The Return of the Great Adventure!
***This Review Contains Spoilers***
Indiana Jones is my second favourite movie character of all time. My number one favourite is Han Solo. Yes, the same actor played my first and second favourite movie characters. I don’t care how many mediocre movies Harrison Ford may appear in during his later career, that’s like eternal levels of respect and a miracle that this is even the case.
The character of Indiana Jones is the ultimate escapist fantasy. A tough hero who goes on adventures around the world when he feels like it to obtain relics, escapes life and death situations, thwarts the bad guys and gets the girl in the end. Even his action moves are so identified with his character (e.g., climbing underneath the back of a moving vehicle then holding onto it with his whip).
Yet Indy is still human like the rest of us because of his overzealous confidence, thinking he’s several steps ahead of the bad guys when he is not, his ability to make mistakes and his irrational fear of snakes. If there’s a scene which I feel sums up the character of Indiana Jones, it’s when he pulls out a gun on the sword-wielding Arab, a moment which wasn’t even supposed to be the film (likewise that clothes hanger gag is also truly the product of genius minds). Making the character an unassuming nerdy professor is the other stroke of genius and making him a Clark Kent like figure; It’s the biggest contrast of personalities, yet entirely believable. Just look at any Han vs. Indy debate for people pulling every facet of this character’s personality apart but you can’t blame them. Would Harrison Ford have had the career he had if it wasn’t for Raiders? Or would he have faded away like his co-stars in a galaxy far far away?
Does Raiders of the Lost Ark have the best character introduction of all time? The opening of the film tells you everything you need to know about the character of Indiana Jones, as well as having the hairs stand up on your back – Just that boulder alone permeates our culture. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those movies which everyone has seen, even those who haven’t seen it. So many frames in the film are ingrained into the subconscious of film buffs and the general public alike. I feel what makes a film moment iconic is when you’re pondering to yourself as you watch it of ways it could be parodied of spoofed; there’s no shortage of that in Raiders.
Nazis are the ultimate cinematic bad guys and this was even more poignant in 1981 than today when survivors of the Second World War were still alive. Even Ronald Lacy as Thot is no less scary with his baby face. The movie captures and emphasises the fear of Nazis and their quest for world domination; “The army which carries the Ark before it…is invincible”. Yet the film’s climax seems to state that within the Indiana Jones universe, the Judeo Christian God exists or at the very least some higher power.
There are shots in Cairo in Raiders which feel very Lawrence of Arabia and I’m not talking about the grand landscape shots. Likewise, in Lawrence of Arabia, there are moments which I could swear could have been a shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark. As for the music, I can remember listening to John Williams’ The Raider’s March when I was younger simply to lift my mood and inspire me. From the beauty of Marion’s theme, the excitement of the desert chase music to the otherworldly Ark theme, how can one argue John Williams isn’t the greatest film composer of all time? With all the Indiana Jones movies, I will watch the entire end credits just to listen to the score.
The genius behind Raiders of the Lost Ark is the same stroke of genius which made Star Wars so great; I believe it’s all to do with simplicity. They took such a simple B-movie level concept and glorified and made it larger than life. Spielberg and Lucas did it first and better than anyone has since and that’s why these movies have such a widespread appeal and endure the way they do.