Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina
rcheology has never been so cool. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” revolutionized the action genre by proving that nonstop adventure could indeed thrive around a solid story – aided by superior helpings of smart dialogue, comic relief, a fitting romance, and significant villains. There are even bits of science-fiction and horror thrown into the mix. The James Bond films may have dreamed up the overarching concept first, but many of those episodes tend to dip into the territories of wildly unrealistic and predominantly goofy. Though Indy’s initial outing clearly utilizes a touch of the supernatural, it doesn’t toy with the suspension of disbelief, thanks to a thorough grounding amidst biblical lore. And for all of the project’s perfections, the additional rare feat of indescribably mesmerizing theme music is the icing on the cake.
College professor by day and venturesome archeologist by night, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is recruited by the United States government to locate the resting place of the scriptural Ark of the Covenant. Its rumored powers must be kept out of the hands of the diabolical Nazis, who have also taken an interest in uncovering the artifact. Traveling across the world, Jones teams up with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), the daughter of the leading expert in Ark lore (and a previous fling), who holds an important piece of the puzzle for discovering the Well of Souls – the hidden Egyptian chamber that houses the coveted chest.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” was merely meant to be a fun-filled B-movie, but ended up being an instant classic of striking proportions, receiving substantial critical and commercial success. From the opening scene, in which the courageous Dr. Jones steps out of the shadows to reveal his determined face (a notable introduction that is rarely used anymore with such gravitas), his skills with a bullwhip, and his love of hidden treasures, it is evident that this creation is an accomplishment well beyond the ingredients of an average action flick. When Indiana braves deadly booby-traps – including a colossal rolling boulder – some of the most memorable and parodied movie moments are born. Adding to the frequent, breathtaking stunts are the ingenious designs of Indy’s sidekicks, colleagues, damsels in distress, and singular nemeses, who all perfectly complement every smidgen of his daredevilry.
The film is famous for countless trademark images – and it’s remarkable that so many powerful events exist in a single production. Indiana brings a gun to a swordfight; he combats his fear of snakes in a pit full of writhing reptiles; a fistfight breaks out under a swiveling enemy airplane on the runway; a high speed truck chase weaves through the desert; flights across Asia and Europe are charted by a red line moving over a semitransparent map; a simple silhouette of the man and his signature fedora generates awe; and the stop-motion animation of melting faces gazing upon the might of the Ark is creatively ghastly. Every shot cleverly helps Jones become a cinematic legend as he pursues the occult, wins the girl, and saves the day.
Praise must also be given to composer John Williams, who scored most of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ prior projects. For “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he once again creates theme music that simply cannot be forgotten. Williams’ exciting and stirring soundtrack garnishes every sequence, making each one more dramatic, suspenseful, or romantic; such potent use of resonant music in recent filmmaking has, sadly, become far too subtle.
Compared to newer works, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” still holds up visually, despite contemporary challenger’s options for more complex stunt choreography and more advanced special effects. In every other aspect, it still completely bests the competition. Even disregarding the imagery, the convincing chemistry, expertly placed humor, and the plethora of cinematographic thrills, the basic story is hugely entertaining. The supplementing action doesn’t exist just for the sake of suspenseful moments; it also transitions the characters from one location to the next and purposefully progresses the plot. There is a distinct naturalness to the movements, easily able to avoid overly convenient measures of random scenery changes, as Indy’s globetrotting and antagonist-fueled predicaments impart an impeccable blend of sensibility, exhilaration, and physical and verbal wit. The adventure also serves to bolster admirable characters, an easygoing tone, and homage-laden style. What started as Lucas and Spielberg’s historically-set, reality-based version of low-budget ‘30s and ‘40s matinee serials became an unequalled achievement beyond anything they could have imagined, boasting an influence that will likely never fade.
– Mike Massie