Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Calling Dr. Jones
Snakes, why did it have to be snakes - Indiana Jones
There were swashbuckling heroes before, there have been swashbuckling heroes since but Indiana Jones remains one of the best swashbuckling heroes we have ever seen on the big screen. And it's not just the character as the movies themselves are some of the best of their type especially the first, "Raiders of the Lost Ark", which introduced us to Dr. Jones and his love of what is basically treasure hunting. What makes "Raiders of the Lost Ark" so great is that it has a bit of everything adventure, action, drama, mystery, romance, comedy and a lot more but they all work together in brilliant harmony to create a movie which draws you in, gets you gripped and keeps you entertained from beginning to end. And it is because absolutely everything comes together perfectly which makes "Raiders of the Lost Ark" such a great movie.
The year is 1936 and adventurer/ professor of archaeology Dr. Jones (Harrison Ford - Air Force One) is persuaded by the US government to go in search of the Lost Ark of the Covenant, as the Nazi's are also looking for it due it supposedly containing the power of God. Forced to meet up with an old flame, Marion (Karen Allen - Animal House), in order to get an important artefact they both head to Cairo where they discover the Nazi's already digging for the Lost Ark and leading them is Dr. Jones's nemesis, rival archaeologist Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman - Hot Fuzz).
In reality the storyline to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is actually quite simple, Indiana Jones goes in search of the Lost Ark and he is not alone as the Nazi's are after it as well. That is essentially it but along the way and even before the main storyline starts we get layer upon layer of extra stories. The opening sequence which culminates with Indiana flying off into the sunset aboard a rickety plane may seem like just an introduction to are hero but it also introduces us to his nemesis Dr. René Belloq. And this goes on as we get little layers of stories which turn this simple treasure hunting adventure story into something bigger without any of them feeling like padding. A prime example is the scene where Indiana dispatches various sword wielding baddies in a Cairo market place, on first glance it seems like it's just an action scene thrust upon us to build up the heroics of Dr. Jones but in fact it plays a pivotal part in the story leading to a further storyline.
All of this means that this simple adventure storyline is jam packed full of glorious layers of narrative which build upon themselves till we get the big finale. And there is a sense of irony when it comes to the ending because in reality everything we watched Indiana go through has no relevance on the final outcome but you don't realise it at the time.
But what makes all of this narrative so much more is that it manages to combine so many different elements. From the opening which sees Indiana escaping from a cave as a big boulder rolls down behind him delivers the sense of excitement and adventure as well as action. But at the same time there is comedy to it, in the fact that nothing is ever easy for Indiana as he is cheated by his guide. Then as the main storyline comes in we have a romantic plot as he reunited with Marion who although is rough on Indiana really loves him. And it goes on because in the search for the Lost Ark there is suspense and mystery which combine with all of these other elements to make a movie which skips along making you laugh and also exciting you.
Add to this director Steven Spielberg's eye for a great shot from something simple to comical and complex. The opening sequence which sees Indiana flying off into a sunset is glorious but also a great homage to the old adventure movies. Then you get a comical scene such as when Indiana just shoots a bad guy rather than fighting him, almost delivering a sense of tiredness at having so many bad guys to fight.
But it is the action where "Raiders of the Lost Ark" really is captivating especially when you consider that this is a movie made before CGI dominated the movie making process. Watching the dazzling stunt work as we get motorbikes flipping, vans careering off of cliffs and stuntmen sliding under moving vehicles. It makes it exciting and the stuff which little boys dream off when they imagine themselves being a heroic adventurer. And because there is little or no computer trickery it is all truly exciting, especially in one scene where Indiana is stuck on the front of a moving van, his legs straddling the wheel inches away from crushing more than just his pistol. Even the now dodgy facing melting special effects seem to be in tune with the movie and although they now look dated end up adding to the whole charm.
Completing this is the acting and Harrison Ford is every inch the hero as the roguish Indiana Jones. He manages to deliver every aspect of the character brilliantly so whilst yes Ford is believable as this handsome professor of history he is equally believable as this adventurer. Yet he also then manages to blend the heart throb element with the comedy whilst being heroic so whilst during a moment of action a facial expression may make us laugh we are still wowed by what ever deed of daring he does and warm to the antagonistic relationship between him and Marion.
But whilst Harrison Ford makes "Raiders of the Lost Ark" so great he is helped by an equally good cast including a stunningly beautiful Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood and wonderfully comedic performances from John Rhys-Davies as Sallah and Denholm Elliott as Dr. Marcus Brody. In fact from minor roles to major ones such as the Nazi bad guys not a single actor delivers a performance which is out of place, all finding the drama mixed with comedy in their characters.
What this all boils down to is that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is a great movie, a complete movie which makes you laugh whilst also drawing you into a great adventure story. It may be a relatively simple storyline but it builds and builds to the big climax whilst along the way delivering humour, excitement, romance, adventure and action. Plus of course there is Harrison Ford who is Indiana Jones, roguish and charming, funny yet daring and between him Spielberg and countless other well known names have mane a great piece of cinema.
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