Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The most Indiana Jones of the Indiana Jones movies is Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is the film that most closely accomplishes what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg originally set out to do, which was to recreate a Hollywood B movie.

It’s a Saturday afternoon adventure serial installment, except it’s an entire story. The movie is a loving homage to this kind of entertainment, full of fun, humour and stunts.

It’s fast and it’s unrelenting; it’s one thing after another.

I find, however, it’s the film in the series I enjoy least.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like it. But it’s probably the one I’ve seen the most and therefore I’m most familiar with it.

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

The Indiana Jones movies are all about set pieces, particular action sequences that, in this case, have become too familiar with too many viewings – for me.

There are also a lot of scenes that, in a way, are obligatory because Raiders wants to capture as much of these kinds of movies as it reasonably can.

For example, there are the scenes between Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. These are shot, lit, and framed, and generally constructed, to mirror the kinds of male-female antagonism-attraction relationships Howard Hawks was so good at (like the movie Only Angels Have Wings).

But once you’ve seen the movie trouble crops up with the characters. In Raiders, they are the least developed. They aren’t supposed to be. They go through their set scenes, almost templates, but there is little sense of character to them. They are types (or icons, as we like to say now). Put another way, they are caricatures.

Karen Allen and Harrison Ford in Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

This makes the character dimension of the movie weak – partly because, being the first of the Indiana Jones movies, it is establishing tone, style, and expository elements. But also because movies of this type were never about rich characters; they were about action and adventure.

Having said this, I should reiterate that I love the movie – just not as much as the other two.

The film isn’t entirely superficial though. Roger Ebert has a very interesting take on what Spielberg does in the film regarding Nazi’s. I hadn’t caught this previously, but I think his observations are correct.

Harrison Ford in Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Lastly, among the many elements that come together to capture the sense of those old Hollywood adventure films, there is the music. The score provided by John Williams is bang on. The theme is not only stirring, it perfectly reflects the essence of the film while also anchoring the feel of those old movies.

The romantic theme sounds as if it had been lifted directly from the period. And in the film’s opening sequence, as an example, the music isn’t just dramatic, adding to the film’s suspense, it perfectly mirrors the kind of score this genre of film had: dramatic and a little over the top.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones:

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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