• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

“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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Millennium – The Pest House (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Millennium is largely a show about the nature of evil.

It feels a little redundant to point that out more than halfway through the second of three seasons, but it is worth repeating. When Chris Carter created Millennium, he designed the show to explore the many faces of evil in a variety of ways. It could be argued that Millennium was largely spawned from episodes of The X-Files like Irresistible or Grotesque, stories fascinated by very human forms of evil that almost become supernatural. Carter and his writers played with that idea over the course of the first season, particularly in episodes like The Pilot and Lamentation.

A pointed commentary?

A pointed commentary?

However, Carter was not the guiding visionary for all of Millennium‘s run. He remained involved in the production of the show, but the day-to-day running of the series was handed over to Glen Morgan and James Wong, who immediately reinvented it from the ground up. One of the more interesting aspects of this transition is watching the differences in how the two creative teams approach various aspects of Millennium. In many ways, The Pest House would be read as an exploration and critique of Carter’s approach towards the concept of evil by Morgan and Wong.

Carter’s work seems to suggest that evil is an external and infectious force – a contagion or pathogen that can be passed from one person (or generation) to another. In contrast, Morgan and Wong seem to argue that evil must be rooted in a person, that it must come from inside rather than outside. The Pest House contrasts these two different visions of evil, finding Morgan and Wong playing with the recurring Ten Thirteen trope of evil as a transferable quantity that can be moved and reallocated. And The Pest House seems horrified by such a concept.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

Continue reading

Blood on Film: Violence and Morality…

I am always fascinated about discussions over violence in movies. Mostly because it’s one of those “hot button” issues which always comes up in some context or another and is typically portrayed as an argument with two extremes. This week, while promoting his new movie Faster, actor Billy Bob Thornton offered his own opinion of modern movie-making:

In our current state of affairs, especially in the entertainment business, we’re living in a time when we’re making — in my humble opinion — the worst movies in history.

They’re geared toward the video game-playing generation. And these video games, which I’m on my son about constantly, these games are people killing for fun, and I think traditionally in movies, there’s always been some kind of lesson in the violent movies.

In fairness, Thornton is a typically controversial figure (for example, recently alienating Canadian fans), but it’s an interesting idea to look at – the assumption that violence (and specifically how it is handled) can contribute to a movie’s quality (or lack thereof). Is he being just a little melodramatic?

Well, it is the second of December...

Continue reading

Nazi-ploitation! Or How We Treat Nazi Germany in Modern Cinema…

I moaned last week about the loss of the two-dimensional evil Nazi. Brushed aside in a tide of political correctness or extreme sensitivity. I think it’s time to talk about what Hollywood has presented us with in its stead. I think it’s interesting to discuss the general trend in the presentation of the Third Reich that we’ve seen emerge in the past year or so.

Tom Cruise played a vision-impaired conflicted German during the Third Reich... Where's his Oscar?

Tom Cruise played a vision-impaired conflicted German during the Third Reich... Where's his Oscar?

Continue reading

Going Nutz Over Nazis…

Ah, Nazis. The most typical of Hollywood villains. It seems that whenever you want the audience to cheer at what your morally ambiguous hero is up to, just stick his opponent in a Nazi uniform and you can guaruntee that the viewers will know which side they’re on. It used to be in the old days that simply putting a villain in a Nazi uniform was a regular past time for any big director. You didn’t need characterisation or complexity. If they’re German between 1941 and 1945, they’re a bad guy. Well, at least that used to be the way. In recent years it seems that we have accepted that things may be slightly more complex than those black and grey uniforms that they wore. There are many shades. So much so that the ‘thoughtful Nazi flick’ has pretty much become guarunteed Oscar bait. Given the minor furore which surrounded the release of Inglourious Basterds, is the time of the one-dimensional cardboard cutout passed into history? And has political correctness gone too far?

Don't make a song and dance about it...

Don't make a song and dance about it...

Continue reading