Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Director: Steven Spielberg Original Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Alfred Molina OSCAR COUNT (4) – Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Art/Sound Direction, Best Visual Effects
That’s how Indy seems to do everything, by the seat of his pants hitting the ground running. In 1981, Spielberg and Lucas brought us one of the most revered and unforgettable characters in the history of film: Indiana Jones. It’s too bad, however, that Lawrence Kasdan doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves. He was the screenwriter for Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also gave other Lucas characters like Han Solo their voice and personality as he wrote Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well. Without Kasdan, I’m not sure Indiana is as quirky and comically flawed as he is. This isn’t to take anything away from Harrison Ford. Ford plays a great roguish reluctant hero. He’s one of the best at this archetype. He has just the right amount of charm mixed with comic timing to pull this off to near perfection. Perhaps it’s all he’s good at, but there’s nothing wrong with being a one trick pony if your trick is being Indiana Jones.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was made to hearken back to those old serials and pulp stories of the early to mid 20th Century. The adventurer was kind of a lost breed for a while as the Western had all but died off by 1981. Plus, film had gotten rather serious in the 70s. Raiders of the Lost Ark triumphantly brought back the hero to the forefront. Mythology and magic were rekindled. From the opening moments of Raiders of the Lost Ark we’re transported through time and space as we go along with Indy on his adventures to try to keep the past sacred while still educating as many as he can about the secrets of our ancestors. In effect, Indiana Jones himself is a part of mythology, while he, within the confines of the narrative, tries to preserve the very mythology he belongs to. It’s actually a very brilliant concept that is probably taken for granted by the vast majority of people who watch. Lucas, for all his faults, was a student of Joseph Campbell after all.
There have been, however, many great concepts that are ruined by becoming reality. Raiders of the Lost Ark did not suffer such a fate. In the more than capable hands of Steven Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan, and Harrison Ford, a sure fire classic was born. With Nazis as the villains, and the Ark of the Covenant as the ancient relic in contention, what transpires on the screen is pure cinematic gold. Now this isn’t some high-brow intellectual piece of art like 2001: A Space Odyssey of course, but it’s a damn good time. Funny, light hearted, with thrilling action, but serious enough when it needs to be, Raiders of the Lost has all the elements that Hollywood has tried to emulate for decades.
Filled with great scene after great scene from the tomb raiding opening, to the shooting of the swordsman, to a fist fight on a hangar, and the climatic opening of the Ark, Raiders of the Lost Ark truly brings to life the pages of those old pulp comics and short stories. Every actor involved puts forth solid performances, giving a bit of weight to the film. Karen Allen’s Marian is the only Indy girl worth remembering really. And who doesn’t love seeing Nazis receiving cosmic justice? Few films are just plain old-fashioned fun to the degree that Raiders of the Lost Ark is. Films that provoke thought and use symbolism and metaphors are great. I love such films. But the ones that are lighter in subject matter and just bring a damn good time to the table are also worth consideration. Few films offer this as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that’s why it’s one of the best films ever made.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: Originally intended as a low budget adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark went on to become the highest grossing film of 1981.