Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
“Indiana Jones – the new hero from the creators of JAWS and STAR WARS.”
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman
Synopsis: Archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.
In terms of quality, Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark far surpasses the Saturday morning movie serials of the 1930s and ’40s that inspired it, and yet it never loses sight of its origins, and refuses to take itself seriously. It’s escapist entertainment in its purest form, created for no other reason than to entertain, with no hidden messages or subtext, a pleasing concept that leaves it free to tell its Boy’s Own story at a breathless pace. Indiana Jones is the kind of hero we all want to be – not a superhero, but a normal man of infinite resourcefulness – and writer Lawrence Kasdan taps into this by allowing Jones to experience moments of fear and uncertainty before finding somewhere comfortable to nurse his aching muscles after somehow coming out on top.
Jones (Harrison Ford) is an archaeologist and adventurer who, at the request of the US government, goes in search of a legendary religious artefact, the Ark of the Covenant, believed to be at a location in Egypt recently discovered by the Nazis, who have hired a rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman). Jones first travels to Nepal to ask his former flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), for her deceased father’s headpiece to the Staff of Ra, which will reveal the Ark’s exact location. However, Nazi agents follow Jones and Marion to Egypt and a series of hair-raising adventures follow…
Given that it’s now more than 30 years old, it’s surprising how fresh Raiders of the Lost Ark still looks today. Far superior to any of its four successors, Raiders contains within it the essence of producer George Lucas’s love for those old movie serials – which were never, ever as breathtakingly exciting and suspenseful as this movie – which he used to watch as a kid, with a child’s unquestioning and uncritical eye. The movie is simply one memorable moment after another, all of which have burned themselves into our collective consciousness and been repeatedly referenced and lampooned ever since they first saw the light of day.
It’s difficult to think of any other movie that matches Raiders of the Lost Ark for edge of the seat thrills and nail-biting tension, although any number of pretenders have tried. The difference between Raiders and its copies, however, is that Raiders was inspired by Spielberg’s desire to recreate the sheer thrill of being swept up by an exciting movie, while the copies were all motivated by a desire to emulate Raiders’ box office revenue. It’s a stuntman’s movie, with plenty of fist fights and explosions on display, but the story – as simple as it may be – is never dumbed down to cater for the action. Today, spectacle is seen as an adequate substitute for the more taxing constituents of a story (such as characterisation) but Lawrence Kasdan delivers on both scores, crafting a number of likeable characters who regularly engage in refreshingly memorable interplay.
Raiders of the Lost Ark still provides arguably the best in escapist entertainment that the cinema can offer, a claim supported by the fact that, more than thirty years after it was first released, its iconic hero and rousing theme tune are still instantly recognisable to us all.
(Reviewed 9th August 2012)