Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler's Nazis can obtain its awesome powers.In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler's Nazis can obtain its awesome powers.In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler's Nazis can obtain its awesome powers.
The Life and Times of Harrison Ford
There is no doubt in my mind that Indiana Jones is the best movie series in the history of cinema. And the one start it all was Raiders of the Lost Ark, a fast-paced adventure packed with one death-defying cliff-hanger situation after another. To this day, Raiders remains one of the best action movies, holding up better than most of today's rapid-cut, MTV-style "thrill rides." Raiders relied on no CGI, no flashy editing, just pure, exhilarating film-making and storytelling, a combo of its kind that has only been surpassed by its second sequel, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Harrison Ford stars as Jones, an archaeologist who dresses in a brown coat and fedora, armed with a revolver and lion-taming whip. A delightful opening involving elaborate booby traps informs us he's used to these adventures (especially his even closer brushes with death in Temple of Doom, which was a prequel). When he returns to the states from his latest "excavation," he's informed by the military that the Nazis are after the ark of the covenant, an artifact that could possess the power to make the Nazis an invincible army. So Jones sets out to retrieve the ark first, in what will prove to be one of his greatest adventures.
There's probably little doubt that Raiders is the fan/critical favorite of the trilogy, but there are a few things that I actually have to gripe about, blasphemous as it may be. For one, even though the story is excellent, it's not without its holes. Most perplexing is in the film's opening scenes, when we wonder why Jones bothered to bring along potentially traitorous porters when it's such a short distance from the river to the cave temple. Also (spoilers), one needs only to see the film once to realize that if Indy had never tried to intercept the Ark, the Nazis would a) have never found it or b) still would have suffered the same horrible fate regardless.
The action sequences are superb, though an early bar shootout isn't quite as adrenaline-pumping as it could be and looks quite bland compared to the film's other action scenes. Thankfully, the following street chase is playful and exciting and keeps the joyous momentum flowing. Overall, I'd still argue that both Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade boast more inventive action but there's no questioning that the action scenes in Raiders are fantastic and likely superior to any film you may have seen the last few years.
As bitchy as I may sound, I'm not trying to harp on Raiders, at least not too much. The movie does feature the famous (and deservedly so) truck chase, one of the most unbelievably thrilling and exhilarating action setpieces I've ever seen (and given an extra boost by John Williams' beautifully rousing score). To this day, even with the recent chase scenes in The Matrix Reloaded and Terminator 3, this sequence has yet to be surpassed.
Other standout sequences include a sarcophagus almost entirely decorated with snakes, imposing statues, and well-preserved mummies, and Jones' mano-a-mano battle with a seemingly impervious Nazi mechanic. The finale takes the film dangerously close to the horror genre, climaxing things with a truly memorable (and quite frightening) light show for the ages. Every Indiana Jones film has a scene that scarred me as a kid and I think every one who's seen Raiders knows what I'm referring to (as well as its sequels)
I've said it before, Harrison Ford is wonderful as Jones, embodying a hero that's cool beyond words, yet still entirely human and believable. The supporting cast isn't as up to par: Paul Freeman makes for a decent but not particularly menacing villain as Belloq and Karen Allen is somewhat annoying as Indy's love interest, but there are an equal share in gems, particularly Denholm Elliot as Marcus Brody and John Rhys-Davies as Sallah (The Last Crusade wisely gave these actors/characters more screen time).
Raiders of the Lost Ark was revolutionary cinema, paving way for summer blockbusters that would attempt for the same winning mix of thrills and humor. Only its sequels matched and/or surpassed it, but some have actually come close (The Mummy). If you haven't seen Raiders yet, put it on the top of your list.
- Jul 16, 2003