Raiders of the Lost Ark Review

Posted: August 1, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: June 12th, 1981

Running Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Paul Freeman

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

As far as traditional blockbusters go, they just don’t get much better than Raiders of the Lost Ark. And rarely are they made with this level of quality anymore, either. Can we trace the origins of the term “non-stop thrill ride” back to this film? Quite possibly, because once the film gets to about its halfway point, it hardly lets up for one moment. It’s a prime example of purely exhilarating action filmmaking at its finest, an experience which has stood the test of time and is still just as thrilling now as it no doubt was when it was first released thirty-three years ago. It’s also the work of a filmmaker who clearly understands the needs and desires of an audience (most of the time), and as such, is definitely worthy of being regarded as a classic. This is how it’s done, Hollywood.

We all know the story, but for those who remain in the dark: Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is a famous archeologist who divides his time between teaching in the classroom and engaging in actual archeology, which in this case entails navigating death traps like a giant rolling boulder. His latest quest finds him on the trail of the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, the golden casket that the ancient Hebrews used to hold and transport the Ten Commandments. But in order to find it, Indy must first enlist the aid of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), a scorned former love who still harbors ill feelings toward Indy and who was left a vital clue in finding the Ark by her father, who was searching for the artifact himself and thus disappeared. Things get really complicated, however, when Indy and Marion discover that the Nazis have their own search party digging in the desert of Cairo for the Ark, a search party headed over by Belloq (Paul Freeman), Indy’s nemesis who has aligned himself with the Nazis. It all culminates into a series of chases, explosions, daring escapes and close calls that distinguish this series as one of, if not the best action movie series in existence.

To say that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great action-adventure film and a staple of the genre would be underselling it. This is just an all-around great film in general, one which has no pretensions about itself and gets the job done in the best way possible. This film doesn’t rely on themes or any sort of running commentary to be successful; instead, it focuses on action, excitement and characters — all of which are first-rate. It never gets dull, either, because director Steven Spielberg and his team always have something up their sleeve that ensures every scene in this film be entertaining. Nowadays, people like to use the excuse of “popcorn movies” to justify an action film’s brainlessness, but Raiders of the Lost Ark proves that even when your movie doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say, imagination channeled into creating compelling characters and riveting situations is still key. As the saying goes, there is a method to the madness.

Like all great action stories, Raiders of the Lost Ark features a dashing hero at its center, and that hero is portrayed in a magnificent performance by Harrison Ford. What can I say about this performance that hasn’t already been said numerous times? Not much, I imagine. I mean, we all know how there’s a relatable quality to Indy brought out by Ford that makes him such a great character. We all know that Ford keeps Indy grounded and never turns him into an untouchable superhero, though that’s owed in part to the writing. You look at Harrison Ford in this movie and you completely buy him as Indiana Jones. In my mind, that’s always how I think of him whenever his name comes up, more so than Han Solo. Indy is a character that has endeared for all these years because Ford’s performance is so pitch-perfect. He kicks ass, and kicks ass with style. Concurrently, Karen Allen is an equally strong-willed character, and certainly not content to being designated the damsel in distress. Even when she’s captured by the bad guys, Marion is plotting about how to get away instead of simply waiting for Indy to swoop in and save her; she can more than handle herself, even when it appears the chips are down. In terms of all the female characters we see throughout the course of this series, Marion is hands down the best. John Rhys-Davies makes for a really entertaining sidekick with his character of Sullah, bringing a good amount of humor to the movie, but not too much. Then there’s Paul Freeman, who usually goes not talked about as Belloq, but the truth of the matter is that Freeman is a really good villain here, full of slime and sniveling charm, yet clearly smart and calculating; in other words, a very worthy adversary for Indy because as Belloq himself points out at one moment in the film, Indy isn’t so far off from him when all is said and done. What a solid cast of characters this movie has.

Then of course, you’ve got the action scenes in this movie, of which there are many and all of which are tremendous. Steven Spielberg knows how the game is played when it comes to this particular area, and he makes sure that every second of the action in this movie is exciting. He stages some really clever and intense sequences, and never has them feel stale or obligatory. But the one thing Spielberg does here that I enjoy most, and continues throughout the other films in the series, is that he finds ways to cleverly weave in humor in the middle of the action. Right away, the famous “gun vs. sword” scene comes to mind, but there are other instances like that, particularly during the big truck chase in the second act. All of these moments of humor are obviously quite funny, but the brilliant thing about them is that they never feel forced or out of place. In fact, all the humor helps make this film that much more entertaining. Of course, the script by Lawrence Kasdan is already incredibly entertaining in how it structures the story, paces it, and instills a sense of fun into everything, but it’s Steven Spielberg who gives it that extra breath of life. That and an iconic main musical theme by John Williams.

Like I said, what else can you say about Riders of the Lost Ark? It does so many things right, never falters and leaves you breathless. By the end of it, you’ve gone on an adventure, just the same as Indy.

****/****

NEXT WEEK: You’re fired.

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