George Lucas and Steven Spielberg‘s classic movie did not invent adventure, as it was largely inspired by old serials, pulp magazines and B-movies, but it certainly revamped our conception of big screen adventure. Even “Star Wars” from a few years before wasn’t as relentlessly exciting, and one could argue that very few movies have been since either. Not that they haven’t tried to crack the “Indiana Jones” formula countless times. But none of the knockoffs possess the wit, the energy nor the thrills of the 1981 film and its sequels.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” doesn’t waste any time and grabs your attention right away, starting right smack into danger and adventure as Dr. Henry Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford) and his cowardly assistants (including one played by a young Alfred Molina!) discover an ancient temple in the Amazon rainforest and enter it to retrieve a priceless golden idol. All the elements are in place already: exotic locales, historical artifacts, lethal traps like statues shooting poisonous arrows and, in the middle of it all, good old Indiana Jones. He’s one of those iconic characters that have truly made their mark on popular culture. You hear Indiana, you don’t think of the state, but you instantly picture the hat, the whip, Ford’s wicked grin… You hear, “I hate snakes”, or “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go” or whatever your favorite line is. You see Indy running away from that huge boulder, or matter-of-factly shooting down that show-off Arab with the big sword… I loved, LOVED the Indiana Jones movie as a kid and, watching “Raiders” again today, I was still totally taken away and I gleefully enjoyed myself.
I’d give you a plot summary, but is there really any need? Is there a single movie-lover who doesn’t know that Jones is an archeology professor/treasure hunter who’s hired by the American army to go after the lost Ark of the Covenant which, legend has it, contains the broken stone tables of the Ten Commandments, before Hitler’s Nazis find it and use its power for evil? You probably remember it all, from Indy’s awkward reunion with his old flame Marion Ravenwood (the wonderfully spunky Karen Allen) in her Nepal bar and the rumble which follows to the fighting and chasing through Cairo, the discovery of the well of souls, with its floor covered with snakes, the as thrilling as it gets chase involving a horse, a truck, a pair of jeeps and a bunch of motorcycles… It’s all good, so very good!
Spielberg was really at the top of his game. Here’s a guy who knows the meaning of crowd-pleasing. He hardly ever lets you catch your breath, but at the same time he’s not just throwing random stuff at you in a messy fashion. Spielberg somehow manages to keep up through the roller-coaster ride with an intriguing plot which makes sense, characters we care about and effectively crafted set pieces. Lately, a lot of popcorn movies tend to go too far into over-edited, flashy, senseless sequences that are little more than a barrage of 2 seconds shots jammed together. “Raiders” is fast-paced and action-packed, but not to the point of confusion. You always know where people are, what they’re doing and why.
Add to that great practical special effects work (20 years later, the “wrath of God” sequence is still as impressive), the classic John Williams score perfectly embodying the feeling of high adventure and, of course, Harrison Ford, macho but charming, a badass smart-ass, a genuine adventurer, a true hero… Indiana Jones! “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is a movie you can watch over and over, riveting, endlessly imaginative entertainment… I’d say it doesn’t get any better, but I love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom even more, and even though Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade isn’t quite perfect, it’s still great fun. Go on now, rent these babies again, you know you want to, and if you haven’t seen them yet, what are you waiting for?