Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark ★★★★★

We're back to more inherited classics, beginning with one of my dad's all-time favorites, which he always spoke of enthusiastically because it's "all action." That assessment always stayed with me as a concrete example of what he wanted from entertainment, so imagine my surprise when he wasn't into The Raid, and in fact asked me to never show him something "like that" again. I'm now sure it was down to the tone rather than the pace, since Raiders of the Lost Ark is clearly the slower (and longer) film, but in using its pauses to explore characters we come to adore or despise, it's also a much gentler sort of adrenalizer. It may be a strange thing to note about a movie with this many fistfights, gunshots, explosions, murdered animals, impaled corpses and God-induced head meltings, but it's true.

The only unique perspective I can offer on Raiders is that it was a source of considerable childhood anxiety for me. Steven Spielberg was one of the first directors' names I ever recognized, and when this first came out, I knew him as the guy behind the scary-ass abduction scene in Close Encounters and the #1 image that haunted my childhood, that fucking Jaws poster. My parents went to see Raiders without me, and by the time I caught it in re-release with my friend and his grandpa the next summer, I'd heard all about the gross-out stuff from other kids. The movie was officially cool, and I knew that I needed to be brave and watch it so I would not be uncool. However, the opening did nothing to ease my seven year-old nerves: first the tarantulas, then the rotten body in the booby trap, then the bloody deaths of Indy's unhelpful helpers. More morbid sights jolted me throughout, from the poor poisoned monkey to the Well of Souls mummy with the snake sliding out its mouth. Once the climax hit and that ghostly figure's face turned into a snarling skull, I buried my eyes in my arm and wouldn't come up until all the noise stopped.

By the time it was on cable, though, I was brave enough to sit through it all. I even got up the nerve to finally watch Jaws few years later. I know you're never gonna see the "horror" tag applied to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I can't be the only person who considers it a key influence on their eventual enthusiasm for alarming film imagery. Revisiting it in 2021 for the umpteenth time, I still can't find a single thing I don't enjoy about it, and many of its stunt sequences remain unparalleled (look no further than Wonder Woman 1984's lame "homage" to the truck chase). Inspiring, too... why aren't we tossing every Nazi into an airplane propeller?

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