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Non-Review Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

To “celebrate” the premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (what’s to celebrate?), Sky Movies ran all three of the original movies back-to-back over the weekend. That’s a pretty good start to the weekend. I caught the first and third films, as well as rewatching the fourth. I’m going to try to catch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom during the week. So, how do does the newly-formed tetralogy stand up?

"Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones... Calling Doctor Jones..."

"Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones... Calling Doctor Jones..."

I love Indiana Jones. He was a quintessential part of my childhood. He holds a very special place in my heart. So it’s a little odd that Raiders of the Lost Ark (not Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark as George Lucas’ revisionism would have you believe) was the last of the original trilogy I got to see. I love all three original films and am hard pressed to pick a favourite, but each has its strengths. I love the heart of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; I love the weirdness of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Still, I have to concede that Raiders may be – technically speaking – the best made of the three.

It works stunningly well as a stand alone, non-pretentious homage to those cheesy serials of the first half of the last century. The opening sequence is a wonderfully choreographed piece of mayhem that is infamous for the boulder chase, but really is just fantastically set up and executed. It may be one of the two best sequences in the entire saga (the other being the tank sequence in Crusade).

Spielberg is a deft hand at directing, and Raiders offers him a chance to show his ability directing action sequences. They are all top notch, featuring the superb stunt work and camera work that defined the first three incarnations of the movie series (and were missing in the fourth). That’s not to say that Spielberg neglects the other sequences. He makes us marvel as Indy unveils all these old and ancient relics, builds suspense as Indy explores the scene and gives us a lead actor we care about.

For my money Indiana Jones is the finest character in Harrison Ford’s pantheon of heroic figures. Sure, Han Solo is interesting, but he’s seldom the most interesting figure in the franchise. Here, Indy has our undivided attention as he improvises his way to success. Ford manages to pull off the nigh impossible task of making us believe that Indy doesn’t have a clue of what’s going to do next, but also that he is smart enough to get out of just about any situation. It helps that Indy seems to enjoy his narrow escapes and little victories as much as we do, with a wry grin on his face. Like jsut about every character that Ford has ever played, he’s cocky – but he also realises he’s in way over his head, so we forgive him.

Rewatching the film, two additional elements jumped out at me. First, the music is amazing. I know everyone can hum the theme music, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the subtle cues (like the Ark’s theme). these really help establish the mystic vibe that the original three movies give off so well. Maybe if the music in the fourth gave off a gnarly fifties sci-fi vibe, we’d complain less. The second element is the sense of period. Just the manner of dressing and the set design, as well as more subtle methods (like wiping rather than cutting from scene to scene) hark back to the thirties that the film is trying to evoke.

All in all, a classic – much like each of the original three (yes, even Temple). If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you haven’t seen it in a while, watch it again.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is directed by Steven Spielberg (Catch Me If You Can, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and stars Harrison Ford (Star Wars, Air Force One), Karen Allen (Star Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Sliders). It was released on 12th June 1981 in the States and 30th July 1981 in the UK and Ireland.

6 Responses

  1. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might get my vote as one of the Top 100 movies ever made. It does, as you say, work well as a “stand-alone,” and I’d argue that it IS the best-made film of the four. As it stands, I’m trying very hard to remember Harrison Ford as the Indiana Jones from “Lost Ark,” not the Indiana Jones who got screwed (re: the hilarious “South Park” episode) by Lucas and Spielberg.

    M. Carter at the Movies

  2. […] Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the last crusade, the holy grail, sean connery « Non-Review Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark Non-Review Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom […]

  3. […] John Hurt (Alien, All The Little Animals), Ray Winstone (The Departed, Beowolf) and Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Malcolm X). It was released world wide on 22nd May 2008. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  4. […] say that Tarantino makes light of the Nazi’s – these aren’t the cartoon fare of Raiders of The Lost Ark, for example. Indeed, there’s a darkness lurking just below the surface and occasionally […]

  5. […] relief. There’s a moment which eerily echoes the market place “sword fight” in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a death is dealt in a casual and offhand manner. We’re meant to chuckle that taking a […]

  6. […] sequels, The Mummy is solid action-adventure-horror romp that stands equally well as a companion to Raiders of the Lost Ark as it does as a subconscious herald of the coming wave of remade creature features. Oh, […]

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