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.

Happy NEW Year my Movie Geeks!

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“Snakes, why’d it have to be snakes?”.

A line that when heard is impossible to not know where it is from. Raiders of the Lost Ark was released on 12th June 1981, and was the introduction of the eminent archaeologist Indiana Jones Portrayed perfecty by Harrison Ford.

In Mid 2020, Indiana Jones was voted the Greatest Ever Movie Hero By Empire Readers, and it’s hard not to agree. Let’s descend into the Well of Souls and discover why Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones had such an impact on my life.

I was young when I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, probably 7 or 8 and I remember seeing it on a Saturday evening with my family. The cold open introduces us to the character of Dr Henry Jones Jr aka Indiana Jones without uttering a word or seeing his face for the first 3 minutes. But these three minutes give us so much. From the Paramount logo transition to Mount Shubet a mountain in Peru (actually the Kalalea Mountain in Hawaii) we know we’re already on an adventure. An expedition being led by a shadowy figure in a fedora and a dark leather jacket and this is enough to build the mystery around the man.

As said, we only get glimpses of him, but he notices poisoned arrows stuck in trees and ancient hidden statues in the forest undergrowth. As locals become scared of these omens and warnings, Jones just shrugs it off and continues. Alfred Molina and Vic Tablian play the Peruvian Guides Satipo and Barranca, Jones has hired. But Barranca pulls a gun and attempts to kill Jones, giving us the iconic first shot of Jones’ whipping the gun from Barranca’s hands. Jones walks into the shot and we finally see our main character!

It’s the first three minutes of the film and already there is intrigue and excitement. Akin to a James Bond opening it introduces us perfectly to Indiana Jones. We then get the rest of the Peru opening as Jones and Satipo enter the Temple of the Chachapoyan Warriors which holds the Golden Idol of Fertility. Each moment of this section is iconic. Getting past the booby traps (That’s what I said…Insert Short Round from Goonies) sorry, wrong movie. Finding the last adventurer to try and find the Idol. From the addition of the tarantulas adding the creep factor to being chased out of the temple by a massive round boulder. Everything about this scene is iconic. From the sand in the bag to the Jones stroking his chin when judging or misjudging the idol’s weight.

Retrieving the Idol is so well-known that it has been parodied numerous times, probably most memorably by Bart Simpson in the episode ‘Bart’s Friend Falls in Love’.

The opening scene is enough to understand why this movie is so iconic, But this is just the first 15 minutes of the movie and this is just the introduction!

We find Dr Jones back at Marshall College where he teaches archaeology. He’s summoned by two men from US Army Intelligence, wait, he looks familiar! ADD STAY ON TARGET SCENE OK. They want to know where his old mentor Professor Abner Ravenwood is as his name has been mentioned in a Nazi message. Jones interprets the message states the Nazis are close to finding the Ark of the Covenant. The golden Jewelled Chest that housed the Ten Commandments. The belief being that if the Nazis discover the Ark, their army will become invincible.

Jones is then sent on a mission to find the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, which Ravenwood had discovered before the Nazis can get it. This is where we get our villains. The Nazis are the prefect villains for this type of adventure movie. The personification of evil, you don’t have to think twice when killing them.

When Jones finds where Ravenwood is he discovers he died and Marion (Karen Allen), Abner’s daughter has the headpiece but is reluctant to give it up. Again this film is all about introductions. Marion’s introduction is as iconic as Jones’. She’s partaking in a drinking game with a local, drinking shot after shot until one of them collapses. It shows her as an independent woman who is quick, and tough. Drinking a large man under the table, and 30 seconds into the reunion with Indy, she punches him in the jaw. It’s a perfect intro, that tells us all we need to know. She doesn’t give him what he wants and he leaves.

But he’s not the only one looking for it. A Nazi agent called Arnold Ernst Toht played by Robert Lacey is the perfect Nazi. He is sadistic, ordering his henchmen to kill both Indy and another of his own henchmen, and even laughing hysterically when Herman Dietrich throws Marion into the Well of Souls to die with Indy. If you were to think of an SS Nazi Gestapo, you would automatically think of Toht.

Upon arrival in Egypt, Indy and Marion get help from Sallah played by John Rhys Davis, who is an Egyptian digger working for the Nazis. As they have the full headpiece, they are able to get the correct measurement for the Staff of Ra, and cue another iconic set-piece, Indy enters the Map room. He is able to find the correct location of the Well of Souls where the Ark is kept and secretly he begins to dig. Come to think of it, this iconic film is filled with Iconic moments.
I say dig, he has diggers to dig, but they dig through the night with a storm brewing on the horizon. Here we get the first of many moments through the series of films that show how fallible and human Indiana Jones is. They discover the cap stone to the Well of Souls and as they open it, Jones’ face is a mixture of excitement and maniacal glee. But who hasn’t opened something with this amount of passion, from an ancient tomb to a pack of mint imperials!

Other moments include reaching for the Grail, and when taking the three Sankara stones. But this is the first. He knows how close he is to succeeding and he knows that he’s right under the Nazi’s noses. This is one of the reasons why the character of Indiana Jones is so relatable, because like us, he can fail, and a lot of the time he does. Moving swiftly on to the next moment, the fight against the Luftwaffe Mechanic played by Pat Roach.

Indiana Jones proves that despite being able to fight, his biggest strength in a fight is that he can take a beating. One punch from the Mechanic knocks him on his arse. And it’s a punch that we can all relate to. Who hasn’t received a punch that knocks us down? The fight is scrappy, and if I may jump ahead, this is what was lacking from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Jones needs to be seen to be mortal, he’s not Schwarzenegger or Stallone. He’s like us.

Cue a further iconic scene, where the Mechanic is killed by the plane propeller. This moment made me remember to always watch my surroundings. A tree, a door, I always seemed to see what I was walking into! And You never know when a propeller will get you!
This scene is followed by a car chase which sees Indy take control of a truck, take out a load of Nazi soldiers, get shot in the arm, thrown from the truck and then retake the truck. Again, this is all great character development showing that he is fallible not superhuman, and seems to make everything up s he goes along. Is there any other action hero that is better than this?

The Nazis capture the Ark and take it to a secret Island similar to those used by James Bond villains, and they attempt to open the Ark. Marion and Indy are tied up and Indy tells her to keep her eyes shut.
I’ve always assigned this to the fact that Indy would know not to look at the opened Ark. As he mentions earlier in the movie, what comes out could be:
“Lightning, Fire, the Power of God”.

But also he would know the bible passage from Exodus 33:20 –
“But He added, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.””

The Nazis are all killed rather horribly and then sucked into the Ark. The effects here are brilliant. Toht and Dietrich both have their faces melted down to the bone, which was done using a gelatin substance that was melted over about ten minutes and then sped up for the final Face melt. CG is good in some aspects, but practical effects have a texture and consistency that can’t be topped.

Indy and Marion both walk away unharmed and Ark to the US to be studied by Top Men.

This video is basically a fanboy account of what I love about the film. I’d urge you all to go and stick it on, because it is a great movie. It is one of my favourite films of all time. That and the rest of the trilogy, Yes, you heard me right… There’s only a trilogy!
This film shaped me in a way that I cannot deny. I have several Fedoras; I’ve been wearing leather jackets since my early teens and I went into a career of Archaeology. There’s a reason why my channel icon is my face on the Indiana Jones Poster!

The whole thing fascinated me. I loved the 30’s action serial style of the film so much that I wanted to live it. This film has massive re-watch factor for me. So much so, that when the BBC played it at Christmas 2019, the family and I all watched it. Then when the UK’s first Lockdown happened, the BBC played the series again and guess who watched it? That’s right, me! And Christmas 2020 saw me re-watch the entire series over a number of nights, you’ll know if you follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the perfect example of a Stephen Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas film. It stands the test of time and dare I say it? Is the perfect movie? It is a quintessential 1980’s movie and that seems perfectly timeless.

Let me know which hero you would have liked to be, because I tried hardest to become Indiana Jones.