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Wayback Wednesday: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Don’t pretend like you didn’t just start humming the theme song in your head.

Would you believe that until recently, the only Indiana Jones (1981 – present) movie I had seen was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)? Which is, shall we say, not the Indiana Jones movie you want as your introduction to the franchise. Thankfully I course corrected and last summer I sat down and watched the original trilogy in the span of a week. Let me tell you, it was quite the experience. These movies are a ton of fun and non-stop excitement that helped revolutionize action blockbusters as we know it. And to thank, we have the movie that started it all, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

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Credit: / Paramount Pictures

The first movie in the long-running franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark follows Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. as he travels to Cairo in search of the legendary Ark of the Covenant. Partnered with the fiery Marion Ravenwood, the pair race to find the Ark while fighting off Nazis who seek to use its power for their own sinister purposes.

Jaws (1975), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993)…the amount of truly iconic movies that Steven Spielberg has directed is unbelievable. It would be a fool’s errand to try and debate which of his films is best, but let’s just agree that Raiders of the Lost Ark (as well as at least two of its sequels) is by far one of the coolest. From the moment Indiana first appears onscreen with the famous jacket, whip and hat, the dashing heroism of the character sets the tone for this classic. It also helps that he’s played by Harrison fucking Ford who in the 80s, could do absolutely no wrong.

Played to perfection by Ford, Indiana Jones is pure escapism. He represents just how much any little kid wanted to grow up and be an adventure-seeking archaeologist who traveled the globe and saved the day. Sure, these days we have entire universes of superheroes, but I kind of miss more down to earth action heroes like Indy. Relying on nothing more than his own physical strength and wealth of knowledge, watching this ordinary man conquer an extraordinary world is an exhilarating experience like no other. Damn, characters don’t get much cooler than Indiana Jones.

Maybe I’m being a crotchety grandpa, but I really miss the days of 100 per cent practical effects and stunts. The craftsmanship! The ingenuity! Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly grateful for CGI and visual effects. They consistently blow me away! But movies these days are burdened by an overreliance on them. Nothing takes the thrill out of an action sequence like a headache courtesy of the movie’s dizzying effects. Raiders of the Lost Ark creates magic with its practical effects that in a sense, are even more impressive than even the most dazzling of CG images. A must-see for any aspiring filmmaker, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a marvel to behold. The set design is reminiscent of the Golden Age of Hollywood, every action scene is meticulously choreographed and the world-building is sensational. Spielberg creates a story that viewers want to lose themselves in. I think the most fun movies are the ones that you want to become a part of and that couldn’t be more true in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Honestly, it reminds me of another beloved fantasy adventure movie: The Mummy (1999). Obviously it’s nowhere near as silly or campy, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is still a fun, old-timey adventure story filled with courageous heroes and roguish villains. We don’t get straightforward action movies like this anymore and revisiting Spielberg’s masterpiece is a welcome breathe of fresh air. From a storytelling point of view, nothing about this movie feels dated or stale even almost 40 years later.

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Credit: / Paramount Pictures

God, talk about being an iconic movie. From director to character to theme music, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a piece of cinematic history more treasured than the Ark itself. John Williams’ signature theme for the movie is undoubtedly instantly recognizable, proving what a genius the composer is. I love that his work is so identifiable. Less than a minute into the movie the music started and I was immediately brought back to days watching Jurassic Park and Star Wars (1977) on the couch with my brother. By the way, Raiders of the Lost Ark probably has one of the most astounding opening scenes ever. Watching Indy make his way through the temple sets up the blend of action and comedy that defines the rest of the movie.

The opening moments perfectly encapsulate the high-stakes adventure we’re about to set out on, while establishing the intelligence, strength and charisma of our hero. As he switches out the idol for the bag of sand and flees from the enormous boulder, you can’t help but be sucked into Indy’s amazing world. This movie takes you along for the ride and every step of the way is a breathtaking thrill-ride. It’s no wonder why this movie set the bar for every adventure movie that came after it. And maybe is still unmatched in greatness? Although, the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), certainly gives it a run for its money. This movie has a fantastic story but the one area it’s lacking is dialogue. That is rectified in the third thanks to the incomparable Sean Connery, a major part of why I love the third movie the most.

As I watch the palpable chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen, I can’t help but wish that Marion had stuck around for the sequels. I suppose having the same girlfriend every movie takes away some of Indy’s James Bond-esque allure, but Allen is a delight in this role. Though she rarely gets the opportunity to show it, you get the sense that Marion is just as competent as Indy. Whether she’s drinking villains under the table or cleverly evading captors by hiding in a wicker basket, I’m on board the Marion Ravenwood train. Allen holds her own against Ford and their scenes together really makes this movie feel like a screwball comedy from the 30s or one of Universal’s early monster movies. I mean, those spooky ghosts at the end REALLY make it feel like a Universal monster movie. I really wish Allen had been cast in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). To say that she was not properly replaced is an understatement. I’m just thankful that John Rhys-Davies was able to return as the lovable Sallah in the third movie. Yet another reason why I love the third! By the way, I once got the chance to interview John Rhys-Davies and he is the most interesting, charming person I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing. We have no choice but to stan.

A star turning role for an actor who was already riding high on Star Wars fame, there’s simply no one else like Ford as Indiana Jones. It’s no wonder he’s adamant about doing a fifth movie. Which, we’re all in agreement isn’t a great idea right? Electrifying action, memorable characters and iconic imagery solidify Raiders of the Lost Ark as one of the great stories of the 20th century. A movie that isn’t soon to be forgotten, this is one treasure that deserves to be looked after by “top men. Top. Men.”

Do you like Raiders of the Lost Ark? What’s your favourite Indiana Jones movie?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!


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