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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 Video! On the Theme Park Ride Appeal of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with every second Monday’s article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film content – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, with Raiders of the Lost Ark celebrating its fortieth anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film. In particular, how Spielberg built Raiders of the Lost Ark as a cinematic spectacle. It is one of the purest blockbusters, but also a triumph of filmmaking.

New Escapist Column! On “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a Theme Park Ride and a Cinematic Marvel…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Given that Raiders of the Lost Ark turned forty years old this summer, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look back at Steven Spielberg’s defining summer blockbuster.

In particular, Raiders of the Lost Ark is proof that it is possible for a “theme park ride” of a summer blockbuster to also function as a distillation of cinema. Everything in Raiders of the Lost Ark moves with singular purpose towards the same goal. It is a visceral and impressive technical accomplishment, but the craft involved in works in service of big ideas about the power of imagery and iconography. Form and function are indistinguishable, what the film is about becoming inseparable from how it is about it. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a triumph of filmmaking.

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

New Escapist Column! On How the MonsterVerse Has Forsaken Awe and Wonder…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday. With the release of Godzilla vs. Kong, it seemed like a good opportunity to look at the film in the context of the larger MonsterVerse – in particular, Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Godzilla vs. Kong is pure spectacle. The film features a host of impressive and showstopping sequences, including two major bouts between the title characters. However, there is something missing in all of this carnage. Like King of the Monsters before it, and like a lot of other modern blockbusters, there’s a curious lack of awe and wonder to the spectacle on display.

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

A smashing success?

225. Jurassic Park (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Jess Dunne and Alex Towers, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

Billionaire Richard Hammond is building a new sort of theme park. However, when an accident on site makes the investors nervous, Hammond is forced to invite a panel of experts to his remote island for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 165th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “Jurassic Park” Increasingly Feels Like a Warning About Itself…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. For no reason other than because I watched it this week, I took a look at Jurassic Park and how it feels strangely prophetic.

Jurassic Park is many things: a cautionary tale about science run amok, about mankind’s hubris, about dads. However, watched decades later, it stands out as a cautionary tale about the kind of movie that it is. Jurassic Park is one of the best blockbusters ever made, but it was also a game-changer. It seemed to herald a revolution in computer-generated imagery that fundamentally altered the blockbuster landscape. In that sense, the film’s anxiety about the unforeseen consequences of these sorts of innovations, and of bringing the past to life again, have aged very well.

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

“Your Reminiscence”: Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear”, Nostalgia, and Parental Anxiety…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Goodfellas. This week, we’ll looking at Casino. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but the season skips over large swathes of Scorsese’s filmography. So I thought it might be worth taking a look back at Cape Fear.

Cape Fear is often overlooked in terms of Martin Scorsese’s filmography.

It falls in the gap between the instant classic Goodfellas and the sleeper masterpiece Casino. It shares that gap with The Age of Innocence, which is one of the films in Scorsese’s filmography that has been begging for a reappraisal and seems more likely to receive critical attention than a trashy remake of a pulpy sixties thriller. (The Age of Innocence recently received a re-release as part of the high-end Criterion Collection.) Indeed, Cape Fear seems designed to be seen as disposable in the context of Scorsese’s filmography.

At best, Cape Fear is typically seen as a curiosity – and potentially a worrying one. While Roger Ebert praised the film, he lamented “a certain impersonality in a film by this most personal of directors.” There was a whiff of moral panic to Kenneth Turan’s review, which asked, “Are we, perhaps, too quick to heap praise on films just because they are expertly done, shrugging off the troubling nature of the content? Is an audience’s increasing avid addiction to increasingly twisted thrills any justification for cheering on the people who provide them?”

However, there’s a lot interesting happening in Cape Fear. Most obviously, the film is a vehicle for Scorsese’s love of a certain style of directorial technique. The original Cape Fear had been directed by J. Lee Thompson, who had worked as a dialogue coach under Alfred Hitchcock. The film arrived two years after Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the influence of Hitchcock is obvious on Thompson’s work; it’s scored by Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann, editted by Hitchcock veteran George Tomasini and features art direction from Robert Boyle and Alexander Golitzen.

However, what’s particularly interesting about Cape Fear is the way in which it actively translates the original movie from the early sixties to the early nineties, playing not only on the same underlying fears that informed the original, but also understanding that they existed in a different context during the nineties. It’s a movie that cannily and shrewdly transposes those two times, tapping into the same fears, but in a way that demonstrates both how those fears have evolved – and also how they haven’t.

Cape Fear is a lurid b-movie thriller, but in the most interesting and unsettling ways. It is a film fascinated by what lurks beneath the surface.

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Non-Review Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is Aaron Sorkin’s second feature film as director, following on from Molly’s Game.

However, the project originated with Steven Spielberg. The finished film includes the Dreamworks logo. Watching the movie, it feels like Sorkin is channeling Spielberg, particularly with the film’s delicate balance of historical accuracy and its relatively heartening final act. Indeed, The Trial of the Chicago 7 feels like something of a companion piece to Spielberg’s most recent film, The Post. It is another movie about the troubled transition from the flawed utopian idealism of the sixties to the brutal political cynicism of the seventies.

Cycles of mistrust.

In many ways, The Trial of the Chicago 7 appeals to Sorkin’s strengths as a writer. After all, Sorkin rose to prominence as the writer of A Few Good Men, another court room drama. The basic premise of The Trial of the Chicago 7 involves placing a bunch of similar-but-distinct characters in a locked room together and focusing on the group dynamics, which provides a lot of space for Sorkin to demonstrate his skill with dialogue and characterisation. There’s a lot of clever detail and definition between the protagonists in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

To be fair, The Trial of the Chicago 7 suffers slightly from being a little heavy-handed in places. As with Spielberg and The Post, Sorkin is very much aware of the movie’s contemporary resonance and occasionally leans into it a little too eagerly. Beyond that, the depiction of events from the eponymous trial can occasionally seem a little episodic and haphazard. Still, there’s a lot to recommend The Trial of the Chicago 7, particular as an old-fashioned example of an ensemble historical drama.

Courting controversy.

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187. Catch Me If You Can (#194)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Luke Dunne and Jess Dunne from The Breakout Role Podcast, 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.

This time, Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.

When his parents announce their divorce, high school student Frank Abagnale runs away home. He never stops running. The enterprising young man reinvents himself as a dashing airline pilot, a debonair doctor and a diligent lawyer. However, Frank can only stay ahead of the long arm of the law for so long. As the ground starts shrinking out from him, as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty closes in, Frank wonders if he’ll ever be able to stop running.

At time of recording, it was ranked 194th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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