Friday, January 31, 2014

Let’s Review a Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

All right I’m looking at two classics in a row.  This is a different genre than the last film, but still definitely a classic of the action adventure films.  

I don’t think this film really needs any introduction does it?   The music is legendary, the story is known the world over, and the leading man is iconic.

Harrison Ford is certainly one of the great factors in the success of this film.  His look works so well with the character.  I love how expressive his face is.  The way his mouth drops as the boulder comes rushing towards him in the opening.  The way he shows pain the fight scenes and the way he flirts with Marion.  Not only is Ford a great actor in this part, but Indy himself is a great character too.  He is this roguish adventurer and yet he is also a professor of archaeology he holds a doctorate.  That’s a rare combination to be seen in an action hero.  Also Indy is a failure and a scumbag in many respects.  He doesn’t get the idol in the opening, he doesn’t save Marion when she is taken in the basket, and at the end the government takes the Ark he worked so hard for and puts in a box in some warehouse never to be heard from again.  But it’s still such fun to watch him partially because he is an underdog and we like to root for the underdog.  Also even though Indy is a hero he isn’t totally good. Belloq is right they have fallen from the purer faith that he is just a shadowy reflection of Indy.   Indy is selfish when he leaves Marion in the tent to continue his search for the Well of Souls.  He knows Belloq’s staff is too long and that they won’t find it, only he can.  If he just leaves with her that will be the end of all this, but he doesn’t, because he wants that prize more than her.  He also shoots people in cold blood and obviously doesn’t conform to the high standards of archaeology he teaches to his students.  That gives him almost a Clark Kent kind of secret identity, especially with the glasses, and think that helps the film.  In the exposition scene where Indy is describing the Ark and headpiece to the staff of Ra the scene is compelling even though it’s just him talking.  I think because it is such a stark contrast to the action packed Indy in hat and leather jacket that we just finished up with so that contrast keeps the audience engaged.  We want to know more about this guy who is in a suit by day and uses a bullwhip by night.

Indy certainly isn’t the only good character in the film though.  Marion while being a damsel in distress is still fun because she does defend herself even if she only has her words or a frying pan.  She does try to escape the camp after Indy leaves her and it's a nice tie back to her drinking the guy under the table scene when we were introduced to her in her bar.  She even gets her revenge on Indy for all that by slamming him with the mirror on Katanga’s ship.  Katanga is also a great character.  He isn’t in the film long at all, but his quip about Indy looking exactly how he imagined and his act of trying to get Marion back from the Nazis by saying he would use her for sex are short, but very memorable.  Sallah is also fun as this smart comic relief informant of Indy’s.

Belloq is a wonderful villain as well because he is so very much like Indy.  He is smart he is also dedicated to archaeology he just allies himself with people who do bad deeds on a much larger scale than Indy does.  The Nazi thugs are fun nasty guys especially Toht, his coat hanger gag is still hilarious.  He is creepy dressed all in black with that raspy voice, I love it.  Also the scene of him raising his hand in salute to show the burn of the headpiece on his palm still gives me chills mad props to the makeup department.

The look of the film is still great all around in terms of sets and locations.  Everything has a nice hot gritty feeling to it.  The fight scenes and stunts are well coordinated and executed.  The pacing of the film is good with a nice mix of action and slower dialogue scenes, maybe some comedy, and then more action.  I love the use of the mirror shot in the tent when Marion is putting on the dress, totally Spielberg right there.  The film has so many iconic shots like Indy and the cobra, Indy putting on his hat against the setting sun, and the blood splattering on the plane cockpit when the brute gets taken out by the propeller.  Also watching this film I can see where JJ Abrams gets his love of lens flares.  Here though the flares actually serve a purpose, they visually show us getting closer to the time when the sun will hit the map room.  It helps build tension as we wonder if Indy and Sallah will get caught before they can find the spot to the Well of Souls.  Also the effects of the melting faces when the Nazi’s open the Ark will never  stop being cool to watch even if the spirits floating around don’t hold up as well anymore.  Still, live long and suck it modern glossy CGI.

Obviously I am a big fan of this film and have seen it no less than a dozen times now.  So at this point I am starting to wonder about certain things that start to stick out once you know the film down to almost every line of dialogue.  Things like, isn’t hiding the ark in the Well of Souls and having all these clues to get inside really convoluted and unnecessary?  Why you would get a ton of snakes in an area where there’s no food source?  And snakes that aren’t even native to Egypt?  How do the Nazi’s find Katanga’s boat so quickly?  How does Indy not drown while hanging onto the submarine?  These are questions I’ve started asking that obviously don’t have an answer other than that was how the movie was made to make it thrilling and action-packed.  So then I have to ask myself.  Do these things ruin my enjoyment of the film?  And the answer is no.  Sure I could nitpick all kinds of things because I’ve seen the film so often, but while that is fun I can still enjoy the film as is, because it kept the premise simple.  It’s an action adventure story about an intelligent strong brave scoundrel who beats up the bad guys, gets the girl and wins the day, sort of.  

So even though I’ve watched it so often for me it still holds up as an awesome movie.  Sure at this point I can start noticing all the little details that leaves me questioning the film’s logic,  but it doesn’t stop the film from being a thrilling fun ride.  It has great actors playing great characters, great sets, well shot action, marvellous stunts, fun comedy, and an epic musical score.  I love it and it certainly deserves to sit among the cinema classics.

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