Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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.

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On Golden Pond (1981)

My Knight In Shining Armour

On Golden Pond deserves the title of “something you don’t see every day”.  Movies which deal with old age don’t usually become box office hits in a world obsessed with being young, yet On Golden Pond became the 2nd highest grossing film of 1981. Plus it stars two elderly actors who hadn’t appeared in a major box office picture in over a decade.

Despite their six decades in the industry, not only was it the first time Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn starred in a film together but they the first time they had even met each other. I never ceased to be amazed by the longevity of the careers of these two actors, especially Henry Fonda, whom I consider to have the most impress careers of any actor I’ve come across, scoring great films in every decade from the 30’s right up to the 80’s. On Golden Pond would be his last film and what a way to end a career. On Golden Pond reflects Fonda’s real-life relationship with his children. Reportedly the man was emotionally distant from his children, as are characters of Norman and his daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) in On Golden Pond. It makes you wonder how much of the interactions between the Fondas in the film are genuine with their intentionally forced and un-naturalistic manner of speaking to each other. Yet Norman will accidentally utter Chelsea’s name at several points showing that deep down he really cares about her. Also, what’s up with the bikini shots Jane Fonda? Was she trying to promote her exercise videos?

Norman Thayer actually reminds me of my own grandfather in how he enjoys screwing with people’s minds, such as the scene in which his future son in law tries to ask him if he would have a problem with having sex with his wife in their house.  Norman Thayer seems like a stereotypical old man at first but we grow to empathize with his character. Just look at that battered old face of his which manages to say so much while his cranky, grump, smart-aleck old man shtick helps the ease the likeability of his character. Norman is a man nearing the end of his life played by a man who literally was nearing the end of his life. Compared to Henry Fonda’s appearance in the film Meteor which he stared in two years earlier, he aged quite a lot in that short period of time.

Katharine Hepburn is one badass old lady in On Golden Pond. Just look at the scene in which jumps of a boat and into a lake to save her husband and nephew and doing her own stunts too. She also reportedly told Jane Fonda on set that she hated her but watching their scenes together you’d never know it but she’s Kate, she can hate whoever she wants. Plus it’s nifty to hear old stars curse, as well as flipping the bird. Norman and Ethel Thayer represent the old couple I believe most people would strive to be, married for decades but still madly in love with each other as ever.

Continental Divide (1981)

The Continental

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Early during Continental Divide as I was gradually enjoying the film more and more and becoming emotionally invested in its two characters (very emotionally invested I might add), storm clouds began forming over me. I came to the realisation that at some point the movie was going to pull of my least favourite movie cliché, the liar revealed. You know, the woman finds out the man isn’t what he claims to be, after a big monologue about how betrayed she feels, they break up, cue the sad montage music but 20 minutes late they forgive each other and live happily ever after, the end.

Thus it was a huge sigh of relief when Blair Brown’s (not the former British government cabinet) Nell Porter discovers John Belushi’s Ernie Souchak (a name which sounds like it’s taken from a 1930’s newspaper comedy) is secretly writing a news piece on her after he agreed not to during this early point in the film. They don’t argue about it, she happily accepts it. How about when Ernie discovers Nell has been meeting a man in the wilderness purely for sexual intercourse and not for a passionate relationship, does he freak out? No, he has no problem with it and that’s the way it should be! That’s one of the things I loved most about Continental Divide, it was like a big middle finger to the inane and contrived clichés which plague modern-day romantic comedies.

Continental Divide is one of my favourite man and woman alone in the wilderness type movies, in this screwball comedy for the 1980’s; which at the time advertised Belushi and Brown as the next Hepburn & Tracy. With the likes of His Girl Friday and Libeled Lady, Continental Divide has the underlying theme that long-term romantic relationships and careers in journalism are an apparent impossibility; only the typewriters are out in favour of computers. Although I do have to ask how many journalists have the levels of a celebrity among the populace as Ernie Souchak has, in which he is constantly recognised in the street. Likewise, Ernie Souchak’s employment of the Chicago Sun-Times is the paper film critic Rodger Ebert writes for, although there is no cameo or mention of him in the film, likely due to a conflict of interest.

Nell Porter is a woman so reclusive she lives in the mountains while attending to her study of Eagles. She has a desire for peace and quiet and I get the impression she is disenfranchised with civilisation, partly due to her dislike of the media. Having a female character like this is one of the reasons I’m so attracted to a love story like this, since weird girls are my thing. Plus speaking of the wilderness, does this movie look good! Filmed atop of actual mountains in Montana and Washington State, It just shows you that Planet Earth is the greatest movie set of all.

It is evident from both Continental Divide and his final film Neighbours that John Belushi was trying to escape typecasting. Continental Divide proves he had what it takes to be a romantic leading man, however, his time left on this world was short at this point but the legend lives on.