Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark ★★★★★

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the most fun movie I’ve ever seen.

Maybe not the best or my favorite. But there’s just something about it that whips me into a frenzy of action-driven glee. It’s an act of movie alchemy, combining many different elements into a perfect whole.

To start with, there’s Indiana Jones himself, one of my all-time favorite movie characters. Harrison Ford’s performance perfects his already great work in Star Wars, but goes beyond that. Ford shows us how Jones is a sarcastic joker, a history nerd, and a charismatic rogue—all three are important elements of Jones’s personality, and absolutely key to this immaculate film.

Then there’s the script, which really is an impressive thing. Not the basic “Find the hidden treasure while fighting bad guys” plot, but how it’s all laid out in such an effectively simple way. For example, the speech given by the evil archeologist René Belloq is so much more than just a villain monologue. It does at least four things at once: provides exposition about what exactly Jones is searching for; gives us a sense of Belloq’s character; deepens our feelings about Indiana; and lets us rest a bit after an incredible stretch of action (more on that later). And all this goes down so easily. We just absorb the information.

That’s what the film is like throughout—efficient, perfectly constructed, and free of anything unnecessary. Since Jones’s fear of snakes ends up being important, it’s set up in the opening scene, and the comedy helps the audience rest from the ridiculous amount of momentum the film has already generated. Then when the snake gag returns later—"Snakes... why did it have to be snakes?”—the pay off is huge. Harrison Ford delivering that and every other line with exactly no flaws helps as well.

But let’s be honest, the real reason we watch Indiana Jones is for the action. And boy oh boy, does the film deliver on that front. If I were ever to make a “Top 10 Action Setpieces,” this film would be on the list three times or more. The famous opening scene is a perfect (there’s that word again) encapsulation of everything that makes the film great. The battle with the airplane mechanic later on is terrific too, with Jones getting up again after each hit—and it has a memorable ending. But my real favorite moment is the truck chase, which catapults us into overdrive. The whole film is absolutely stuffed with forward momentum. Even the conversation scenes crackle with energy. It just goes on and on and doesn’t feel repetitive.

How have I gotten this far into the review without mentioning John Williams, doing one of my favorite scores ever? The glorious “Raiders March” is of course the highlight. It’s pure adventure. What would the action be without it? (In my opinion, it stands only behind “Victory Celebration” from Return of the Jedi among film music.) One great moment of many is the terrifying climax, which is made all the more phenomenal by a haunting, epic Williams piece.

There’s so much I haven’t talked about—such as Jones’s brief battle with a swordsman, which is as hilarious as any comedy I’ve seen, or the short yet effective jabs of horror. This movie dishes out something to love every second.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is an endlessly entertaining film in every way possible.


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