Sunday, June 12, 2016

Raiders of the Lost Ark Review

In 1981, Steven Spielberg created a movie that would eventually become one of the most iconic entertainments in the history of film. A movie so incredibly well-made and fun to watch that it would touch the hearts, minds, and imaginations of generation after generation. A movie with the definitive cinematic hero leading the audience through pulp fiction and Saturday afternoon serial heaven. That movie is called Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I'm here to talk about it.


There isn't much to be said against this masterful film, so this review will probably be a continuous cycle of me praising the hell out of it. In the minds of many, Raiders is a milestone of the silver screen, and in my opinion, it is truly one of the greatest movies ever made. Now let me tell you why.

For starters, it has the quintessential movie star of the 1980s leading the charge. There was nobody bigger than Harrison Ford at the time of this movie's release, and he fills Indiana Jones' legendary shoes with an irresistible charm and an engaging conviction. Indy, along with Han Solo, is the formative role of Ford's career, and it continues to be the character that defines him as an actor in the eyes of many. And Indy is surrounded by some of the more memorable sidekicks in cinematic history.

Karen Allen portrays Marion Ravenwood, an ex-flame of Indiana's who ultimately gets swept up in his grand adventure. Marion is, to this day, the franchise's best love interest; she's spiritied, independent, and plays off of Indy's hardened exterior well. It's no wonder she was brought back 30 years later in the series' fourth installment. John Rhys-Davies' Sallah and Denholm Elliot's Marcus Brody round out the cast of Indy's allies. Both are excellent in their roles, and eventually return in the third movie.

The main antagonist of the film is Indiana's nemesis and fellow archaeologist, Belloq. Paul Freeman's french baddie fills the role of the prototypical villain that seems to get the best of the hero at every turn, but Freeman also adds enough wit and personality to the character to make him somewhat interesting. Still, he can't help but live in the shadow of the cinematic giant that is Indiana Jones.

The script, penned by master screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, is a model of how to thread an engaging narrative through a series of seemingly disjointed vignettes. Indy is chased through a forest by a tribe of indigenous Hovitos in Peru, he beats up a gang of thugs in a little dive in Nepal, he chases a convoy of Nazi trucks through the Egyptian desert, he infiltrates a German U-boat dressed as a Nazi soldier....and more. All of these scenes have become indelibly marked in the memories of those who have watched this movie, but without a strong script to connect all of these moments, the film would likely have fallen apart. Raiders is remembered so fondly because it does have the necessary narrative undercurrents to propel the action and ground all the spectacle.

And there is plenty of glorious spectacle. Spielberg and co. crafted some of the greatest action sequences of all-time, including the escape from the booby-trapped cave in the opening minutes, the chase through the streets of Cairo, the fistfight with the big bald Nazi, and the magnificent desert truck chase, which is one of my personal favorite action scenes of all-time and a highlight for the franchise as a whole. The camerawork is flawless, the stunts are fully believable and pretty darn iconic to boot, and there is a gritty, kinetic energy to all the action that makes Raiders just as entertaining today as it was when it was released.

One of the things that makes the character of Indiana Jones - and the film itself by extension - so compelling and endearing is his vulnerability. That is something that a lot of contemporary action flicks fail to portray: a vulnerable, human hero. Indy is beaten to a bloody pulp, shot in the arm, dragged along behind a truck, and rarely on top of things. This makes him all the more believable and makes the audience all the more likely to invest in his adventure. Because he is constantly making things up as he goes along and makes plenty of mistakes along the way, it is even more exciting and stirring when he does succeed.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is about as close to perfect as a film can get. It's a romantic, thrilling, witty ball of entertainment that has endured the test of time and remains among the most celebrated films of all-time. Its unique combination of iconic action, charming wit, a blood-pumping theme by John Williams, and terrifically-crafted characters set against the biblical backdrop of the Ark of the Covenant is a blend of style and substance that will likely never fade. It is one of the best movies ever made and perhaps the greatest adventure film ever put to screen. Its only competition is in the same franchise.

Final Score: 5/5 

If you haven't watched this movie or its sequels, then I implore you to rethink what you're doing with your life. This was a film that I watched over and over as a child. It's right up there with Star Wars as something that genuinely affected who I am today. It really is a special piece of cinema. Or am I wrong? Is this a severely overrated movie that has somehow fooled millions of people into thinking it's good? Definitely not, but if you disagree, let us know in the comments. I'll be back with my thoughts on the rest of the Indiana Jones franchise here on ComicBookMovieNerd.com.

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