By as early as 1981, Steven Spielberg had pretty much already set his legacy in concrete with the releases of the genre defining Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind; two movies literally packed to the rafters with thrills, spills and some genuinely scary shit – the various heart stopping moments in Jaws are legendary but what about the bit in CEOTTK when the aliens snatch the kid? Freaking terrifying!
However, big Steve had hit a noticable career speed bump with his raucous war spoof 1941 which promptly went down like a lead balloon sellotaped to a cartoon piano due to the fact that the auteur had decided to make a screwball comedy and forgot to add any jokes…
Was this it for the young visionary? Well, 40 plus years in the business and billions of box office later and the answer is an obvious and resounding “Nope”, but what happened to change young Spielberg’s fortunes back into the black so dramatically? Well, credit a little help to Steve’s mate George…
The year is 1936 and we’re smartly introduced to the dusty and battered “obtainer of rare antiquities” the world came to know as Indiana Jones. Joining mid-adventure, we witness him haphazardly side step lethal traps, poisonous spiders, angry natives and an iconic boulder the size of King Kong’s football only to come up empty handed when the leering-faced idol he was trying to grab is instead snared by sinister, French rival Belloq.
Upon arriving back in the States to do his full time employment as a teacher, Jones is approached by members of the government with a new agenda for the swashbuckling archeologist – find the lost Ark Of from biblical legend before the Reich’s searching forces do. Sceptical that this Ark truly contains the resting place of the actual ten commandments, Indy heads off and subsequently hooks up with spunky (and bitter) old flame Marion Ravenwood, the daughter of an old colleague and off they bounce to egypt with the beady eyes of the nazi’s firmly fixed on them. As they obtain the macguffins needed to locate the whereabouts of this potentially holy WMD they continually engage in spectacularly choreographed scrapes with German forces who have secured the services of Belloq to aid them in their quest. Can Indiana Jones, Marion and his small cabal of motley helpers manage to foil the plans of the Nazis to weaponize this biblical relic, win the war and conquer the world?
I’m not really enamoured of sweeping statements that lavish delirious praise onto films for two reasons; 1) I’m not Paul Ross and 2) I don’t review films for the Daily Star – but I honestly don’t think I’d be speaking out of turn if I stated that Raiders Of The Lost Ark is THE greatest action/adventure movie of all time. A legitimate cinematic miracle of gripping plot, first-rate characterization and a perfectly judged servings of thrills and spills that remains, to this day, as near a perfect film that could possibly hope to exist.
Created as their answer to both the adventure serials Spielberg and Lucas admired as children AND a love letter to that other promiscuous world saver, James Bond, Indiana Jones himself is truly a masterwork of character creation. The dusty jacket, the indestructible fedora hat (more loyal than any dog), the bull whip (utterly impractical but still unbearably badass), all of it, when wrapped around the craggy form of the permanently irritated Harrison Ford it forms celluloid alchemy the likes of which has rarely been equalled and became instantly iconic.
In fact iconic is the word that best describes virtually every aspect of the movie that exists as over the years pretty much every second of the thing has been copied, homaged or even outright stolen to bolster inferior pretenders – THAT opening sequence, THAT jaunty march (John Williams’ best maybe?), THAT sense of heightened realism (every punch sounds like a rifle shot) and the action… oh my god, the action!
Unbearable cool and stunningly hard-edged for a family film (when Spielberg isn’t melting Nazis in front of our horrified eyes he’s having them bloodily diced by a stray propeller) the numerous set pieces are gleefully witty – Indiana’s nonchalant shooting of a swordsman may very well be cinema’s greatest “Aw for fuck’s sake…” – and ingeniously planned out which eventually cumulates in a truly stonking truck chase that has Ford’s hapless stuntman scrambling on, over and UNDER a roaring vehicle and is still pretty much unsurpassed to this day with every millisecond of the action easy to follow and legitimately bruising in it’s old school realness. Even the scenes that DON’T involve rip-roaring action are absolutely riveting with the scene where Indiana uses the Staff Of Ra to locate the Ark being a prime example. All Ford has to do is stand in the centre of a map room and sweat while sunlight creeps through the room as Williams’ score does the heavy lifting and you spine tingles uncontrollably.
The actors are all pitch perfect with Ford nailing his greatest role (yes, even greater than Han Solo) by making him a massively flawed anti-hero who takes a punch better than anyone in cinema and readily admits he often has no idea what he’s doing (“I’m making it up as I go!” Jones grumbles when someone has the audacity to ask if he actually has a plan), with Karen Allen excelling as his fiery foil (her drinking game introduction is majestic) and a special mention to the booming diagram of the ubiquitous John Rhys-Davis as sidekick Sallah.
I realise that this review has been less of a sharp focused critique of a major picture and more like the overwritten fawning of a smitten fanboy but I really do admire this movie so much, right down to the tiny minutiae of literally every scene. A running plot thread of Indy continually being betrayed by almost everyone he is forced to depend on, even the Sieg Heil-ing monkey, is fascinating and has a genius pay off with Sallah’s use of a Nazi flag; Marion’s Egyptian abduction is made exponentially tougher when Indy blunders into a town square filled with countless laundry baskets that are identical to the one his partner is being held in; Jones’ legendary fear of snakes being tested in a scene that would cause anyone suffering from ophidiophobia to have a psychotic break from stress – it’s ALL gravy.
A flawless benchmark in popular culture that even now, nearly 40 years later, is able to withstand any criticism that you care to throw at it – yes, even the point made by The Big Bang Theory that Indy actually has little actual influence over the plot (it states that if Jones had never got involved, the Nazis would have never found it, not to mention the fiery climax in which the day pretty much saves itself) – that single handedly resculpted how action adventure was handled for generations to come…
“It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” Groans a battered Indy at one point. Raiders Of The Lost Ark has proved to have plenty of both.