Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark ★★★

When you're a kid, you look at your dad and that's how you know him: "dad". He's the smartest, bravest, funniest, most charming man you've ever met. He puts food on your table, loves your mom and your siblings, and tells those who mess with your family to piss off. Yet you don't really know "dad" beyond his role or what he means to your still developing sense of emotional awareness. You don't know what makes dad tick, just what he represents to you and those around you.

That's honestly how I feel when I watch many bigger, broader films like RAIDERS and the "blockbusters" Spielberg helped spawn. There's a boatload of technical brilliance on display, working to create this really spectacular facade, and the mechanics of the story are perfectly placed, setting up and paying off like clockwork. But even the emotional beats are in service of creating these looming archetypes instead of actual human characters. I understand Indiana's code, but I don't know what it means to him beyond "history is important". And that's how the rest of the movie's character moments are announced: via a bullhorn to reach the back row.

That's not to say I demand some broad origin story, clueing me into just how Dr. Jones' appreciation of the past evolved into his guiding light; any more than I want to know why Chief Brody is terrified of the water. However, I also get to see Chief Brody genuinely worry about his children once Amity Island is terrorized by Bruce the Shark. No such dimension is ever really given to Indiana -- he's a perfectly sketched hangdog hero whose cartoonishness keeps me at arm's length, just like the rest of the picture's "serial" aesthetics. Obviously RAIDERS and JAWS are aiming at slightly different targets, but both are also tapping into a grand sense of "adventure". Yet only one stops to give you an empathetic moment(s) that doesn't revolve around reinforcing its protagonist's heroism.

Keep in mind that none of this is meant to imply that RAIDERS is "bad". Spielberg has crafted a superlative slice of pop entertainment that would become iconic to the point where even parodies lost their bite because we knew the score so well. It just doesn't click with me, and this is my brain trying to sort out exactly why that is. Filed under: odd man out.