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Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Starring: Harrion Ford, Karen Allen
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: June 1981
Genres: Action, Classic

*Also starring: Wolf Kahler, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Anthony Higgins, Alfred Molina, Ronald Lacey

Review by Dragan Antulov
4 stars out of 4

There are many reasons why people like certain movies, but often those reasons are quite sentimental in their nature. For example, author of this review likes RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK because this film - among other things, of course - brings back nice memories. This film was also not only the subject of my very first movie review, but also the reason why I started reading movie reviews in newspapers and paying attention what the critics actually think about movies.

Year 1981, when the movie was made, actually belongs to my very personal Golden Age of movies. Majority of my favourite films was made in late 1970s and early 1980s and they left long lasting impact on my future viewing preferences. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, although not belonging to my favourite genre of science fiction and being quite different from mostly dark and thought-provoking visions of the future, also became my favourite. Mastery of Steven Spielberg, director who began his slow, but unstoppable climb to the title of Hollywood king, enchanted me with his magical vision of the past.

The plot begins in 1936. Indiana "Indy" Jones (played by Harrison Ford) is shy and mild-mannered college professor of archaeology, but when the college museum headed by Marcus Brody (played by Denholm Elliott) needs new artefacts, Indiana Jones is turned into experienced and fearless explorer who would stop at nothing to make archaeological finds even in the most dangerous places of the world. His talents are being employed by U.S. Army Intelligence, since Hitler recently became obsessed with the occult and sent expedition in Egypt to recover the lost biblical artefact known as the Ark of the Covenant. That mythical object contains immense powers and army carrying it is believed to be invincible. Indiana Jones doesn't believe in it, but he would prefer to lay his hands on Ark before Hitler does. So, he goes on the journey and the first stop is Nepal, where an old colleague, Professor Ravenwood, should help him with an ancient medallion showing the way to the Ark. Instead of friend, he finds his daughter Marion (played by Karen Allen), who still can't forgive Indiana for the heartbreak caused ten years ago. Marion's dilemma about helping him resolved after the visit by Nazi spies, led by sadistic Toht (played by Ronald Lacey). Indy and Marion continue their journey to Cairo, where Sallah (played by John Rhys-Davies), top local digger and Indy's old friend, brings news about German expedition making major excavation in the desert. Their effort, that dug out ancient Egyptian city, is intended towards the room with the Ark. "Indy" is going to use medallion to find the Ark, and his quest is even more motivated when he finds out that the Nazis are helped by Rene Belloq (played by Paul Freeman), French archaeologist and his arch-rival.

In the interviews that followed smashing success of STAR WARS, George Lucas often named B-movies and cliff-hanger serials of 1930s and 1940s as the major source of inspiration. Four years later, it turned out that the same material shaped the movie preferences of Spielberg, and Lucas, together with Lawrence Kasdan, created movie character that became embodiment of all heroes featured in such films. For Spielberg RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was intended as nothing more than nostalgic trip to the past, where such films spawned juvenile imagination with exotic locations and breath-taking stunts. But his personal nostalgia was quite in tune with the demand of audience - those masses that got tired of dark, serious, cynical protagonists of 1970s cinema and desired return of old-fashioned heroes, ready to fight old-fashioned villains and get old-fashioned girls in the end. This renaissance of simplistic Good vs. Evil worldview, embodied in renaissance of American self-confidence and national pride in Reagan's years, was just one of the reasons why this film became one of the first true summer blockbusters.

Another reason was the fact that Spielberg's artistic vision proved to be perfect for such kind of films - pure and ideologically unburdened juvenile adventures. Spielberg excelled in all areas of filmmaking when he directed RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. From brilliantly staged opening scene in Peruvian jungle that remains memorable despite not being particularly related to the rest of the film, until the last, equally memorable scene, audience has opportunity to enjoy Spielbergian magic at its best. Action scenes are spectacular and exciting, but script by Lucas and Kasdan allows enough room for character development yet never hurting the perfect pacing of the film. There are many scenes of violence and the amount of blood and gore might be somewhat unsuitable for youngest audience; unfortunately, Spielberg was somewhat more squeamish in scenes that could be viewed as erotic. Dark and potentially disturbing overtones of the film are compensated with humour and catchy one-liners. General light-hearted tone of the film helps us to suspend disbelief and digest certain anachronisms (1936 Germans armed with 1938 submachinguns) or implausibilites (British allowing Nazis to deploy force equivalent to Rommel's Afrikakorps outside Suez three years before the war). Spielberg's long-time associate John Williams provided RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with one of his powerful musical scores and one of the most recognisable title themes.

By playing lead character of Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford finally became Hollywood star in true sense, silencing all those who saw him as "one hit wonder" and predicted same fate as other STAR WARS leads. Ford was talented enough to utilise all potential of his, superficially cartoonish, character and create hero who is both traditional and complex - troubled with his own imperfections (snake phobia) and self-doubts. Karen Allen as Marion was his ideal partner - woman who is both strong, tough, intelligent yet feminine and charming. Unfortunately, Karen Allen failed to use this role as boost for her future career. British actor Paul Freeman as Belloq gave anything but routine role of villain with complex motivations. Other two memorable roles were also played by reliable character actors from Britain - John Rhys-Davies (of SLIDERS fame) is one of rare Muslim good guys in modern Hollywood, and Ronald Lacey was impressive in his Peter Lorre impersonation.

Cliff-hanger movie serials and B-movies from 1930 and 1940s, of course, weren't the only source of inspiration for Spielberg. Another thing that makes this film so valuable is the fact that it could be seen as some kind of movie encyclopaedia due to the numerous references to various movies made in 20th Century. Filmophiles would probably enjoy seeing nods given to movie classics like CASABLANCA, or the famous scene that pays homage to Kurosawa, flying date that gives homage to Kubrick's bone in 2001 and even Spielberg's use of relatively obscure (for American audience) Belmondo adventures directed by French filmmaker Philip de Broca in early 1960s. Some of the referenced movies are rather recent, and Spielberg makes very explicit homage to his partner's STAR WARS. Ironically, Indiana Jones later became not just a movie icon itself and object of numerous references (and two inferior sequels plus disappointing TV series), but also a recognisable cultural icon (with "Hungry Like a Wolf" clip by Duran Duran being one of the first examples).

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK might be inferior to STAR WARS in terms of cultural importance, but this film still deserves to be praised as Hollywood masterpieces and loved even by those viewers who aren't as sentimentally attached to it as the author of this review.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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