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Thursday, May 10, 2012



"I'm going after a find of incredible historical significance, you're talking about the boogie man. Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am."
-- Indiana Jones

Raiders of the Lost Ark is an Academy Award-winning 1981 action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg that serves as the first installment in the ever-popular Indiana Jones franchise. Renowned archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is approached by United States Army Intelligence after they intercept Nazi transmissions about an excavation in Cairo that may be digging in the lost city of Tanis in the hopes of finding the Ark of the Covenant. Because Jones has a penchant for acquiring rare artifacts and antiquities, the Army wants him to take possession of the Ark before Hitler and the Nazis can wield it as a weapon at the front of their own armies. To help in his quest, Jones makes his way to Nepal to find his old professor Abner Ravenwood, who is an expert on the city of Tanis. Instead of finding his mentor, however, Indy finds his daughter Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), with whom he had had a past romance. With the Nazis nipping at their heels, the two take one of Abner's Tanis artifacts and make their way to Cairo in the hopes of beating the Germans to the prize. Little do they know that the Nazis have enlisted the aid of one of Indiana's chief competitors in the French archaeologist Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman).

Ever since I was a child, I have been a bit of a fan of the Indiana Jones series, and to have the opportunity to review the original Indiana Jones adventure is quite a treat for me. It's going to be a little difficult not to be biased about reviewing this film because it has become so ingrained into my own consciousness; however, I think that so many people out there can probably say the same thing about this particular film franchise.

Let's start by taking a look at the cinematic landscape in which Raiders of the Lost Ark was released. By this time, Spielberg had made quite a name for himself with films like 1975's Jaws and 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Although both of those films had managed to garner both critical and audience endorsement, Raiders proved to be a different kind of film altogether. It marked Spielberg's first real foray into the action-adventure genre as he tried to bring to life a type of 1930s serial, and boy did he do it successfully. But more on that in a moment. We also need to understand the star-power of Harrison Ford in making Raiders a success. By this time, he had appeared as Han Solo in both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, so it goes without saying that he had become quite the household name. He had even had a bit of a cameo in 1979's Apocalypse Now. But it was the high-profile inclusions of Spielberg and Ford that made this film a must-see for many a film-goer back in 1981.

Raiders of the Lost Ark manages to succeed on a number of levels. First, we're getting a clever and original story that effectively keeps the audience engaged from the opening scene. By taking the Ark of the Covenent, a familiar artifact from the Bible, I think that a lot of people were able to relate with the story. This film proves to be very Christian-based in its mythology and storytelling, and because the Christian population (at least in the United States) is relatively high, you can be sure that many a viewer had some sort of previous knowledge of the Ark going into the film. Another reason the film works so well is that we're getting a very clear sense of good versus evil. Much in the way that Star Wars was able to establish the good guys and the bad guys quickly and clearly, Raiders manages to do the same with Indy and his adversaries. You can easily see the enemy in the form of the German Nazis, who have become almost synonymous with evil in the seventy years since World War II; however, I think the better differentiation between good and evil occurs in the opening scenes when we meet both Indiana and Belloq. It's immediately made clear as to which man has the higher moral fiber, and from that moment, we know for whom we should root. I also thought the dialogue was very well-written, and the characters are incredibly well-crafted. We easily get a sense of each character after only a few moments with them, and this ability to relate to the personalities on-screen only helps to bring the viewer in further.

I also thought that the cast performed rather well throughout the film. As one can imagine, this is Ford's show all the way, but he has some rather deft supporting actors that complement him quite well. I think Allen manages to keep pace with Ford's Indy, even if she goes a little over-the-top here and there. Freeman proves to be a fine central villain, bringing a little bit of brains to the antagonists side. He's not likely to be remembered as one of the better villains in cinematic history, but his Belloq is definitely worthy of at least an honorable mention. From there, we move onto some of the minor - albeit important - characters. We're getting a fun turn from John Rhys-Davies as Indy's friend Sallah as well as a pitch-perfect turn from Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody, Indy's friend and boss. On the villainous side, I have to take the time to mention Ronald Lacey, whose creepy performance might be the most memorable in the film. Overall, however, the entire cast brings forth their A-game, making this quite the ensemble performance.

Raiders of the Lost Ark would go on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards, and it ultimately took home four Oscars: Best Art Direction; Best Visual Effects; Best Editing; and Best Sound. One of the categories it lost in, however, was for Best Original Score. Now, those of you who have been reading me for a while know that I will skip out on an opportunity to mention the great John Williams, and seeing as he composed the score for this film, I have to bring him up yet again. It's one of his better scores, and as with most of his work, it manages to fit the film perfectly. Here's the theme, for your listening pleasure:

At the end of the day, Raiders of the Lost Ark has become one of the most well-received and most-beloved films ever to be released. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), which allows its followers to score the films they've seen, currently ranks Raiders as the 23rd greatest film of all time. The American Film Institute (AFI) currently lists it as the 66th greatest film. And currently gives the film a 94% approval rating based off critical reviews, and I will leave you with the site's critical consensus, which sums up my own thoughts on this brilliant piece:
Featuring bravura set pieces, sly humor and white-knuckle action, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most consummately entertaining adventure pictures of all time.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A+
Should You Watch It? Yes 

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