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“Stay Out of the Light”: The Black-and-White Morality of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”…

This August, the podcast that I co-host, The 250, is doing a season looking at all four Indiana Jones films as part of our “Indiana Summer.” Last week, we looked at Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I had some thoughts on the film.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a film of stark contrasts.

This is true in a very literal sense. Director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas had envisaged the film as a loving homage to classic black-and-white film serials, so it only makes sense that cinematographer Douglas Slocombe would populate the film with shadows and silhouettes. Spielberg has talked about wanting “a much moodier, almost neo-Brechtian style of light and shadow for this film”, and it’s notable that the lead character’s costume design was intended to be “immediately recognisable in silhouette.”

While Raiders of the Lost Ark is a visually rich film saturated in deep colours and strong images, it is also a movie obsessed with light and shadow. Indiana Jones is first introduced literally stepping out of the shadows. “Stay out of the light,” he warns a companion during the film’s opening scenes. Many of the film’s most striking images – like Jones visiting an old flame or workers toiling in the desert – are shot to make use of shadow and silhouette.

After all, much has been made of Steven Soderbergh’s Raiders, an experimental edit of the movie that strips out all sound and colour to repurpose Raiders of the Lost Ark as a black-and-white silent film. Soderbergh did this in an effort to force the audience to “watch this movie and think only about staging”, drawing attention to how carefully constructed Raiders of the Lost Ark was as a piece of film. After all, the movie is arguably as pure a cinematic rollercoaster as ever existed, a triumph of pure filmmaking.

However, there’s something revealing in this sharp contrast – in the clear boundaries that Raiders of the Lost Ark draws between light and darkness in its cinematic storytelling. At its core, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie about good and evil at work in the world, and the movie is anchored in the belief that good will prevail and evil will be judged. It’s a fascinating film, one that provides an interesting contrast with Steven Spielberg’s later work at the turn of the millennium on projects like A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, Munich and even Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a striking piece of cinematic mythmaking, one that feels very true to its time and one firmly anchored in its director’s sensibility.

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246. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Indiana Summer 2021 (#55)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Tony Black and Darren Mooney, with special guest Niall Murphy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, kicking off our Indiana Summer, Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the lead-up to the Second World War, veteran archeologist Indiana Jones finds himself approached by the United States government with a top secret assignment: to locate and secure the long-lost Ark of the Covenant. However, to complete his mission, Indy will have to face Nazis, lost love and the wrath of God.

At time of recording, it was ranked 55th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the Eternal Battle Between Good and Evil in “Masters of the Universe”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Masters of the Universe: Revelation on Netflix this weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the larger franchise.

The He-Man franchise originated as a toy line from Mattel, obviously taking its cues from a host of contemporary pop culture like Conan the Barbarian and Star Wars. However, the franchise’s origins as a toy rather than a book or a feature film led to an interesting tensions. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a classic epic fantasy about the battle between good and evil, but it is a story without a predetermined origin or ending. Good may win individual battles against evil, but it will never triumph completely. As a result, He-Man presents the struggle of good against evil as eternal and unwinnable, but worth fighting.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

240. Fargo (#176)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, with special guests Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair and Stacy Grouden, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo.

A routine kidnapping case spirals into something far more sinister and unsettling in an isolated corner of Minnesota. Arriving to the scene of a brutal roadside murder, Chief of Police Marge Gunderson finds herself embroiled in a complicated and chaotic story of greed and violence with horrific consequences.

At time of recording, it was ranked 176th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 2, Episode 21 (“Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me…”)

I’m thrilled to appear on another episode of The Time is Now, discussing the second season of Millennium, which remains one of my favourite seasons of television ever. It’s a huge pleasure to have been asked back to discuss the last standalone episode of the season, Darin Morgan’s superb Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me, with the wonderful duo of Kurt North and Michael John Petty.

Somehow, Satan Got Behind me is a fascinating piece of television. It is effectively a miniature anthology episode, a collection of short stories, in which Frank Black doesn’t play a major role. Instead, Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me offers a decidedly off-kilter meditation on some of the core themes of Millennium in general and the second season in particular. These are stories about evil, but in its most petty and mundane forms. Four demons trade stories over coffee and pastry, reflecting on what mankind has made of the world that they were given.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – “The Nature of Evil in Millennium”

The Time is Now has been on hiatus for a little while, after a frantic rush to get the Midnight of the Century episode released in time for Christmas. However, the show has returned with a very special treat, a deep dive into the idea of evil in the world of Millennium.

It’s a fascinating discussion, and it was an honour to be asked to join Russ Hugo and James McLean for a broad and varied discussion. It’s fascinating, because it’s the first time I’ve really got to talk on The Time is Now podcast about the unique structure of Millennium as a show that basically rebooted itself between seasons. This means that Millennium arguably has three very different ideas of what evil actually looks like across its runtime, which makes the discussion of the topic a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Column! On “The Witcher” and True Monstrosity…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week, looking at the Netflix streaming show The Witcher.

The Witcher is an interesting show, the story of a monster hunter who drifts through a magical world that seems caught on the cusp of war. The first season is very broad and largely episodic, but it does have a clear thematic through line. The series plays with the tropes and conventions of the fantasy genre, but most pointed with the idea of monstrosity. The Witcher is the story of a man who kills monsters, but also a story about how sometimes true monstrosity comes in human form.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 1, Episode 18 (“Lamentation”)

As ever, a delight to stop by The Time is Now to talk about Millennium, this week as part of triptych with the great Kurt North and the wonderful Christopher Knowles.

An interesting installment this week. Kicking off a loose two-parter that effectively serves as Millennium‘s version of a mythology episode, Lamentation offers a clear escalation in the stakes of the first season. It’s a fascinating episode that seems to mark a clear transition in what Millennium is about, a strong signalling of creative intent from the production team. It’s a weird and eccentric episode of television, a real showcase of what Millennium could do when it set its mind to it.

I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of opinion on here, with each of the three of us having very different takes on the episode’s strengths and weaknesses. As ever, you can listen to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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144. La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) – Summer of ’99 (#26)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Ethan Shattock and Gerard Rooney from Disconnected Talk, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of ’99 season, Roberto Benigni’s La Vita è Bella.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation: The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, 10 Things I Hate About You, Fight Club. The Summer of ’99 season offers a trip through the year in film on the IMDb‘s 250.

In mid-century Italy, lovable fool Guido embarks on a courtship of the beautiful Dora, a woman far outside of his station. As Italy descends into fascism, Guido hopes that his optimism will allow himself – and his family – to endure in the face of unimaginable evil.

At time of recording, it was ranked 26th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Waltz (Review)

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most “morally ambiguous” Star Trek series, with characters engaging in actions that Picard never would have considered on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In some ways, this observation makes sense. After all, Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek show to feature an extended interstellar conflict. Its primary cast is comprised of unapologetic terrorists and untrustworthy wheeler-dealers. The Federation were no longer the unambiguous good guys of the larger Star Trek universe, monolithic humanity giving way to factions like the Maquis or Section 31. Deep Space Nine never took Gene Roddenberry’s utopia for granted, daring to ask what it might look like when paradise found itself under threat.

Eat, pray, hate.

Eat, pray, hate.

However, Deep Space Nine also a very strong moral compass. While there are episodes that flirt with the idea of the end justifying the means, like In the Pale Moonlight or Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Section 31 are unequivocally monsters, and never proven to be a necessary evil. The Federation wins the Dominion War without the help of their attempted genocide in Extreme Measures. Even the Maquis are treated as ineffective in Defiant, and only romanticised through eulogy in Blaze of Glory.

More than that, Deep Space Nine clearly has a very strong social conscience. This is particularly true in episodes written by executive producer and showrunner Ira Steven Behr. Past Tense, Part I and Past Tense, Part II rage against the treatment of the homeless in contemporary society, sending three regular characters back in time to protest a nineties Los Angeles ordinance. Bar Association insists upon the right to collective bargaining. Far Beyond the Stars is a poignant ode to the power of science-fiction as a window to a better future.

Psycho Sisko!

Psycho Sisko!

Even in the context of the show’s more controversial elements, that moral compass shines through. While the Dominion War might lead to murky compromises, the show goes out of its way to cast the Founders as monstrous; the enslavement of the Jem’Hadar as explored in The Abandoned or of the Vorta as touched upon in Treachery, Faith and the Great River, the use of biological weapons in The Quickening, the disregard for soldiers’ lives in Rocks and Shoals. The Dominion is monstrous, as unequivocally evil as Nazi Germany.

As such, Waltz really serves to confirm something that has always been true of the series. Despite the familiar refrain that Deep Space Nine embraces “moral ambiguity”, the truth is that Deep Space Nine has always believed “that there is really such a thing as truly evil.”

Rocky road to recovery.

Rocky road to recovery.

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