Director: Stephen Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys Davies, Ronald Lacey
Plot: College lecturer, Indiana Jones (Ford) is asked to stop the Nazis from finding the Ark of the Covenant, granting the German army with unstoppable power.
Perhaps the easiest way to separate the great movies from the good ones is to wait a few years. In the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the debut entry to the highly successful Indiana Jones film franchise, 35 years to be exact. From the first viewing, the first scene even, you can tell that this is a film you are going to enjoy. That opening segment where college professor with a past-time for diving into dangerous tombs to seek out forgotten relics fights his way through a tomb, joined by Alfred Molina in his acting debut, is the stuff of cinematic legend. For a moment, forget the fact that it is cult cinema and simply ride the entertainment out. In the space of ten minutes, Ford is making his way past poison darts, enemy tribes and being chased by a thunderous boulder. The entertainment does not stop and never feels forced. Indiana Jones is simply about having a good time.
Now fast-forward 35 years and it becomes easier to see why this film is not just an entertaining movie, but a classic. Those moments still work. Sit a youngster in front of other older adventure movies, perhaps even the early Star Wars, and they would have to look past the dated aspects of it. The moments where a lack of cinematic technology and budget weaken some of the more integral moments. Indiana Jones doesn’t suffer from that at all. If Harrison Ford wasn’t as roguishly handsome, we might struggle to place a decade on the film. Everything still works, this movie being one to settle into just to remind yourself of the cult moments on display. “Snakes, why does it have to be snakes?” That scene where Indiana and the feisty Karen Allen are lowered to their deaths in a tomb full of poisonous snakes is still as crystal clear in my memory as the first time I watched it all those years ago. Rewatching it in a more modern time and every beat plays out just as I remembered it to, made all the more vivid by just how hard-hitting the entertainment and fun actually is. That is just one of the many examples of scenes that deserve standing ovations for being so iconic in cinema. Indiana Jones is confronted with an over-enthusiastic swordsman and takes him out in a matter of seconds. A bar fight that introduces both Karen Allen and the despicable Gestapo interrogator, played wickedly by Ronald Lacey. The haunting finale when Indiana reaches the titular ark. Few movies can give you that jolt of thrills time and time again. Even the character of Indiana Jones is one that imprints itself into your memory from the get-go. Indiana Jones will always be Ford’s finest character, a swash-buckling adventurer with easy-going charisma, sharp wits and a sharper tongue. Forget the effortlessly cool performance Ford puts in, but just focus on the visuals. The cowboy hat connoting him as a lost hero from the older Westerns, the whip that doubles as a lasso and a weapon… only Spielberg can come up with a character that steps so boldly into a cinema screen and stays with you for the rest of your childhood and beyond.
However, the real joy of re-watching Raiders of the Lost Ark is learning that all the bits you don’t remember stand up to scrutiny and nostalgia just as well as the more memorable moments. With a lot of the classics we cherish, the sad truth is that the real power of them is compacted into a few key moments. Disney films, for example, boast some iconic visuals, but are drowned in lengthy bits we do not truly care for. This is not the case with Indiana Jones. There are several forgotten moments to treasure tucked away in this movie. Pat Roach, who plays a different hulking henchman in each of the Indiana Jones original trilogy movies, has a gripping punch-up with Indiana in a Nazi airport. Spielberg milks tension from every angle, having Karen Allen trapped in the cockpit, the swirling rotors dangerously close and Indiana hopelessly out-gunned. It is nail-biting action, proving that the visual effects of Marvel Studios blockbuster marathon is not the only way to create an action thriller. And these scenes happen so frequently, you will be hard-pressed to find the correct moment for a tactical bathroom break without use of the pause button. It is always surprising to me just how little the action lets up, guaranteed to give you edge-of-your-seat thrills scene after scene. Rarely do we get as consistently entertaining a film as Raider of the Lost Ark. In short, not just a good film, but a truly great one.
Final Verdict: Action adventure at its very best, up there with Harrison Ford and Spielberg’s biggest success stories.