Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)


Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Paul Freeman (Dr. René Bellog). Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rating: PG. Running time: 115 minutes.

Everyone’s not only supposed to love this one, but they’re supposed to love it the most. Unfortunately I definitely cannot associate myself with the latter sentiment, but I’m now bordering on the former. Raiders was always the one I had trouble with as a kid. I watched Temple of Doom time and time again, naturally because at that age its action-packed crazy sequences with little else was exactly what I was looking for. But I also dug The Last Crusade, despite its infinitely more intricate plot. Why I could never sit through a whole showing of Raiders, then, is in hindsight perplexing, but perhaps a little telling given something similar nearly happened all these years later.

Indiana Jones lives in a world swamped by myths and secret ancient artifacts waiting to be found. He’s Dr. Jones by day, teaching archaeology in high school, and he’s a whip-bearing and leather-wearing treasure hunter named Indiana by… holiday. The subject of his adventure in this first film is the original tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were allegedly carved. The Nazis are after it for some cynical reasons to do with invincibility, but we soon realise that, if anything, Jones is the immortal one. From the jungles of Peru to an on-fire bar in Nepal and chase through the deserts of Cairo, everyone around him dies easily from the simplest of tricks, which you’d think he could get caught up in himself at any minute. Not the case; he can avoid all of them. And all he needs is a whip and a gun and all he’s afraid of is snakes.

The film isn’t trying to fool us in this respect; it knows that, set to its triumphant music, Indiana seems untouchable in a way that is quite ridiculous. But it’s all part of the fun reminiscent of the feel you get in A New Hope from that film’s action sequences. One in particular sums it up perfectly: surrounded by Arabs, one man confronts Indy, swinging his sword in a menacing way that indicates he surely, finally, is about to come to his death. Again, not so. Indy just whips out his gun and shoots him in the chest. It’s intentionally absolutely hilarious.

I do think it gets a little tiresome. For some reason, the plot and this particular quest don’t grip me in any way like the task in The Last Crusade does. Eventually Raiders’ sequences get to feel a lot like a Bond movie: mindless fighting that starts off fun, but grows old after 2 hours non-stop. It’s always with the end-goal of stopping the Nazis in mind, but ultimately I don’t care about that enough. It’s wonderfully fun, I know. But perhaps childhood intuition should not be entirely smirked upon.

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