Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark ★★★★

***wrote about Steven Soderbergh's black-and-white fan edit RAIDERS for some reason, which you can WATCH HERE. the meaningless star rating reflects that experience, not Spielberg's original.***

Steven Soderbergh has been one of modern American cinema’s most restless and forward-thinking artists for just about the entire length of his career (and “retirement”), which effectively began by inventing modern American cinema with “Sex, Lies & Videotape” and only veered deeper into the vanguard from there. When the film industry began flirting with day-and-date releases, Soderbergh was on the frontlines. When iPhones became viable professional-grade movie cameras, Soderbergh unburdened himself of the Hollywood apparatus like an itchy little kid peeling off his suit after church on Sunday. And when a pandemic brought the world to a standstill, it turned out that Soderbergh had made the definitive film about 2020 all the way back in 2011. For better or worse, the agile indie godhead has been ahead of the curve from the moment he started playing the game.

And yet, Soderbergh doesn’t necessarily fashion himself a disruptor — his nonstop nature might be well-suited for the digital world, but you never get the sense that he’s more interested in breaking shit than he is in making the movies better. Purer. Less compromised by the business around them (the same power dynamics Soderbergh explored in his great NBA drama “High Flying Bird” could broadly be applied to the film industry, echoes of slavery notwithstanding). It’s the difference between “Mosaic” and Quibi. At the end of the day, Soderbergh loves cinema with an Erin Brokovich-like fierceness, and he just wants to cut through the noise and other various nonsense that can make it harder for the art of it all to shine through.

Usually that means forging a new path into the future. But every once in a while — maybe during that interminable, Sartre-esque long night of the soul between finishing post-production on one film and starting pre-production on another the next morning — Soderbergh is compelled to look in the rear-view mirror and show people what made him obsess about movies in the first place. Even if it requires defacing (or dismantling) some of the most hallowed movies ever made.

So when you sit down to watch Soderbergh’s “Raiders” — his 2014 recut of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that drains all of the color out of Steven Spielberg’s whip-cracking adventure classic and replaces its sound with a thick, messy, and deliberately obstructive wall of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross tracks from “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” — keep in mind that he isn’t trying to improve upon Indiana Jones’ iconic debut. This isn’t like the time that he assembled an 108-minute “Butcher’s Cut” of “Heaven’s Gate” in order to streamline Michael Cimino’s epic fiasco into something more palatable. Well, it’s not entirely like that anyway (Soderbergh adores the movie, he just can’t quiet the voice in his head that keeps asking “what if?”). It isn’t even like when he seamlessly edited Gus van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” into the original; that experiment had an additive bent to it, while “Raiders” is all about stripping away Spielberg’s upholstery so that it’s easier to appreciate the incredible craftsmanship underneath.