Monday, April 11, 2011

The Great Alphabet of Films—I is For

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

      Determining which movie would represent the letter "I" was extremely difficult for a number of reasons. For one, how do I decide which Indiana Jones movie is the best because The Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade are almost equally good? How can I justify the omission of It's A Wonderful Life, which is arguably the most Inspirational film of all-time, thanks to Frank Capra's wonderful spirit of goodness, and the greatest "everyman" to ever grace a screen, James Stewart? I claim to be the biggest Christopher Nolan fan, so how can I neglect the inclusion of Inception (I'll make it up to him at "M")? Independence Day marked for me, a time when I could venture to the theater free of an adult, so long as one of my older brothers accompanied me. To this day, I still remember vividly that early July day when I first watched Will Smith become a superstar; "I have got to get me one of these." The Incredibles is one of my favorite computer-animated films, and Inglourious Basterds is a Tarantino passion project that delivers all the goods. 
      Ultimately, I chose the film that helped vigorously instill that unflinching love of cinema. I'm talking about the top-grossing film of 1981; a film that not only won four Academy Awards, but gave us The Last Crusade and two other moderately interesting sequels. Of course, I'm talking about the Steven Spielberg directed, George Lucas produced, Han Solo acted (I mean Harrison Ford) action-adventure classic, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

      Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is not your typical, classroom-established school teacher turned run-of-the-mill archeologist. Why? Well, other than his iconic whip, our first sighting of the intrepid artifact seeker comes in the perilous Peruvian Jungle, where he's running a booby-trapped gauntlet, complete with a gargantuan sized boulder barreling towards him—an iconic sequence. What's he after, you ask? He is desperately searching for a solid-gold idol. Eventually, Indiana loses the artifact to his chief rival, a French archaeologist named Belloq (Paul Freeman), who sets his sights on terminating him. In the first of many serial-like escapades, Indy eludes Belloq by precariously jumping aboard an opportune plane. And at some point, we learn the terrifying news that Jones has only one inescapable fear, snakes. 
      The next time we come across Indy, he's a low-keyed, bespectacled professor. However, his peaceful days in the classroom prove to be a short-lived respite from the dangers of the adventurous world, as Indy gets summoned by Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) to find the long-lost Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis, it seems, are already furiously searching for the Ark. The heinous Hitler, obsessed with the occult, is hell-bent on getting his hands on the mystical Ark, which if possessed, would transform his tyrannous army into an invincible, and omnipotent force of evil destruction. But to find the Ark, Indy must first secure a medallion kept under the protection of Indy's old friend Abner Ravenwood, whose daughter, Marion (Karen Allen), once shared a torrid, but unheralded romantic history with Jones. Whatever their personal plight, Indy and Marion reconcile their differences, as they become cantankerous partners in one action-packed adventure after another. They dubiously wander into the snake pits of the long-buried temple called the Well of Souls, and just barely survive the pyrotechnic unearthing of the sacred Ark. 
      A joint project of filmmaking prodigies, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and a script written by the screenwriter of Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdanor as I call him, the man who discovered Kevin Costner on a train—Raiders of the Lost Ark is a continuous thrill ride. Spielberg's studios direction helped capture the ambiance of the film noir movement from the 1940's and 1950's, whose history of serials (such as Flash Gordon) proved to be a source of great inspiration. The film's breakneck pace, deliriously funny dialogue, and ingeniously stylish adventure sequences help transcend this potential B-picture story into an artifact of cinematic greatness.
      Spielberg has made a movie that would make even Donald Trump blush. Despite the film's grandiose pretensions of untold high-production value, The Raiders of the Lost Ark is defined by Spielberg's reflective embracement of b-movie mechanisms. The experience of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark is meant to evoke memories of the moviegoing era of cinema's formative years. But not once does Spielberg rely upon tropes of the past; these tropes are mere embellishments. Instead, his film embraces its own distinct sensibility. Harrison and Allen are an irresistibly buoyant and resourceful couple. Jones, with his famous fedora, and Allen, with her yesteryear beauty, captain this mesmerizing journey to it's brilliant climax, resulting in a film whose elaborate story is matched by its resilient stars.
      The greatness of Raiders of the Lost Ark is realized through the amalgamation of its many diverse set pieces: lush environments from the exotic corners of the world including Indy and Marion's reconciliation in Nepal, and the near assassination and successful kidnapping in Cairo. The astonishing sequence of endurance tests—from the confinement in an ancient tomb with thousands of snakes to the poisoned darts attack—reach momentous heights, leading to the super-chase sequence in which Indy, on horseback, attempts to catch a Nazi truck convoy carrying the Ark to Cairo for transshipment to Berlin. The film's climax, in which the powers of the Ark are demonstrated to one and all, is a dazzling display of technical achievement. Ultimately, Lucas and Spielberg enlisted the unique spirit of their childhood, masterminding a film that not only embellishes the beauty of cinema's history, but through each subsequent viewing, manages to recreate that purely nostalgic, wide-eyed moviegoing experience.

*The classic trailer for Raiders of the Lost Ark complete with Mr. Trailer, "Voice of God" himself, Don LaFontaine.


  1. Awww, you made me all nostalgic for Independence Day suddenly. I didn't realize Raiders was written by the same dude who did Emperor Strikes Back--that would explain the complete awesome of it.

    "Jones, with his famous fedora, and Allen, with her yesteryear beauty, captain this mesmerizing journey to it's brilliant climax, resulting in a film whose elaborate story is matched by its resilient stars." Great line, and so true. This movie is definitely one I can watch over and over again and never get bored with. Even though "I" had a couple excellent contenders--I think it's fair to say Indy gives anyone a run for their money. Excellent choice, definite classic!

  2. Haha, I'm such an influential character! Yeah, Kasdan also wrote Return of the Jedi. He was a very prolific screenwriter in the 80's.

    Thanks for the compliment. I'm flattered! "I" was a lot more difficult than I'd imagined, but I'm very satisfied with my selection. Thanks for letting me know I'm not coming out of left field.

  3. This is my favorite of the Indiana Jones aeries. The first is the best unquestionably. I think my jaw was permanently unhinged through the entire viewing the first time I ever saw this. Although you have some brilliant letter "I" offerings, I'm very happy you chose this one.

    Love your Kasdan comment " the man who discovered Kevin Costner on a train." Silverado is a tremendous film.

  4. I loved this movie and so did my boys (now men!)...yay for old fashioned adventure movies...Jan Morrison

  5. @ Melissa

    Another fine example of your exceptional commentary! My enjoyment of Raiders is pretty much equal to Crusade, but as you articulate, in a tie, ya gotta go with the original.

    @ Jan

    Haha, thanks! I'm all for old fashioned adventure. And the 80's gave us a veritable wealth of such films!

  6. Gotta love Raiders. Epically brilliant.

  7. Love this film. I can watch it over and over. It never gets old.

  8. I love Indiana Jones! The movie is a classic and the ride at Disneyland is EXCELLENT :)

  9. @ Elaine

    Indeed. Action-adventure doesn't get any better.

    @ junebug

    If I could be somebody for one day, I'd choose Indy. Travel to some exotic corner of the world, whip in hand, and kick some archeological ass.

    @ Angela

    I've never been on the ride, but I'll take your word for it. Any theme park that features this classic has to live up to the hype and feel the big shoes of Indiana Jones.

  10. I love both Raiders and Last Crusade, but I agree that Raiders has the edge. It's a timeless classic. Great post!

  11. Love Indiana Jones (except the most recent), but my favorite's gotta be the Temple of Doom! The monkey brains and ripped-out heart fascinated me as a kid! My older brother was always obsessed with Indy, but since I never wanted to play a lame woman, this movie finally gave me a worthy role - Short Round! Played without the blocks on the shoes...

    - allison writes

  12. @ Liz

    Thanks! It was difficult to pick just one Indiana Jones movie knowing Last Crusade gave us Sean Connery!

    @ allison

    Oh wow, really! You're the first person I've heard that from, so naturally, I'm impressed! The ripped-out heart is indeed, an indelible moment in the Saga.

    Haha, and yes you did get a formidable female character who actually possessed, get this... depth!

  13. And you were worried about "E" and Empire Strikes Back? ;) I sooooo almost picked this same title for my "I", but Maniacal Movie Poster Monday is three posters, not four, and I couldn't break my own OCD for all the Indy films. I saw Raiders with my parents at the Varsity theater in Carbondale Illinois during the first few weeks of its run. We all enjoyed it - even my notoriously anti-fantasy father - and afterwards we stopped in and had a giant pie at Godfather's Pizza - tell me, could there be any more perfect an evening? One of the greats - and it won its spot fair and square against a lot of amazing challengers as you said - thanks for posting it! Cheers!