Essays

Originally published at http://www.themariontheatre.org.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
“Dr. Jones. Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.” – Dr Rene Belloq

From the clever use of the Paramount mountain logo to the opening action sequence inspired by the James Bond films, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is a love letter to movie serials while blazing it’s own path at the same time.  Indiana Jones does the most breakneck stunts and Harrison Ford plays the character not as some all-purpose action hero but as if he didn’t know it would work.  A master of “wingin’ it.”  At one point he literally says, “I’m making it up as I go.”  It’s the movie film critic Roger Ebert coined the phrase “bruised forearm movie” which is what happens when the person sitting next to you consistently grabs your forearm.  Look at modern action sequences  where a character launches a car through a toll booth and into a moving helicopter, turns and walks away with a one-liner ignoring the explosion.

Of course that would work… what did you think would happen?

Our hero is an New England Archeology professor.  Not a super spy, not a rogue cop.  He’s a history teacher fighting Nazis.  A guy who’d rather be digging up mummies than romancing ladies.  Dr. Henry Jones is the nerd and Indiana Jones the superhero alter-ego.

I’m a sucker for character introductions.  Indiana Jones dispatching a traitorous guide and stepping from the shadows.  Marion Ravenwood in a drinking contest in a Nepalese bar I wouldn’t go into if it were located next to a Bennigan’s and my mom worked there.  Ronald Lacey as the villainous Toht lighting his sweaty face with a hot coal shouting threats in German.  Peter Lorre would be proud.  The villains of RAIDERS aren’t seven feet tall with steel teeth but instead look like accountants… very evil accountants.

The story goes something like this: Steven Spielberg was coming off the amazing success of JAWS (1975) only to be bettered by George Lucas’ success from STAR WARS (1977).  Between (Spielberg’s theatrical debut) THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1972) and JAWS, Spielberg expressed interest in directing a James Bond film.  Producer and Bond-Czar Albert “Cubby” Broccoli told him he’s too inexperienced.  After JAWS he asked again, and was told he’s too commercial.  The Bond films have somehow managed to spend forty years avoiding men of vision.  He expressed his frustration to his good friend Lucas.

Lucas had something better than Bond.  It was a throwback to weekly movie serials of the 1930s with a globe-trotting Archeologist named Indiana Jones.  When he asked for more information, Lucas told him, “that’s all I got.”  The two shook hands and agreed they would make three (although since the announcement of a fourth chapter, some sources cite five) films.

The film was written by Philip Kaufman (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976), THE RIGHT STUFF (1983)), George Lucas (STAR WARS, AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)), LAWRENCE KASDAN (THE BIG CHILL (1983), BODY HEAT (1981)) and Steven Spielberg (JURASSIC PARK (1993), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)).  They brainstormed things they always wanted to see in a movie (giant rolling boulders, snake pits, nunchaku coat hangers) and worked a script around those ideas.  Tom Selleck was cast as Indiana Jones only to depart because he was contractually obligated when CBS decided to make a series out of a television pilot he’d already shot.  MAGNUM PI ran on CBS from 1980 to 1988.  His screen test is in the DVD box set (on the appropriately titled disc INDIANA JONES AND THE SPECIAL FEATURES).  In all, five actors have played the character (three on television, two on film).  The character has appeared in over thirty novels, two comic book series and several videogames with a new one being developed for next year.  It spawned two sequels with another due Memorial Day 2008 after a nineteen year absence.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was voted #66 of the 2007 American Film Institute’s Greatest American Films and Indiana Jones was #2 in their 2003 list of Greatest Heroes (behind TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’s Atticus Finch).

Coincidentally, James Bond was #3 on that same list.

Entertainment Weekly in their 25 Greatest Action Movies listed RAIDERS as #3 behind DIE HARD (1988) and ALIENS (1986) and reinforcing why I cancelled my subscription years ago.  When people ask what is the best movie I have ever seen I give the yearbook answer which is CITIZEN KANE (1941) and the honest truth.  When they ask what my favorite movie is I tell them RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

I would have warned you… but you don’t speak Huevito.

James Ford
August 2007

Five Things To Watch For In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK:

  1. Alfred Molina’s film debut in the opening sequence as Sepito (“Throw me the, idol.”)  You’ll see him later in BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) and as Dr. Otto Octavius in SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004).
  2. The snake pit.  Four thousand snakes and you could still see sand.  The gaps are covered with cut up lengths of garden hose and bicycle tubing.  Alfred Hitchcock used a similar trick in THE BIRDS (1963) using a few live birds and lot of fake ones tricking the eye into seeing more movement than is actually happening.
  3. There is a shot with Indiana Jones and Sallah from a balcony overlooking Cairo.  Since the movie takes place in 1936, eighty television antennae had to be removed by the crew for the shot and later replaced.
  4. There is a Hollywood myth that Harrison Ford’s chin scar was from learning to use the bullwhip.  It’s visible in his early films.  The scar from a car accident.  Spielberg addresses the myth in the opening sequence to INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.
  5. The sequence in the marketplace where Indiana Jones dispatches a swordsman was originally an elaborate fight sequence that was extensively shortened because Harrison Ford developed severe food poisoning.
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