Ever watch a film for the first time knowing you’ve already known about its existence for a long time? It’s kind of funny how you hear certain movies, but you take a while to take a look at what’s all the rage is about. There are even times where you wished you watched certain movies as a child but eventually did when you’re in your late teens. Sometimes it can live up to expectations and vice versa. So, when you call for adventure, Indiana Jones is the pure definition of adventure in this two-hour motion picture. Raiders of the Lost Ark, my personal favorite film Steven Spielberg ever made, holding up well 39 years later.
What’s the Story: Archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has been hired by the United States government to find the Ark of the Covenant. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi army are also after the artifact and its mysterious power. Jones tracks down his long lost love, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), to help him keep the Ark out of the hands of evil.
When this was coming out in the summer of 1981, Spielberg was already a popular name in Hollywood with his hits Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind becoming classics. Raiders of the Lost Ark remarked his return after 1941 flopped critically and financially. At that point in his career, he needed to prove he wasn’t going to screw up again. But hearing about how this film came to be is fascinating, if you ask me. Spielberg wanted to make a James Bond. His buddy George Lucas thought of something better than the iconic 007. He loved it and took this project on. This must’ve been a tricky situation for Paramount Pictures to take on the film when Spielberg has been known for going over budget. The fourth installment was technically my introduction to the series, and that has go to be the biggest mistake of my life. It took me a few years after to watch the first film in the beloved franchise, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the greatest films to come out not only of the 1980s, but of all-time. And if the tagline reads,” Indiana Jones-the new hero from the creditors of Jaws and Star Wars,” that means business.
To have a story focused on its main character finding the Ark of the Covenant or any religious artifacts could’ve missed the mark and be boring, especially when it came out during the early ‘80s. But it wasn’t. Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay, with a story by Lucas and Philip Kaufman, made it all interesting for its viewers to follow without thinking too deeply about it. As you’re watching, you’re always wondering how a certain scene will end, and it makes you want to keep going until the villains are defeated, leaving it on a high note. This was Spielberg and Lucas’ way of harkening back to the B-movies/ action serial classics in a fashion that doesn’t take itself seriously for moviegoers and make the experience worthwhile for everybody.
It makes me wanna buy a hat and a bullwhip of my own and go on adventures. Although, I need to brush up on a ton of history. It was weird to know that even though this was the first movie, this wasn’t an origin story about where he came from and how he became this talented, as we are introduced to Indiana Jones right as he’s going on this adventure in Peru. When they revealed his face in the shadow, I knew this guy was going to be awesome. When talking about Spielberg’s direction, who else could’ve done a better job than him? Since its setting takes place in the mid-1930s, the look of it was like you’re transported back into that era where Germans were taking over the world, even when it has some supernatural elements, it still worked without running what was already established.
One of the many reasons why Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors working today is because he’s well-known for playing famous characters many have grown to love for decades. He already made a name for himself for portraying Han Solo in the first two Star Wars films, but his performance as Indy is honestly one of my favorites ever. No lie. Was it difficult to see Han Solo with a whip instead of a blaster? Not to me, since these characters are different from each other. He was able to pull off this archaeology professor where every girl in this class swooned over him, then a scavenger later without having any complaints. Why I love this character so much when talking about the original three is because this is a cinematic hero that can exist in real life in terms of his skills and actually getting hurt, without looking at him as invincible. How difficult would this have been if Tom Selleck didn’t have to leave the part and stayed with this role? Honestly, I don’t think the film would’ve been the same. So, thank you, Magnum P.I., for letting him still be on the show.
Marion Ravenwood is my favorite female character in all of the franchise. Just the first scene she and Ford had when they had her bar in Nepal is enough to know they had a history with each other, and their chemistry is through the roof. Sure, she does turn into the typical damsel in distress we tend to see in every action movie to this day, but Marion is a character who isn’t always afraid when she turns out to be a strong female character in trying to find her way out of trouble, which some haven’t seen back then. Let me tell you Karen Allen was so gorgeous in this. You also got other supporting characters who are easy to like as well, including John Rhys-Davies (who I knew as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy before this) as Sallah, Denholm Elliot as Dr. Marcus Brody, and even Alfred Molina in his first film as Satipo in the opening.
Raiders has some of the greatest action sequences ever captured on film, and it only made a budget of $20 million. Back in the day when not everything was done with CGI effects, this is the best use of practical effects and stunt work ever put to film, which made it feel fun and real. Spielberg and this visual effects team did a great job of not including CGI during the action sequences. The only time it’s there is when a scene takes place during the nighttime. There are so many iconic action set pieces that are unforgettable, and there are multiple times where you feel like Indy in certain situations, escaping from evil at every turn. When he’s trying to steal the golden idol from the temple, you feel like getting out of there as quickly as possible while a giant boulder is chasing you. That scene has been parodied so many times the first time I noticed was in The Rugrats Movie. True story. From the plane sequences where it’s about to explode to the truck sequence where Indy is dragged across the dirt road, it’s never dull at any minute. The times where it needs some humor in the mix were smart and didn’t have anything that was needlessly over-the-top. One of my favorite lines was when Indy was about to go after the truck with the Ark, Sallah asked him how, to which Indy replied, “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” He ain’t wrong about that.
Fun fact: If you remembered the scene where Indy has to face off against the big guy with the massive sword and just hilariously shot him dead cold, it was originally going to be a sword fight. But Ford had diarrhea that day of shooting, so he decided to shoot him. This shows two things: 1) Improvising a scene that becomes iconic; and 2) A gun is mightier than a sword in some countries.
And I couldn’t forget to mention the brilliant score composed by the genius of John Williams. Right up there with the theme from Star Wars, that original theme, “Raiders March,” is a piece of music that’s the easiest to remember and how it fits so well into the franchise. How iconic is it? I would sing it whenever I’m by myself whenever I think about the film randomly. That can also be said about all the other scores from Williams.
To be completely honest, aside from Paul Freeman as Dr. René Belloq not being the most exciting antagonist and maybe a couple of moments where it might slow down a bit in the film, there aren’t any real flaws I could find when watching this.
The film went on to be an absolute hit, as it became the highest-grossing movie of 1981, earning $389.9 million worldwide. And it was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and won four: Best Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound, and Visual Effects. But why didn’t this win Best Picture, huh? Out of everything that was nominated, this is the one every person remembers. Chariots of Fire, anyone? And, of course, it spawned two great sequels in Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade and one we all want to forget in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With talks of a fifth installment finally happening with director James Mangold attached to take over, I can’t get excited about it, but let’s wait to hear about the story. All I’m asking for is for this to be pure enjoyment
To conclude, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my all-time favorite films, and that’s no lie. Would anything replace this as my number one choice from my favorite director, maybe E.T. or Jurassic Park? Both of those I truly love with all my heart, but you can’t go wrong with Indiana Jones. This was the moment where Spielberg’s name became big after the release, which shows how well-executed every action scene turned out, an amazing story, and a true cinematic hero many can look up to. If I had Indy’s classic hat, I would tip it to thank everybody who made this summer adventure flick the way it was meant to be and the best way to kick off a franchise like never before.