Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

JMN's Berg-A-Thon
Day #6 - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

"Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something!"

Virtually flawless from start to finish, Raiders of the Lost Ark isn't just Steven Spielberg's greatest achievement, it's also one of the best films of all time. Hell, I could easily end the Berg-A-Thon here, because I know for a fact that no film which follows Raiders is ever going to top it.

Every technical aspect of Raiders exceeds all conventional expectations I have of cinema. Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay is a litany of exuberance and wit; Douglas Slocombe's impeccable cinematography never fails to astonish; Norman Reynolds' period production design is practically peerless; and Ben Burtt provides more ingenious sound design to equal his work on Star Wars. And let's not forget Glenn Randall's stunt team: every fight and set piece is stunning, and remains virtually unparalleled by most of western cinema.

Raiders also possesses one of the greatest casts of characters ever created. The two principal adversaries are as slimy and ominous as they come, but both are brilliant for wildly different reasons: Belloq as the fascinating intellectual counterpoint to Indy, and Toht as a pitiless, clammy bastard to give your children nightmares. To balance their villainy, you get warm allies like Marcus and Sallah, who are so loveable and entertaining here that their return for Last Crusade seems mandatory in restrospect. And of course, there's Karen Allen as Marion: deadly with a frying pan, even deadlier with a shot glass. She's the loveliest of Indy's love interests, and by far the most formidable.

Then there's Indiana Jones himself, who rivals James Bond as the most iconic and adored adventure hero of the last century. But as much as I love 007, even he can't match Indy for his winning humour, inherent toughness, occasional fallibility, and ultimate indomitability. That, and his costume isn't nearly as cool. Needless to say, this is Harrison Ford's finest hour, and he is so perfect in the role that I can't imagine anyone else inhabiting it.

However, the real MVP here - more so even than Ford, Kasdan, or originator George Lucas - is probably Spielberg himself. Shot-to-shot, Raiders is one of the best-directed films I have ever seen, managing to be both endlessly innovative and effortlessly spellbinding. From sight gags I'm only noticing on my latest viewing to the most entertaining chase sequence of all time (that truck scene, man), Spielberg's talents as an artist have never been as apparent as they are here. Other movies in this Berg-A-Thon may wow or impress me, but there is only one Raiders of the Lost Ark. No need to bury this in the sand for a thousand years - it's already priceless.


Spielbergian Trademark Checklist:

Oners?
Three of my all-time favourite long takes: the conversation with Marcus in Indy's house, Indy's drink with Belloq, and saying goodbye to Sallah. Masterclasses in staging, all of them.

Reflection shots?
Seeing the Nazis in the door mirrors = awesome.
The gag with the double-sided mirror = hilarious.

Dolly zooms?
No dollies, but lots of zooms. Seriously, look out for them.

Glowing lights?
The finale. Lightning, Fire, the Power of God.

Awestruck faces?
Almost any time the Ark is seen or discussed.

Daddy issues?
Indy's past relationship with Abner Ravenwood (Marion's father) gives them both a history to play with, which creates some extra tension between the two.

John Williams score?
The best theme music of all time? I dunno, but it's certainly up there, and the rest of the score is just as magnificent.

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