A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 467 – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – June 10th, 2011

You might notice that we’re using the “updated” title here. This is because it is the title on the cover of the DVD we own. Nice as it would be for us to have the original, the fact of the matter is that the bitty little changes in the box set version of this movie aren’t nearly as egregious as, say, the changes made to the Star Wars movies. So I don’t much mind using the newer version and titling it accordingly. Because when all is said and done, this is indeed part of a series and it is indeed all about Indiana Jones and it’s not that big a deal to me to put his name in the title.

It seems like such a little thing to fuss over. After all, there’s so much awesome in this movie, it’s hard for me to care about the title and whether the name was attached or not. When this was originally made it wasn’t necessarily predicted to be a hit. It was a tribute to old action/adventure serials and apparently was passed over by a number of production companies before Paramount took it on. So why would they bother to tack the main character’s name onto it? The name didn’t mean anything to anyone at the time. Now, on the other hand, it’s instantly connected to a bullwhip and a fedora and a hatred of both snakes and Nazis.

Sadly, I think I saw this movie after I saw its sequel. Now, tomorrow night I will tell the story of watching the sequel with my great-aunt and great-uncle and a friend. Tonight I have no such anecdotes. I saw this movie eventually, after I’d seen the second one, and it was like night and day. I felt like this was just more straightforward. You had a pretty easily identifiable artifact that Indiana had to find and the antagonists trying to get it before him were Nazis. That right there is a pretty easy set-up. Beat the Nazis to the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a simple goal and plot with plenty of obstacles and hang-ups to keep things interesting.

This movie had to serve as an introduction not only to Indiana Jones as a character but also to the world he inhabited. Sure, it looks like our version of the 1940s, but this isn’t quite our world. In the world Indiana Jones lives in, the supernatural is real and a force to be reckoned with. Or forces, given what we see later. Regardless, there is more going on here than we out here in the real world get to see. Of course you could argue that these things wouldn’t be common knowledge in the real world so it might as well be real. But let’s be honest here. This is a movie in which people’s faces melt. And I like that it’s a version of the world in which these things can and do happen. It adds a bit of a thrill to the whole thing. It makes it fantastic, not just fun.

The character of Indiana Jones, on the other hand, is very down to earth. At least, in most respects. I think what I like most about Indy is that he’s sort of a suave guy, but not entirely. He gets flustered while teaching an archaeology class because the girls all have crushes on him and he has no idea how to react to that. He’s got a rough history with the female lead, Marion, and yes, he’s charming, but he’s not that charming. He’s not James Bond, is what I’m saying. He’s rough around all of his edges. He doesn’t dress all slick and smooth, even when he’s teaching and could get away with a little more polish. When he’s out being Action Archaeologist he’s wearing a far more utilitarian outfit than a suit. Tough pants and shirt, battered leather jacket, rumpled fedora. He’s got tools and he’s not afraid to get dirty. And he gets in trouble! A lot! How many times does he get thwarted or captured in this movie? I wasn’t counting, but it’s not an uncommon occurrence here. And somehow it doesn’t make him any less the hero of the movie. Largely, I believe, because he’s one man, albeit with two able companions. But still, even three people against an entire encampment of Nazis and the locals they’ve hired? Not really good odds. So one would expect Indy to get knocked around a little, and he does. And he takes it like a champ.

The Nazis always make good villains, especially when you’re dealing with a style like this. It’s supposed to be a style homage to serial adventures and the time period and villains back that up very well. Not to mention, well, they’re the Nazis. They are the epitome of villainy in our history. Put Indiana Jones on the screen and have him facing a Nazi soldier and you immediately know who to root for, even if you’ve never seen Harrison Ford in your life. And they lend a slightly more serious tone than a random villain would. They keep the goofiness that happens in some scenes from taking over the whole movie and making it parody, which is good because the humor should keep moments light, not laughable.

Now, my one real issue with the movie is that it is so heavily influenced by serials. I get why that is – it was homage – but at the same time, it’s a movie. It’s all going to be shown at once. So while I can identify how each successive “chapter” has a conflict and a resolution, there are times when I wished it wasn’t so obvious. But that’s really just me poking at the movie. Because on pretty much every other front it’s fantastic. I especially like Marion, an old flame of Indy’s who’s been stuck running a bar in Tibet until he shows up again, and Sallah, a friend of Indy’s in Egypt where they go to find the Ark. Marion, played by Karen Allen, is feisty and strong and yes, she does need rescuing a few times, but she’s hardly helpless. And when she does need rescuing you can tell she’s pissed off about it. Sallah is Indiana’s contact in Egypt, and he is played with boisterous competence by John Rhys-Davies. He always seems to know the right people and have the right tools and be able to do just the right thing. It’s a great role and Indiana certainly relies on him (not to mention, he saves Indy’s life a few times).

The bad guys are sinister and slimy and easy to hate. The good guys are fun and interesting and sympathetic. The plot is easy to follow, the story is well-paced, the dialogue is snappy and the action is fun. Which really, is perfect. It’s what I think of when I think of the name Indiana Jones. What’s bizarre is that the next movie isn’t really the same sort of deal and the third movie, while charming for many reasons, doesn’t quite capture the spark of the first. Oh, I’ll enjoy watching them, and we’ll see how the fourth one goes (I haven’t seen it yet and my expectations are low) but this one really was and is and will be the perfect Indiana Jones movie. So it’s really only right that it bear his name.

June 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

June 10, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

This was one of the first movies my family owned on VHS. When we got our first VCR – an enormous boxy thing – we had a couple tapes my uncles had provided so we’d have something to watch. What a grand and magical Christmas that was. For some reason I had not seen this movie when it was in the theaters. I was a sensitive young boy and maybe my parents figured that it would be too much for me. My classmates raved about it though. Everybody seemed obsessed with the adventures of the dashing Indiana Jones. I distinctly remember them talking about the giant rolling boulder during Indie’s escape at the start of the film. We were nine years old at the time and this was just the kind of adventure tale that would capture our second-grade imaginations.

It probably wasn’t until about two years later that I finally got to see this movie myself. I’m ashamed to say that it was a bootleg copy – probably recorded off of HBO or STARS back in the early days of pay cable. I watched that tape over and over again. Eventually I had it memorised. I had a lot of fun riffing the movie with my friend Mike, not because it was bad and deserved to be made fun of but because it was so familiar. (Yes, I riffed movies more than a decade before I discovered MST3K – it’s just a natural reaction to a movie for me.)

What Spielberg and Lucas have crafted here is the ultimate adventure film. Often imitated but never replicated this homage to the adventure serials of the forties is full of great escapes, chases, humor, fight scenes, and most of all pure cool. There is no iconic symbol that better captures swashbuckling adventure than Harrison Ford with a manly stubble on his chin, a fedora on his head and a whip on his hip.

There’s not much point in covering the plot of the movie, really, since probably everybody has seen it already. Indiana Jones is a professor of archeology who spends his sabbatical time raiding tombs in search of rare artifacts for his friend’s museum. In his world archeology is not a dusty or scholarly activity, it is all about defeating diabolical traps and outwitting other treasure hunters like the nasty French Rene Belloq. Jones is approached by a pair of US government intelligence types who explain to him that Hitler is looking for some mysterious object in the desert outside Cairo – the Ark of the Covenant. It just so happens that Indie’s old mentor and father figure was an expert on the resting place of the lost Ark, so off he goes to Nepal to seek out an artifact that will lead to the ultimate treasure (and perhaps to victory in the war.) Unfortunately Indie’s old mentor is dead, but his feisty daughter Marion is still there, although she’s not too happy to see Dr. Jones waltzing back into her life. From there it’s a rip-roaring adventure tale filled with cliffhangers, peril and snakes.

What can I say? It was a joy to watch this movie again tonight. I still remember every line, every shot and every moment of the movie, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch again. Indiana Jones, as the advertisements for the sequels were fond of reminding us, IS adventure. Karen Allen as Marion is the perfect foil for him and although she often finds herself being a damsel in distress she’s also perfectly capable of clobbering a guy over the head, operating a machine gun or drinking anybody under the table. I love a capable and not easily dominated heroine. Harrison Ford makes Indie human – he’s not a superman. Indie gets hurt, loses fights, is almost always outmatched, but never lets that stop him, which is part of the charm. And charm is the key to the role. The old smoothie.

It’s only unfortunate that none of the sequels quite lived up to the high standards set by the original. Then again, how could they possibly?

June 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment