Raiders of the Lost Ark (later marketed as Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark) is our introduction to Indiana Jones. It’s an action adventure film from the minds of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
It stars Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, among others. It’s directed by Spielberg and written by Lawrence Kasdan, the movie was released on June 12, 1981, it became that year’s top grossing film, it was also nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but it won these awards; Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects, plus a fifth special achievement award for Sound Effects Editing.
Before I get ahead of myself, and in to more detail, go check out what my friends Dr. Q at Craft Beer Tasters and Cody from Three B Zine have to say about this film, you can also read what we’ve done previously here.
Raiders starts off in the jungles of Peru circa 1936, Indy’s looking for a golden idol for a museum, but gets thwarted by a rival named Belloq, he then survives by the skin of his teeth and we’re back at his day job… he teaches at Marshall College.
Here he’s interviewed by two Army Intelligence agents, one of which is Porkins from Star Wars, they inform Indy that the Nazis are looking for the Ark of the Covenant.
This sets Indy on his mission. He’s got to find his old mentor, but instead finds his daughter, who’s still got a thing for him. They survive by the skin of their teeth from the Nazi pursuers.
Indy and Marion now make their way to Cairo to meet Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), and to be near where the Nazis are digging. They find the Well of Souls where the Ark is buried, along with snakes. Indy faces some personal fears only to be found out by Belloq and his German friends.
Indy and Marion escape from being buried alive, hitch a ride on a boat, then a u-boat and catch up with the bad guys as they prepare to open the Ark, the contents inside devour all evil present, leaving Indy and Marion alive to tell the tale… to the folks in Washington DC, but they don’t really care, and instead of displaying it in a museum, they store it in a warehouse among countless other crates.
There’s a lot going on in this movie, whew!
The good; this is the first time we get to see Henry Jones Junior, but granted we don’t learn his full name in this film, and what an introduction it is!
This deserves attention, we’re in the jungle on routine expedition, met the greatest earthquake ever *ahem, sorry, wrong expedition. We’re in Peru looking for a Golden Idol, and Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) is with us. We survive all these booby traps and spiders, snag the Idol, only to unleash some rumblings, we quickly dodge the blow darts only to find a large Boulder coming at us! We’re literally caught between a rock and a hard place. I can’t sum up in words how awesome this opening scene is, you just have to watch, who am I kidding? You know how great this scene is.
This is just the opening! And it has forever remained as a standard by which to strive for.
The Submarine/U-Boat – how many of us watching the movie noticed how Indy got off the U-Boat and in to the Nazi submarine base? It’s amazing how this small plot/logic hole doesn’t even cross our minds, the film hides this very well.
There’s the classic swordsman show down scene where Indy whips out his pistol and completely deprives us of a well choreographed fight scene, but in exchange we get a great comic relief moment.
The acting is superb, we get Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen, who’s not a typical damsel in distress. While she actually is in distress a couple of times, she’s feisty and can hang with the guys. Her introduction scene is her out drinking a man!
Plus Kasdan named her after his wife’s grandmother, and a street in west LA. I used to live in that area and passed by Ravenwood Lane all the time, kept thinking that this can’t be a coincidence, then low and behold, he named her after that same street.
Major Toht, played brilliantly by Ronald Lacey, is a great bad guy. He’s still odd looking, supposedly German, Gestapo interrogator, who’s always black clad despite the weather. His scene in the tent with the hanger is a gag I always laugh at. Lacey’s reminiscent of Peter Lorre. Also of note, Spielberg originally wanted Roman Polanski for the part. Much like how Tom Selleck was supposed to be Indy before Harrison Ford.
The music, who among us doesn’t know the theme? Or hummed it once or five times? John Williams creates an unforgettable march here. When work on the film began, Williams came up with two different pieces and presented them to Spielberg, he liked them both so much that he told Williams to combine them, and that’s how the Raiders March was born, which has become synonymous with Indiana Jones himself.
One of the best things… we get to travel by map!
The bad; the Ark doesn’t burn the Top Secret writing on the side once it’s locked away. Yet it burns the Nazi seal on the previous crate… is this to say that the United States are the good guys? As the crate gets hauled away in the last scene, the seal should start to burn off, just like before. The Ark belongs to no one!
I know I mentioned this above, but the U-boat scene… Indy hitchhikes all the way to the Nazi base. So we’re to believe that this submarine (U-boat) didn’t submerge the whole way to their base? Take a closer look next time you watch this film, you’ll see Indy riding the U-boat before it docks in to the base.
In the climax of the 3rd Act, Indy and Marion aren’t doing anything. It works, but our main characters aren’t active in the climax of the movie. I wasn’t sure where to put this, but the way the film plays out… it goes against all the training and things I’ve heard. I mean it does work, but it shouldn’t… Indy’s not facing down a bad guy in a dual, mano-a-mano style, he’s just closing his eyes. If you don’t think about it too much you won’t care… sucks being smart huh?
Overall, such a delight. Raiders delivers chills and thrills at every turn.
I’d pair a viewing of this movie with Margo’s Bark root beer;
Margo’s Bark, like Indy, is named after a dog. It’s micro-brewed in Los Angeles and it satisfies with every twist and turn of the movie. The flavor is sweet and delicious, cause they did their research by sampling all the root beers available at the time. The root beer like the film just delivers.
And all the profits go to helping shelter and rescue dogs. What’s not to love? So do yourself and man’s best friend a favor, grab a Margo’s and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This is quite possibly one of the most perfect films ever made. It delivers with every twist and turn and crack of the whip.
The film not only introduces us to the adventurer Indiana Jones, but it also re-introduces us to the fedora and combines a fallible hero with the occult and the supernatural, and does so seamlessly in a fun and smart way.
What’s more is that this action adventure film was made before the digital age, so all the stuff that was captured on camera had to practical, and therefore, existed in reality. The filmmakers had to scout locations and think of ways to do stunts, that scene in the Well where Harrison Ford is inches away from a live snake, he’s inches away from a live snake!
This is the genesis of the Indiana Jones franchise, which spawned TWO sequels, that’s right TWO. A Television series, toys, a Disneyland attraction, a Disneyworld stunt show, toys, video games, CD Rom games (remember those?) oh and TOYS, cause ya know, Lucas is involved. But never has a movie been homaged and honored to this degree, so much so that a shot for shot remake has been done… Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation;
When Raiders was re-released in IMAX, I had to go see it, and I was lucky enough to have Dr. Q join me for this screening.