is most likely the primary reason for why this movie doesn’t rank as the best in the series for me, unlike most other fans of the “Indiana Jones” franchise.
From an acting standpoint the movie is very solid across the board. Harrison Ford (“Star Wars” original trilogy) creates another classically heroic, yet flawed character for audiences to easily relate to. Harrison provided Indy with a dry wit, intelligence, and strength that allowed audiences to embrace more of a thinking man’s hero that still knows how to handle himself in a fight, without resorting to the typical one-dimensional action hero that one would normally find in these types of movies. Karen Allen (“Starman”) is nearly perfect as the fiery ex-girlfriend of Indiana Jones, while she ultimately becomes the typical damsel-in-distress this kind of movie requires; she proves herself to be quite capable of handling herself in minor fights and drinking games as well. The only problem I had with Karen in this movie, aside from her seemingly irrational disdain for Indy early on, was that at times her line readings seem a bit forced. I don’t know if this was due to rewrites of the script during the filming or what, perhaps it was just nerves; whatever the case may be, her performance just didn’t seem to be consistent all the way through the movie. Serving as Indy’s go-to-guy in Cairo, named Sallah, we have actor John Rhys-Davies (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), who delivers the majority of the comedic moments for the film; while still getting to see his fair share of adventure during his stint in the story. For the most part, the majority of the cast created some very memorable characters, all of which were entertaining and interesting; two qualities that are sometimes hard to come by in these types of films, where the characters usually tend to be a bit more one-dimensional.
With this movie being 27 years old, I find myself surprised by some of the bold stunts that director Steven Spielberg (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) and his producer/co-creator of the story George Lucas (“Star Wars” saga) dared to accomplish in the film. The boulder chasing Indy in the opening moments of the movie, and the scenes at the end involving the Ark of the Covenant are exceptional works of movie magic. The fact that these two sequences, along with a few others, still look as good as they do even to this day is amazing to me; while at the same time, serving as a fitting tribute to the talent and ingenuity that these two men and the many individuals in their employ, that help to make this magic happen, have at their disposal to take audiences on an adventure that they’ll not soon forget.
When all is said and done, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” is an incredibly fun movie to watch. While it does have some problems during the first half of the movie, overall it’s a film that stands strong on its own and kicks off one of the greatest adventure series’ in cinematic history.
“Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” is rated PG for violence and brief language.