Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those films which you cannot help but enjoy. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I can’t quite understand how it has escaped my attention for so long. I have always loved Indiana Jones and I’d go as far as to say that The Last Crusade is one my all time favourites. Yet for some unknown reason it had never crossed my mind to actually sit down and watch the film which lead the way for one of the most well loved films series of all time.
The film provides an excellent beginning to the Indiana Jones franchise. Having seen every film except Raiders one of the things I found most interesting is that it never feels as though it is an introductory movie. The opening sequence immediately throws us into an Indiana Jones adventures as he travels through the South American jungle to retrieve a sacred fertility idol. This scene is followed by one of Indy in the classroom as his female students sit completely love struck by him. So, within the first 15 minutes, we have learnt everything we need to know about Indiana Jones. He’s a brave, extremely intelligent, adventurer/archeologist with an in-depth knowledge of ancient civilisations. Oh, and the ladies love him.
With this out of the way we are able to concentrate on the films central narrative. Indiana must find the lost Ark of the Covenant, a chest which holds the stone inscriptions of the ten commandments and will supposedly provide its owner with immense power. Sounds fairly simple doesn’t it? Well throw in some occult obsessed Nazis, a bitter former lover and a double-crossing informant monkey and the film becomes so fast paced that it becomes almost hard to keep track of what is going on.
It goes without saying that Harrison Ford is excellent as the films protagonist. If you ignore the over application of fake tan, his rugged good looks combined with his intelligence and quick wit make it impossible not to like him. Always cool under pressure and able to pack a punch it is easy to see why this fedora wearing, bull whip carrying hero has become such an iconic figure.
Although slightly lacking in Dr. Jones’ infamous charm, the films two main antagonists are equally as interesting. Firstly there is French archaeologist Dr. Rene Belloq. It is quickly established that he is our heros rival as he follows him through South America only to steal the sacred idol which Indy risked his life to retrieve. Although fairly unpleasant, he is in my opinion too petty to be the substantial villain which a film like Raiders needs. After a confrontation in which Indy is dragged away by a group of children Belloq states “Next time it’ll take more than children to save you!” Aside from being a stupidly obvious comment (children saving you is hardly a sign of being in danger) Belloqs comment is hardly threatening. Luckily there is Gestapo agent Major Toht to resolve this, his presence provides the film with a much-needed element of fear. This creepy, eyebrow-less, forever sweaty Nazi has very few lines in the film, yet he is memorable none the less. Had I watched this film as a child I imagine he would be the type of figure to give me nightmares. While talking about villains I can’t forget the waist coat wearing monkey, exactly how she was able to inform the enemies of Indy’s moves I’m not quite sure, but whatever, she was very cute and despite her treacherous ways I was sad to see her go.
Despite liking all these characters it was Indy’s former/future love interest Marion Ravenwood with whom I was most impressed. Having watched the Indiana Jones films in the wrong order (Kingdom of the Crystal skull is being ignored here as it features Marion’s return) the last thing I expected was such a strong female lead. The other women of the Indiana Jones franchise have been severely lacking in any sort of substance. Temple of Doom’s Willie Scott did little but scream in an annoying fashion during her time on-screen and The Last Crusade focused its attention on the back stabbing femme-fatale Dr. Elsa Schneider. Neither of these characters do much in terms of positive gender representation. Marion on the other hand is a multi-faceted, charismatic character. Able to drink men under the table, her bravery meant she was not merely swept to one side when the more action oriented scenes began.
A film such as Raiders of the Lost Ark would be incomplete if it were not jam packed full of action, fights and explosions. On this level the film certainly delivered, however I felt a lot of the high action sequences seemed overly choreographed and as a result of this Harrison Ford’s movement often looked forced and un-natural. In addition to this, such sequences took a lot of attention away from the elaborate set pieces, which the films fast paced nature already gave the audience little time to admire.
In comparison to the other Indiana Jones films Raiders, in my opinion, beat Temple of Doom and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hands down, although it wouldn’t take alot to beat the latter. For me Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade remains a firm favourite. While Raiders was exciting, gripping and funny I feel that the subject matter of The Last Crusade combined with Harrison Ford and Sean Connery’s witty banter makes it a much more entertaining film. I would however recommend Raiders of the Lost Ark to anyone who is yet to see it.