Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Steven Spielberg
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Saturday, May 31, 2008
One of the best examples of his triple combination is Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love the story of how that film came to be. Spielberg and George Lucas fantasized about making movies that resembled, or perhaps caused the same emotions as, the Saturday matinee serials they grew up with. Lucas went the Flash Gordon way with Star Wars (1977) and it’s common knowledge how right that went, and then he and Spielberg concocted the adventures of Indiana Jones and they scored once again.
Jones is an intellectual archeologist who has adventure in his veins and won’t stop at nothing to achieve his goals. I have always been amazed by the fact that the filmmakers were inspired in part by the Disney Ducks comic books by Carl Barks, mainly “The Prize of Pizarro”, which dealt with an adventure not unlike the one that introduces the film, a scene that inspired the sort of theme park rides that now inspire movies. Lucas and Spielberg are big fans of Barks’ work and they made their dream come true by giving their script some of that vibe.
I read “The Prize of Pizarro”, had a great time with it, then drew some conclusions that might turn out interesting: Indiana Jones resembles Uncle Scrooge McDuck, Barks’ own creation, in the way he lives a peaceful life but doesn’t hesitate to go out and personally embark on a perilous quest to be the one who personally finds what he’s looking for. On the other hand, he resembles Spielberg, a professional who’s very serious about his work but still has the heart of a child and tackles his tasks with enough lightness to have a good time while doing things right and making more money.
Before I get even more redundant, I’ll move on. George Lucas and Philip Kaufman wrote the story that became, in the hands of Lawrence Kasdan, a brilliant screenplay that mixes humor, action, romance and adventure not in equal measures but always so much of each that the screen seems to be bursting. It’s a non-stop experience that some people compare to a roller-coaster ride because there’s never a dull moment and that’s impressive. The action is so continuous that sometimes we don’t even stop to see if it all makes sense, and when things seem to be going dangerously into the caricature realm, we decide to not give a damn, but instead to take that as extra fun in the lightness of the movie.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t care and worry about the hero and his task. He’s supposed to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do, and how and why don’t matter so much. The thing is, he’s a pro and so are his enemies, who represent not only antagonism but universal evil. He’s aided by an old flame, Marion (Karen Allen), who’s so much fun she sometimes steals the spotlight. Such an inspired character that shares so much chemistry with the star!
Harrison Ford is perfect in the lead because he’s totally controlled in a role that could have been played with such a rush that would have made the part frantic. Though he’s tireless, sometimes he seems fed up, which is very human. Also, heroic though he may be, he’s greedy and it shows in his eyes when the alleged hiding place of the Ark is opened. Best of all, though he seems to finally care about Marion, unlike his attitude from the past, he really doesn’t, and it shows mainly in his gesticulation when with her. You can just feel these things thanks to Ford.
Jones’ attitude towards friends and foes is strictly business, even though he leans towards the good, ethical side, and I think his main rival, Frenchman Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), who has been hired by the Nazis, is alike, though he leans towards the bad. The main Nazi representative, Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey), is sinister enough for a fairytale villain, but goes perfectly with the fantasy of the film. In fact, the increasing fantasy elements throughout the film give way to the final climatic scene, which could have been out-of-place if we hadn’t seen it coming.
But there are enough acts, each with a climax, for five films, yet it never gets episodic. The action, as I said, is non-stop, and in times that’s literal, thanks to Michael Kahn’s editing showcasing some of the best stunts since Stagecoach (1939) which make of Indiana Jones one of the greatest action personages of all time, shot by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe as a vintage comic book character. This is one of those films I can see countless times without ever getting tired. I just love to spend time with my buddy Indy.
Today, John Williams’ theme has become iconic. At hearing the tune, one immediately relates the music to entertainment and adventure, without necessarily thinking of Indiana Jones. However, the character itself has become an infallible part of our culture, instantly recognizable throughout the world. His success is not a matter of discussion, but his story was once a farfetched idea that required guts to be taken all the way. How easily it could have been dropped! It invites reflection.
Followed by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
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Other reviews of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Morris