“Raiders of the Lost Ark” came to us from Director Steven Spielberg and Executive Producer George Lucas (who also conceived the story), as a tribute to the adventure serials they grew up on . With Spielberg coming off “Jaws” and “Close Encounters” and Lucas coming off “Star Wars” it was seen as a “Can’t Lose!”………and it was!
The film opens in the South American jungle in 1936 with our hero Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), an Archaeologist/Professor searching for a golden statue. After setting off a variety of booby traps, Jones returns to his University and is informed that his services are requested by the U.S. Government to locate an extremely rare artifact (The Lost Ark of the Covenant, hence the film’s title) before other interested parties do. Those other interested parties being the Nazi Army, who believe the Ark to be a source of amazing power. Once he accepts, he sets off to Nepal to meet with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) a woman with which he shares a certain history, who is in possession of the first piece of the puzzle. From there, Jones and Marion are set off to the deserts of the Cairo where their real adventure begins.
This is one film where every single aspect of it absolutely clicks. All of the characters are well developed, the script, written by Lawrence Kasdan, from a story by Lucas is nearly perfect, and Spielberg tells the story masterfully, giving plenty of chances to catch your breath between action set pieces. And those are just the storytelling aspects!The acting is trememndous in this film. Ford becomes Indiana Jones, I’d wager to say it’s his best character. Yes, even better than Han Solo. Karen Allen’s Marion is a wonderful character: She is NOT a lady who needs anyone’s help! She’s got a lot of spunk, and can outdrink any man in this hemisphere! Paul Freeman does a great job as the closest thing to an antagonist that we get. He plays Rene Belloq, a French archaeologist, an old enemy of Jones hired by the Nazis to find the Ark for them. The technical aspects of the film are flawless as well. The 1930’s costume designs look perfect, along with the sets (Of course, I mean the interior sets. Several portions of the film take place in desert.) “Raiders” also boasts some very impressive (for the time period) visual effects, most of which are saved for the final act. Of course, let’s not forget John Williams’ iconic score!
Of course, the main attraction of this film is the action. From shootouts in Nepalese bars, to foot chases through Cairo, to escapes from snake pits, to truck chases…..this movie has it all. As satisfying as it is, the action is so perfectly staged that it never overwhelms the actual story of the film, just enhances it. The film is quite literally a roller coaster of an adventure, but Speilberg, Lucas, & Co. are wise enough to give us chances to breathe every now and then.
In closing, I will make a bold statement: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is the best Adventure film of all time. It’s been imitated numerous times, but few compare. Three “Indiana Jones and……” sequels followed, but even they didn’t quite capture the same magic that Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, et al captured here.
Running Time: 1 Hr. 55 Mins.
Special Achievement Academy Award: Sound Effects Editing
Academy Award Winner (4): Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects
Academy Award Nominations (4): Best Picture of the Year, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score