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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 Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

The late Pauline Kael once said that a film is only worth seeing once and that the initial viewing is usually the best - one's impressions are often correct upon seeing a film the first time. When I first saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1981, I could not wait to see it again. And again. And again. The film is a thunderous assault on the senses and a wonder to behold but more than that - it is a roller coaster ride that you want to keep visiting again and again. It is thrilling, scary, adventurous, spooky, amusing, nerve-wracking and the kind of movie that will literally keep you on the edge of your seat.

By now, everyone knows who Indiana Jones is. He is the resourceful, stubborn, educated archaeologist and adventurer seeking unusual artifacts around the globe in the era of the 1930's. The first sequence, notably the most gripping opening sequence in the entire action-adventure genre, has Indiana in Peru entering a dangerous cave where a golden idol is kept. He must endure several booby-traps before acquiring it. The action never lets up as he faces a rolling boulder, poisonous darts, collapsing walls, ugly corpses and so on. It is a continuous action serial where we wonder if the hero will make it out of one mishap after another. He always does, of course.

Harrison Ford is pitch perfect as Indiana Jones, showing sly changes from a bespectacled professor who is admired by his students to an action hero with a felt hat and trusty bullwhip who never thinks twice about shooting a swordsman (easily the best joke in the film). In fact, it is a shock after the opening sequence to see Indiana teaching an archaeology class - who is this guy, we wonder. When he is asked to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant, a relic being sought by Adolf Hitler, the gleam shows in his eyes as he is ready for adventure all over again. Indiana's first stop in this adventure is Nepal where an old flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), has a medallion that is a key to finding the Ark. She denies having it, and punches him in the face for ignoring her for so long (turns out that Indiana had deflowered her when they were younger). The villains enter as he leaves, threaten Marion since they also seek the medallion, and a shootout in a bar turns into yet another thrilling action setpiece. Other stops around the globe include Cairo and some fortress where the Ark is to be unveiled on some unnamed island. Indiana rescues Marion and the medallion from Nepal, and they confront a variety of dangers and pratfalls along the way. There are mean Nazis, bare-chested, bald fighters, slithering snakes, rotting temples, poisonous dates (the fruit that is), clever monkeys, naval ships, trucks, rotating planes, and so much more that you feel you have entered a museum of 1930's memorabilia come to life. It is a pulp fiction world that director Steven Spielberg loves as does most people and it shows. And the action never stops, though it is not as headache-inducing as say "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Spielberg knows when to quit, when to let us breathe. It is only fitting that there is even a scene where Indiana sleeps instead of making love to Marion. He needs his rest.

What makes all this silliness work is Ford's charismatic performance - he makes us believe in him and makes the hero vulnerable enough to make us hope he will make it out of every single jam he is in. Also noteworthy is a hissable villain, one who is as credible as Ford is as a hero. Belloq (Paul Freeman), a French archaeologist, also has a gleam in his eyes and wants the Ark for his own needs - "a radio for speaking to God." Both of these men are in pursuit of a magical relic and will do anything to get it. Steven Spielberg is at his very best here, making every event as cinematic as possible and accentuating all the visual gags with flair. The action scenes are tightly edited and frightening in how explosive they are, especially the climactic truck chase where Indiana rides horseback to get inside the truck holding the Ark while dozens of jeeps and trucks go after him (as if this was the beginning of World War II). The gags come from everywhere but are never obtrusive, even if at one point a monkey does the Nazi salute! But what makes "Raiders of the Lost Ark" wonderful is Spielberg's sense of fun and his surefire direction, which somehow makes all the old cliches seem new again. The old marksman versus the swordsman joke is old-hat but Ford's sense of desperation makes the scene seem wondrous all over again, and one understands his reflexive action of shooting the swordsman. Every scene tingles with excitement and tension. The first time I saw the famous opening sequence, I was literally grabbing the arms of my seat. I am not sure how Spielberg does it exactly but it works in ways most action movies have not since - it is witty and there is an element of surprise that engages us. The rousing, memorable musical score by the incredible John Williams lends support and enhances our enjoyment.

The cast is superb and, surprisingly, there is little in the way of overacting or exaggeration as say in "Romancing the Stone" or "Jake Speed." Harrison Ford's secret is that he plays it straight, as if he believed what was happening all around him. It is not easy for an actor not to wink at all the chaos and mayhem but he succeeds admirably. Karen Allen is a great choice as the also stubborn, tough, romantic interest in Indiana's life - a shame she did not appear in any of the other entries of this series. She is clearly the woman for Indiana and knows how to match his wits, and delivers a knockout punch. For some good belly laughs, there is John Rhys-Davies as Indy's Cairo sidekick, Sallah. And for a charming yet insane villain in the grandest of traditions, there is Paul Freeman as the sympathetic Belloq who even has a thing for Marion.

"Raiders" does not end on an uplifting note. Instead it sort of ends abruptly as Indiana reclaims the Ark (what did you expect?) and brings it back to the United States yet it falls in the hands of the government rather than a museum for research and study. There is no sense of victory. And yet this remains one of the best action-adventure films ever made, as rousing and engaging as any film ever made. The sequels and numerous rip-offs can't do it justice. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" showcases Spielberg at his kinetic best, bringing us into a world

Copyright 2001 Jerry Saravia

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