Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark ★★★★★

Sand.

It slips through the fingers. Its light, constantly shifting from one area to another as the wind beckons and the sun radiates. Beneath the sand however, is something entirely different. It isn't light, it isn't insubstantial, it isn't ever-present; it is something heavy, dark, and musty.

Secrets.

Like the tombs ridden with spiders, like the cities hidden with suspicious characters, like the islands overflowing with Nazis; Raiders of the Lost Ark thrives on secrets. The core of every Indiana Jones adventure is kept alive by history, and its reputation to cover up. Civilizations are lost, artifacts are misplaced, rumors and bedtime stories are spread; and as a result, history is perfect for providing the groundwork for an adventure film. Was it just me that ran through dense forests (otherwise known as a local park) acting like Indy as a child? Was it just me that acted through every major sequence in this movie, even going so far as to using a fruit by the foot box for the Ark of the Covenant? Indiana Jones sparks an ideal, a way of life, and a way of expression in every young boy (or girl, don’t want to leave anyone out here); adventure! And danger! And action! And mystery! It is a series that has inspired countless of generations of filmmakers and backyard reenactments, and even on that basis, Indiana Jones will live on forever.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was, is, and will always be the quintessential adventure film. Nothing comes close, nothing will, and nothing in its series comes close. The series as a whole is fantastic, with the 2nd and 3rd entries being marvelous sources of entertainment. Are they Raiders?

Nah.

From the first images of the Paramount Mountain morphing into a South American jungle summit, the humid and bug-infested tropical landscape immediately brings the audience in. The shadowy figures traversing through the mildew-ridden branches and the thriving animals shrieking in the distance, the film brings an atmosphere that is as rich and lush as anything out there. Visually, Raiders of a Lost Ark is a stunner, and as these unknown characters trek through the jungle, you can practically feel the heat emitting off of the screen (get the Blu-rays, they’re so worth it). The opening of Steven Spielberg’s film is one of the greatest of all time, introducing the iconic character of Indiana Jones in the most epic and ravishing of fashions. Taking out his whip, scaring off a conniving traveler, and turning towards the camera; Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones. He’s also Han Solo, he’s also Rick Deckard, and he’s also Dr. Richard Kimble; but he will always be remembered as Indiana Jones.

The central trek through the mysterious cave is spine-tingling, exciting, and thrilling; simultaneously bringing a breathtaking opening set piece and setting the tone for the rest of the story. A young Alfred Molina (also known as Rahad Jackson) is fantastic here, acting as we all would as various traps unfold three inches from his face. John William’s score, which is beyond words in its beauty and its effectiveness, is creepy as hell here. In particular, Indy and his encounter with a “few” Tarantulas becomes a small scene equivalent to a nightmare as the result of John William’s sneaky strings. The cave sequence has been parodied and referenced endlessly (most recently in The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water) since the film’s release in 1981, but it still retains every ounce of suspense, allure, and vitality. The booby traps, the cobwebs, the poison darts, the golden statue, the usage of sand; It’s a scene that never fails to get me right into the film and get me pumped for the story that’s about to unfold.

That very opening is also another example of the core basis of secrets throughout the film and the film series. I’m sure that there are many lost tombs of ancient warriors and gods just waiting to be unearthed (or at least my inner-10 year old hopes), and Indiana Jones’ journey evokes the discovery of something lost and hidden. The rest of the film continues on that basis, with the sought after artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, being another object that was lost.

Possibly for a reason.

Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay is another flawless aspect of this flawless film, with the dialogue between characters always feeling fresh and genuine. The film flows perfectly, the action is spaced perfectly, and the humor and the heart is written perfectly; it feels like a combination of every great adventure film but cleaned up to a spotless shine. And yet, Raiders of the Lost Ark never feels like an overt homage or a messy mixture of other films of its genre. Instead, the film feels fresh, invigorating, and pure. The massive chase/kidnapping/escape sequence in Cairo is a prime example, blending humor, action, slapstick, and emotion into a stretch of celluloid that is just marvelous! I mean, what is there not to like about this movie?

Steven Spielberg’s direction can be also added to the list of aspects of the film that are peerless. Producing iconic and unforgettable images about every five minutes, Spielberg understood both what the film was at its core and what it could achieve. The chase scenes, the ancient legends, and the maniacal villains are essential of course, but Spielberg finds small moments of tenderness and beauty to liven and enrich the experience. Any scene between Indy and Marion illustrate the grace that is scattered throughout Raiders of the Lost Ark, with their first meeting after a few years being a standout of hard-boiled and feisty dialogue. And yes, there are still plenty of Spielbergian moments of horror to be found, with melting faces, exploding heads, snakes crawling out of skeletons, and plentiful amounts of dusty/scary tombs to explore. Oh, and the Spielbergian wonder? It’s here too, in spades.

However, in spite of all the perfect flourishes and the gorgeous plotting, the film is still utterly fascinating in the way that all great movies are. The Ark of the Covenant still is the greatest artifact that Indy has ever gone after, with the majesty and the formidable presence bringing a depth of feeling that runs throughout the film’s tapestry like a soft stream. Even when Indiana Jones talks about it, one who is as skeptical as others, the weight of the subject grounds the film in a way that the other films in the series failed to accomplish. By the end of the film, when the Nazis are opening the Ark, you’re scared to see what awaits but you want those Nazis to die horribly. And they do, and it’s awesome!

The amount of symbolism that is woven throughout Raiders of the Lost Ark is genius. The layers of secrets and hidden mysteries has been discussed, but I love how sand is in the Ark at the end. The Nazis have searched long and hard for this, and what do they get? Sand. The ultimate insult from God, as it belongs in the sand. Safe, secure, and hidden. Not lost, not forgotten, but sheltered. It’s a beautiful, beautiful touch.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a masterpiece, and a sensational film from one of the great cinematic masters of all time. This most recent viewing has bumped it up to my favorite Spielberg film, as the quality of story, character, adventure, and drama is impossible to deny. The film is like magical gift from the heavens; sent down to enchant further generations and to continue to surprise even the most cynical cinephiles. Like the iconic artifact hunter, Raiders of the Lost Ark will never die. This is why movies were made, plain and simple.

Oh, and fuck you Belloq!

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