Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

8 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is one of the best in a series of movies that feature action-packed adventures and a hero we can all root for. But there is a whole lot more to it too—it also features a great deal of imagination and a super-fast pace. This isn’t just a movie—it’s an event. We spend two hours having fun watching the main hero go through a series of adventures while also admiring what’s happening around him and then we get to go home. It’s as exciting as any sporting event. Watch it on the big screen, and tell me you’re not excited.

For a hero, we have Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), an archaeologist/college-professor who always gets in way over his head as he goes through dangerous lengths to unearth a hidden historic artifact—he comes complete with bullwhip, Fedora hat, and leather jacket. Oh, and he also has a fear of snakes, but why am I telling you that? In an opening scene set in South America, we see him explore a booby-trapped cave to find a golden idol. The treasure is left out in the open—this seems way too easy. And when Dr. Jones attempts to take it, this sets up a course involving spikes shooting out of the walls, a chasm, a slow-closing door, and the biggest boulder you could imagine. How could he possibly get out of this? The best thing about this movie is that while we know that he is going to get out of every situation he couldn’t possibly get out of, it’s great to see how he does.

That scene is just a curtain-opener for what comes ahead. The main storyline for this movie is that Dr. “Indy” Jones has been hired by the US government to race to Brazil to unearth the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis gain control of it first (this movie is set in 1936, so the Nazis are the main villains here). Many of us know the legend of the Lost Ark but for those who don’t, its origins are explained early in the film. But it must be noted that if the Ark is opened, the power of God is given to those who open it…for better or worse. Accompanying Indy in finding the Ark’s location is his ex-girlfriend Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who hasn’t forgiven Indy for walking out on her many years ago but she still loves him anyway. His other ally is Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a big, gentle man who gives Indy some advice he heard from the leader of the Nazi dig site, who happens to be Indy’s rival. He’s a Frenchman named Belloq (Paul Freeman) who, at the beginning of the movie, took Indy’s treasure, sneeringly stating, “There is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.”

This sets up an exciting series of adventures, including a trap in near-darkness surrounded by hissing snakes and a chase scene involving a truck, a plane, and a horse. It all comes down to a race against time between Indy and Belloq as they race to retrieve the prize.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is also perfectly paced. In between the frantic action scenes is enough character development and minimum exposition. We get to know Indy and Marion and we fear for their lives. Credit editor Michael Kahn for creating such a fast pace and not making the movie seem out of control in its cuts. The performances are all solid. Harrison Ford, previously known for playing Han Solo in “Star Wars,” creates a different sort of action hero with strength and a taste for adventure as well as everyday man credibility. He’s also a rough scoundrel with a heart of gold. Karen Allen is the perfect ally for Indy. As Marion, Allen doesn’t play the worried girlfriend who is roped into these situations. She plays this character with energy and strength. Sure, she does scream from time to time but she’s definitely not the damsel in distress. She’s a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself most of the time.

There are also memorable small moments in the film, along with the big action sequences we aren’t bored with. Examples are these little moments are Indy’s line to Marion, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage,” and a very funny brief showdown between Indy and a swordsman. (You’ll know what I’m talking about.) The movie’s spontaneity is also one of the best things in the movie.

There are also plenty of special effects in this movie. The effects at the very end, a terrifying scene in which the Ark’s power is unleashed, are so realistic that they may frighten younger viewers. I am also very impressed at the stuntwork in the film. There is a scene in which Indy is being dragged along the ground behind a truck in a chase scene. I couldn’t tell which was Harrison Ford and which was his stunt double. But this whole scene was done without special effects—it was really happening. Someone really did get dragged along a road by that truck. There may have been pain but I suppose it was worth it to the actors and filmmakers to entertain us.

Oh, and I should also mention the “Raiders March,” the theme music score composed by John Williams, who also composed memorable music from “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Superman,” and “Star Wars.” He scores another notable (excuse the pun) music score here.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is an action movie with all the right ingredients—a smart script, a fast pace, a likable hero, a strong supporting cast of characters, incredible action scenes, a touch of comedy, a hint of romance, and not least of all, sharp direction by director Steven Spielberg and witty storytelling by George Lucas. Spielberg and Lucas have made an excellent piece of work together. I look forward to them making another collaboration.

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