Movies

‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ at 40: Movie magic of the best kind

A still from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’  

On June 12, 1981, an adventurer-archaeologist leapt off the screens into our collective consciousness with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, and based on a story by George Lucas, the film was a tribute to the serial films that Spielberg and Lucas grew up on. The movie sees Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a race against time to get the Ark of the Covenant before the wicked Nazis do. The movie was followed by a prequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and two sequels, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Now, Indiana Jones 5, with a 78-year-old Ford, has recently gone on the floors and is expected to be released in 2022.

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On the 40th birthday of Raiders of the Lost Ark, we take a look at the elements that combined to make this movie an important pop cultural phenomenon, as well as the greatest action movie of all time.

The opening sequence

Spielberg and Lucas conceived Indy as a James Bond-Humphrey Bogart hybrid, so there had to be an opening sequence that was a mini-adventure, to set the tone for the movie. In Raiders of the lost Ark, Indy goes to a Peruvian temple to retrieve a golden idol. The sequence establishes Indy’s long-standing rivalry with the French archaeologist René Belloq (Paul Freeman) and his dislike for snakes.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom sees Indy in a tuxedo at Club Obi Wan (har har) in Shanghai. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade goes back to 1912 and a 13-year-old Indy (River Phoenix) trying to save an artefact. The sequence involving a circus train and counting in Latin, gives the reason for Indy’s fear of snakes, the bullwhip, the scar on his chin and the Fedora. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull goes further with Indy escaping a nuclear blast by shutting himself in a refrigerator.

The lovely ladies

Karen Allen as Marion captured Indy’s heart and kept it as is obvious from their marriage in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A strong woman, we first meet her in Nepal running a bar and drinking everyone under the table. There were other women, Indy admits including the duplicitous Elsa (Alison Doody) and nightclub singer Willie (Kate Capshaw) but they were not Marion. Awww…

The humour

The wry humour and one-liners are an essential element in the movies providing a nice contrast to the frenetic action. The “bringing a gun to knife fight” takes on a whole new meaning when a very ill-Ford did not want to go through the day-and-half fight sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And so, he shoots the big, hulking sword wielder instead.

The wry humour and one-liners are an essential element in the movies providing a nice contrast to the frenetic action

The wry humour and one-liners are an essential element in the movies providing a nice contrast to the frenetic action  

The fight is referenced in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when Indy is faced with two thugs with swords. He looks to the camera and reaches for his gun only to find it is not there! Indy’s constant bickering with his father, Henry Jones, (Sean Connery) raised Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to another level.

Bouncing bolder

That heart-stopping sequence in the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indy is running away from the gigantic, careening bolder, sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The bouncing boulder is the first of many pulse-pounding action set pieces that pop up in the movie with comforting regularity.

Melting face

The sadistic Toht’s (Ronald Lacey) face melting with the power of the Ark is beyond thrilling, and like the bouncing bolder, does not lose its power to shock and awe after any amount of viewings. A combination of physical and special effects were used to create movie magic of the best kind.

Creepy crawlies

Since Indy goes to places forgotten by time, there are bound to be all sorts of nasty creatures. From the spiders on Satipo (did you know that was Doc Ock, Alfred Molina?) to the 6,500 snakes in the Well of Souls. The following movies included rats, bats, scorpions and other manner of horrid critters. No sharks though.

Booby traps

Indy is a professor who can crack mysteries that have puzzled people for ages in the blink of an eye. The three puzzles to get the Grail, the mysteries of El Dorado or the Ark are not impenetrable to the University of Chicago graduate. He does it in such style that who are we to begrudge him?

The music

Just as James Bond would lose a bit of his mojo without Monty Norman’s jazz-inspired theme, Indy would not look as cool riding or flying into the sunset without John Williams’ score.

Sky map

Though Indy is supposed to be a combination of Bogart and Bond, there is a fair bit of Tintin in him. His globe-trotting in search of different artefacts as well as his South American hunting grounds lean towards the intrepid Belgian reporter rather than the suave super spy. And nothing highlights this better than the moving map plotting Indy’s route every time he is on the move.

 


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