Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)


Okay, so this will likely be more of a personal (and much longer) review than a lot of others I have, or will write in the future. I haven’t thought much on reviewing movies I’ve loved for over 20 years. This will more likely be a series of fond remembrances more than a review.

I grew up in the 1980’s, I was born in 1980 as a matter of fact and as result I was just too young to have seen either the original Star Wars or Indiana Jones trilogies in the theaters. I did however find both sets of movies at a young and impressionable age. Like many others, I fell in love with Indiana Jones right away. I basically grew up on his movies. I believe the first one I saw was the last one, The Last Crusade (1989), and immediately begged my parents to rent the other two movies. As a kid my favorite movie in the series was always The Temple of Doom (1984), because thats when Indy had a side-kick (Short-round) and it was also the funniest of the three movies. As the years wound by, and I got into high school (and then college) however, I began to develop a strong fascination with Raiders and it soon trumped the other two and has long since been by favorite in the series, and also a long time placer in my top 10 movies of all time.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) opens (in my opinion, far) better than either of the other two movies. As the opening titles role on screen, Indy (Harrison Ford) leads two scoundrels thru the jungle. Director Steven Spielberg paints a beautiful canvas of this jungle, and gives us the sense of timelessness of it. We feel immediately that we shouldn’t be there. After thwarting one scoundrels assasination attempt, Indy leads the remaining scoundrel into a cave and retrieves a sacred idol, unleashing numerous traps and the iconic boulder chase insues. Indy narrowly escapes only to be surrounded by his nemesis, Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) and an army of natives. We immediately gather that they’ve known one another and been rivals for years. We sense the animosity, but also (on some level) a quiet respect for one another. Indy relenquishes the idol and flees to his plane waiting on the nearby river.

Indy and his long-time friend, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot), are then approached by the U.S. government and hired to retrieve the sacred Lost Ark of the covedant before the Nazi’s find it. To do so, Indy must confront an old flame, Marion (Karen Allen), who has struggled to build a life in Nepal. Indy approaches her and asks about the medallion. Marion is furious with Indy about how things ended between them, for which Indy profusely apologizes. One of the better moments in the script is this first scene between them. Marion can’t get past what happened and blocks all attempts by Indy to quickly apologize it away and concentrate on the business at hand. “I can only say I’m sorry so many times,” says Indy. Marion slams down a tray of empty shot glasses and yells back, “Well, say it again!” Ford and Allen have tremendous chemistry is this film, and its largely built in this first scene together, which is layerd with backstory.

Marion is then approached by a squad of Nazi goons, also looking for the medallion. They are led by one of films most memorable villians, Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler), in his black suit, coat and hat. After Marion blows him off and refuses to tell him where the medallion is, Dietrich has his goons hold her as he grabs a red hot poker from her fireplace and walks towards her. Marion squirmingly now offers to tell him everything, but in a wonderful moment, Dietrich replies coldly “That time has passed.” As he holds the poker inches from her face, Indy rushes in to save the day and we get the first glimpse of a reoccuring (and for me the most enjoyable) theme of the movies… Indy getting his butt kicked. He isn’t some perfect hero, he has flaws and well…he gets his butt kicked from time to time. It’s this “every-man” quality that makes him so enduring to watch. He screws up almost as often as he succeeds, and more often than not, does one just before the other. During the bar fight, Marions bar is burned down and she then joins Indy on his quest for the Ark.

The two meet up with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), who commits to helping them find a translator for the medallion. Meanwhile, Belloqs men have tracked them there and they are attacked in the marketplace. Indy fends off the majority of the attackers as Marion flees and attempts to hide in a tall basket. The Nazi’s easily find her and Indy is forced to run basket to basket looking for her. As he is doing this, a large goon with a really big sword approaches Indy to set the stage for another of film’s greatest movie moments. The crowd makes room for them as the larger man swings and slashes his sword impressively. Indy casually wipes sweat from his face, pulls his gun out and simply shoots him dead rather than engage him physically. This is another of those moments where you realize this isn’t your ordinary hero. Why would he fight the larger man? He does what I think any of us would do, but its also the unexpected thing in a movie like this. Indy then presses on and is led to believe Marion dies when a truck explodes.

After Indy and Sallah visit the translator, they disquise themselves and sneak into the Nazi dig-site. Indy retrieves the proper location of the Ark from the map-room, and then soon stumbles into a tent where Marion is being kept. This is another of my favorite moments, as rather than rescuing Marion and alerting the Nazi’s to his presense, Indy kisses her and leaves her tied up and promises to come back for her. Indy soon finds the entrance to the “Well of souls”, where the Ark is believed to be kept. Immediately Sallah notices something is wrong, however, and he asks “Indy, why does the floor move?” Indy looks closer and drops his torch down and realizes hundreds of snakes litter the well floor. A horrified Indy rolls onto his back and utters “Snakes…why’d it have to be snakes?” Indy and Sallah retrieve the Ark and raise it up to the surface. Belloq now notices the dig and goons surround it as Sallah climbs out. Marion is then thrown into the well with Indy, and the two are sealed in with little oxygen and the hundreds of snakes.

The final third of the movie is what seals this as one of the greatest movies ever made. Beginning with Indy’s clever escape from the well, and then the humerous fist fight on the airstrip. This leads to my all-time favorite scene in the trilogy. Indy gets on horseback and pursues the Nazi caravan. As a rousing action score booms along with it, Indy runs heroically alongside the truck and jumps on its side, swings himself into the cockpit and launches both goons out of the car, all in a matter of seconds. The ensuing scene is breathtaking, complete with Indy riding under and behind the truck, grasping his whip for dear life. Indy reclaims the truck and escapes to a freighter boat. The rest of the movie blows by, and leads to the climatic opening of the Ark and the memorable melting faces.  

Raiders (along with Star Wars) began what we now take for granted in the yearly summer blockbusters. I enjoyed watching it again as I eagerly rewatch the entire trilogy this weekend in preparation for the new installment later next week, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

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