Saturday, 23 April 2016
Movie Review: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
It's 1936, and archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) battles through the jungles of South America, invades a booby-trapped ancient temple, overcomes a couple of betrayals and gets his hands on a precious golden idol. Unfortunately, at the moment of triumph his rival René Belloq (Paul Freeman) seizes the treasure, and Indy barely escapes with his life.
Back at the college campus where Indiana has a day job as tweedy professor alongside museum curator Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), he is hired by government officials to track down the lost Ark of the Covenant, a long lost stone casket with mythical powers believed to contain the remnants of the ten commandments. The Nazis are close to uncovering the Ark's burial site in the Egyptian desert, and any army carrying the Ark would be undefeatable.
After the phenomenal success of Jaws, Star Wars, and Close Encounter Of The Third Kind, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were the hottest filmmakers in Hollywood. They teamed up on Raiders Of The Lost Ark, with Lucas producing and Spielberg directing, to launch what would become one of the most famous and successful franchises in film history. Inspired by the matinee serials of the 1930s, Raiders is a rollicking thrill-a-minute adventure, with a handsome and endlessly resourceful hero, a feisty ex-girlfriend, a faithful side-kick, and despicable villains, all fuelled by an old-fashioned globe-spanning chase for hidden treasure.
The character of Indiana Jones is the gadget-free James Bond of archaeology. There is no difficult situation that he cannot handle, often by improvising solutions when all seems lost. Using his whip (often), his gun (rarely) and his smarts (always), he may take the occasional beating but always manoeuvres the elements to his advantage. A plane propeller helps him against a sturdier foe in a punishing fist fight, fearsome snakes slithering out of wall cavities point the way to survival, and he has no hesitation latching on to the outside of a Nazi U-boat to pursue his objective (how he survives the subsequent journey is left to the imagination).
While most of the action is PG-rated and thrilling for the younger set, Raiders also carries an unexpected edge to keep the adults alert: Spielberg sprinkles some serious violence, blood splatter and gore into the adventure, and the sadism of chief Nazi torture merchant Major Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey) is a particularly effective example of pure vileness.
Spielberg plucked Harrison Ford from the supporting Han Solo role and Indiana Jones turned him into the megastar of the 1980s. Already 40 years old and a good 15 years after his early uncredited film appearances, Ford found his niche as the ruggedly handsome hero radiating smart determination and not fully aware of his animal magnetism. Karen Allen has rarely been better as his ex-flame, now out-drinking the locals at her bar in Nepal while waiting for her opportunity to again match wits with the man who abandoned her under murky circumstances.
Raiders Of The Ark is a classy adventure with an irresistible attitude: self-deprecating, playful, fast paced and brimming with fun.
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