Here we are, back for yet another season of Podcasters Assemble, a cavalcade of indie podcasters giving their opinions on whatever franchise is getting ready to release a new entry, so we can shit on that one when it comes out. It’s like Twitter. Only more organized.
Now first things first, if you’re one of those people who calls this film “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,” stop it. That’s not the name of this film. Sure, there has been new artwork that adds that unnecessary bit in. But when the title appears in the film, it reads, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” So, don’t forget that.
As a kid growing up in the 80s, I remembered when at least two of the first three Indiana Jones adventures were released. Raiders came out when I was still a mere infant. Or a toddler. I was one, dammit. Anyway, I always remember seeing bits and pieces when my father would watch it again on numerous occasions. There were scenes I would always remember, but the rest of the film would be a faint memory. Beyond that, it felt like it was just grown-up content, and I didn’t care about it. For many years as a youth, I thought this movie was boring.
It wasn’t until I was much older when I purchased my own set of the Indiana Jones trilogy, that I truly sat down and watched Raiders of the Lost Ark from beginning to end. It was THAT viewing that changed my whole perspective on this film. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most thrilling and exciting action/adventure movies ever made. Hands down. I’m tempted to say THE most, but I like to keep my opinions loose.
So, as the story goes, George Lucas pitched the idea for this film to Steven Spielberg while they were on vacation. It seemed Spielberg was expressing interest in directing a James Bond film to which Lucas retorted, “I’ve got a much better idea.” Now, somewhere in the multiverse, Spielberg said “no” and pursued a Bond picture, which you KNOW he could have easily secured. While his name didn’t have the gravitas it does now, this was still AFTER Jaws AND Close Encounters. E.T. was the following year after Raiders. While those titles do not scream spy director, I don’t think the Broccoli family would have turned him away either. He was a bonafide moneymaker.
Anyway, Lucas’s pitch was to recreate the heroes from matinee serials seen in the 1930s. In a time when television was still two decades away, the old Nickelodeon was the place to forget your troubles for a few hours. Watching swashbuckling adventures of daring-do that typically ended on cliffhangers to get audiences to return to the cinemas for the thrilling conclusion. Amazing that doesn’t quite work the same today. Furthermore, why can’t we bring back theater shorts like the Three Stooges, Tom & Jerry, or Superman? Little bonuses like that would sure entice me more to the theater. But I digress.
I think what makes this film work so well is everyone involved. Again, Steven Spielberg had already directed two big hits, not to mention one of the best TV movies I’ve ever seen. Seriously, if you’ve never seen Duel, I highly recommend it. The man had proven he had what it takes to direct a solid film. And yes, I am aware that 1941 came out before this, so there was a blemish of sorts. I would speak of that film, but I’m trying to stay on topic here.
George Lucas had also proven himself to be a visionary, thanks in no small part to Star Wars. Sure, he had made a name for himself with THX 1138 and American Graffiti, but the worldwide phenomenon that Star Wars became sealed the deal. It also scared him away from directing another feature for 20 years. Which may have been a good thing when you take a look at everything he directed AFTER the original Star Wars. That’s another one too! That movie was ORIGINALLY just Star Wars, not this “A New Hope” crap! Make Star Wars Star Wars Again! Sorry anyway, the point being is George Lucas is a great idea man. He just needs help with execution.
Then there’s our protagonist himself: Indiana Jones. Can you even imagine this character being played by anyone else? Harrison Ford IS the embodiment of this character. He was always meant to be Indiana Jones. I think this is why people are defensive about other actors, such as human punching bag Chris Pratt, taking over the role from Ford. And I get it. Schwarzenegger IS the Terminator. Robert Englund IS Freddy Krueger. Stallone IS Rocky… and also Rambo. While other actors have portrayed Superman after Christopher Reeve, you can help but look at HOW he personified the character better than anyone before or since. He IS Superman for me. So, to think that we could have had Tom Selleck in the role instead is mind-boggling. Thank god he was stuck on Magnum P.I.
Fun fact: in the final season of the original Magnum P.I. (I must specify “original” now since there are remakes/reboots of everything now) did do a parody episode of sorts where Tom Selleck got to wear an outfit reminiscent of Indy’s and search for a long-lost artifact. Still wasn’t rocking it as well as Harrison Ford. And what IF Tom Selleck had done both Magnum and Indy? Would that have meant that the creator of Chip n Dale’s Rescue Rangers was a huge fan of Selleck’s work? Or just the characters he played? The mysteries of the universe…
Karen Allen was also fantastic casting as Marion Ravenwood. She wasn’t the typical damsel in distress, even though she is seemingly that throughout a good portion of the film. She was feisty and independent and could easily hold her own had they allowed her to. Remember, this was still at a point in time when women were still props for the male hero to rescue. If this movie was made today, Marion would have been kicking asses throughout, not needing Indy’s help for rescue. An equal not a damsel.
And while we’re here, let’s go ahead and talk about the implications that Indy had relations with an underage girl because someone in this lot is going to bring it up besides me. I honestly think that the line is being misconstrued. Now, granted there is about a 10-year age difference between the two actors. So, if we’re going off that, then perhaps when she was 18, he was 28. They had a fling, but he moved on. For her to say, I was a child doesn’t necessarily mean just that. She could have been talking about it from a mental capacity. Still young and naïve. But then again, 13 to 14-year-old girls used to be arranged into marriages at this time as well, so… what do I know? All I’m saying is I don’t think Indy is a pedophile, ok?
John Rhys Davies is another great addition as Sallah. He’s a trusted ally for Indy that they could have easily written to eventually betray Indy in exchange for whatever arbitrary want or need. But he is loyal to the end, and I appreciate the hell out of that. Unlike Alfred Molina who betrays Indy after… well not really doing much of anything but screaming like a little bitch while Indy navigates his way through dangerous traps. Still fun to see Molina in one of his earliest film roles. Ron Lacey as Toht exudes a slimy creepiness while channeling Peter Lorre. While he nails his performance here, I couldn’t tell you another film I’ve ever seen him in. If I had, I wouldn’t recognize him.
Finally, Paul Freeman is amazing as Belloq. Typically, a television actor before this role, it surprises me that he didn’t have a wave of villainous roles thrown his direction that he took as a steady actor. And while people most definitely remember him from this film, some kids of the 90s might unknowingly know him as Ivan Ooze from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie. Once again proving he has a knack for playing a villain.
While all the actors and even the writer and director are top notch, the film is further elevated by the score from legendary composer John Williams. The Raiders March is iconic. It’s as iconic as the themes to Star Wars, Superman, and Jaws, all composed by Williams, and ALL are remembered to this day. Some may criticize his work for some reason or another which I can understand. Hell, I’ve heard similar chords in Star Wars that I have in Raiders. And no not in the scene in the tomb where you can see cave paintings of R2 and 3PO. But you can’t deny his work as a composer is phenomenal. In fact, one of my favorite compositions of his comes from the John Wayne film, the Cowboys. It doesn’t initially sound like his work but certain cues and instrumentations seep through but in a good way.
While this film is certainly iconic for several reasons, I can think of no other scene than the rolling boulder that became a staple of pop culture. Sure, those of us who love the film and have seen it 100 times over can pick many scenes that are iconic, but none have infiltrated the zeitgeist like that one did. How many parodies have we seen at this point? Several come to mind: the Simpsons, UHF, Muppet Babies, Christmas Vacation… and I’m sure I’m missing plenty.
One of my all-time favorites that made me laugh SO hard during my first proper rewatch was the shooting of the giant swordsman. While it was not initially written that way, it works so much better overall. I can understand the actor being robbed of his big moment that he trained for, but it was the logical choice in the moment. Why wouldn’t you just shoot this guy if the opportunity was there? I’m so glad Harrison Ford convinced them to do it that way. Hooray for food poisoning?
One trait of Indiana Jones that I can relate to is his fear of snakes. The scene in the tomb of the Ark is not my favorite scene at all. I think I would have a full-blown panic attack were I in that situation. I have NO idea what would snap me out of it either. All I would know is that I’m surrounded by snakes and one of them is going to bite me, no matter what I do, and I’ll die right here in this tomb. Seriously, fuck some snakes.
For me, the best sequence in this movie is when Indy chases after the ark in the truck through the desert. In a time before CGI, stuntmen did some crazy stuff and the stunts in that sequence thrill me every single time. Indy climbing under the truck alone is intense, KNOWING someone is actually doing that. The film is obviously chock full of amazing scenes and stunts, but this sequence takes the cake for me. It’s rare when a film can elicit the same response every viewing. Except for bad films. They always make me turn them off in disgust. Shameful.
And we can’t talk about this film without talking about the ending. As a kid, I was always under the assumption that this movie was rated R, given the somewhat graphic nature of some scenes, mainly the opening of the Ark of the Covenant. The effects work was unlike anything I had ever seen and was truly my first glimpse at horrific gore. Bloody melted faces, I mean MY GOD!! I’m honestly surprised that the discussion of a new rating didn’t begin here. And it may have. While it may feel extreme and somewhat excessive, it doesn’t feel out of place. In fact, I think the film earns that moment, almost to showcase what tampering with the power of God can cost you. It’s an equally terrifying and fascinating scene.
As I said before, this is one of the best action/adventure films ever made. It’s one of Spielberg’s best and I’ll even share that credit with George Lucas. It has everything you could possibly want in a film that promises to be a thrill ride. Action, humor, thrill, chills, spills, and most importantly characters worth rooting for. This film should be required viewing for any cinephile.