Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 1981

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" - 1981
Dir. by Steven Spielberg - 1 hr. 55 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I don't myself as a Steven Spielberg fan, exactly, even though I definitely grew up on his work.  I'm not sure what it is that makes me indifferent about seeing one of his movies; it's not like I ever watch one and don't really enjoy it.  But when I'm trying to figure out a movie to watch, if I know Spielberg directed it, I'm usually on the fence about whether or not I want to watch it.  Although I'm certain I have seen "Raiders of the Lost Ark" before, I didn't remember much outside of the things that always get parodied (like the giant boulder chase), so it was pretty much like getting to see a new film.  And it was a pretty good film, which was nice.

Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is a relic-hunter and a college professor circa the 1930s, and when we meet him, he's balls-deep in the jungle, on an expedition to grab a shiny trinket out of a trap-riddled underground ruin and to make messenger bags and khakis fashionable.  Unfortunately, he's double-crossed by a rival, Dr. Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), who is French, which is surely the source of all of his villainy, and he's backed up by a tribe of bare-assed Peruvian natives, armed with poisoned blow-darts and DIY archery kits.  Belloq gets the trinket, but Jones lives to fight another day.  Once back in his Ivory Tower, Jones is approached with an interesting proposition - fight the Nazis through relic-hunting!  The Nazis are tearing up Egyptian desert, trying to find the Ark of the Covenant, which has some Biblical signficance, but they must find another trinket first to find the exact location.  The question for Indy, as an archeologist, is this:

Perhaps the thing that makes me ambivalent about Steven Spielberg's movies is the ease and facility with which he handles action scenes.  Over and over again, he makes this kind of storytelling and film-making look easy (which it is, of course, not).  Sometimes, an artist must pretend to struggle to remind an audience of the skill that's required to pull off complicated things, and Spielberg's chops are seamless (particularly in this time-span).  Beyond that, he's got a knack for creating memorable moments (like that shot of Roy Scheider in "Jaws," on the beach, realizing what's about to happen).  These are not negative traits.  It's very easy to get caught up in what you're watching (which is the entire point), and that probably describes "Raiders" best, as well of the appeal of "Raiders."  This is a seamless adventure that never lags, executed brilliantly.

There are a number of unforgettable scenes (and that's not even getting into the travelogue appeal of seeing jungles and Cairo filmed), which is pretty important for action/adventure movies.  When you see a good one, and want to recommend it to your friends, there has to be a "you gotta see this" thing to tell people about.  There's the boulder scene, there's the tomb of snakes, all kinds of fights (including Indy's famous dispatching of a sword-wielding menace), and the awesome end of the film (even if the special effects seem dated, it's still awesome).  But maybe the most important thing about "Raiders" is that Harrison Ford is someone you want to watch get in adventures, and that Karen Allen is a feisty, rough-edged charmer, and I wanted to see them get in adventures together and just interact.  Entire films have coasted by on lucking onto the chemistry between actors, and even the more minor characters are interesting and fun to watch here.

Maybe the reason that I regard this (and a lot of Spielberg's work) as being pretty good instead of awesome is that a movie like "Raiders" is an example of completely nailing a genre film, but not offering much more.  "Raiders" is a kick-ass ride, but as far as having something to sink your teeth into, well, you're going to just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.  The Nazis are evil because they're Nazis (duh), but there's not much of a feeling of this being an ideological battle, or there being anything in the film that would elevate the story beyond being an excellent example of a certain kind of film.  I don't have anything to criticize "Raiders" for, I had a great time, and I'd watch it again in a second.  It's really good, and has held up very well (aside from the effects at the end, which I still think were awesome).  If you haven't watched it, fire this bad boy up and check out for the next two hours; you're in for a great ride.

4 / 5 - Theatre

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