RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan

Starring: Harrison Ford, Paul Freeman, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliott, Wolf Kahler & Alfred Molina

Unlike many film fans, I didn’t grow up with an instant nostalgia for Indiana Jones. I vaguely remember sitting through the original trilogy, but most of my memories revolve around the infamous beating heart scene from TEMPLE OF DOOM and the awesome Disneyland ride. So when RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was announced as a title in this Spring’s Cinemark Classic series, I was pretty excited to experience this acclaimed adventure on the big screen (the way it was meant to be seen). It’s been a full day since watching the film and I’m still reeling from it. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is the cinematic equivalent of an exciting rollercoaster ride!

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Set in 1936, Indiana Jones may seem like an average college professor to his colleagues, but has an interest hobby of exploring dangerous places in search of rare artifacts. When some G-Men come knocking to inform Jones that the Nazis are searching for the fabled Ark of the Covenant, Indiana is intrigued by a potential new treasure hunt. In order to keep this mystical relic from falling into occult-obsessed Nazi hands, Indiana Jones makes a perilous trek to Cairo. Finding the Ark is easier said than done as ancient clues must be unearthed, danger lurks around every corner, and a familiar face from Jones’ past reenters his life, former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).

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RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is non-stop excitement from its iconic opening to its memorable finale. This film is so fast-paced that the brief breaks it offers in between its many creative action-packed scenarios seem there entirely for the purpose of giving the viewer a quick breather before heading right back into the action. Director Steven Spielberg had a few hits under his belt at this point in his career (JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), but RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK could likely be considered the film that cemented his reputation in Hollywood as an unquestionable force to be reckoned with. The film perfectly balances comedy with action in a way that lets you constantly laugh while remaining on the edge of your seat.

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Besides being exciting and funny the whole way through, it should also be noted that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is surprisingly violent. I was taken aback (in a good way) at how mean this movie was to its villains. While TEMPLE OF DOOM was the film that pretty much invented the PG-13 rating (along with GREMLINS), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK definitely had a hand in making parents scratch their heads at what was getting through the PG rating. People are impaled, stabbed, shot, have their faces melted off, and also get run over by trucks (complete with comically over-the-top hands and legs flying up to emphasize the impact). I’m not complaining (far from it), but I was genuinely surprised at how balls-to-the-wall RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was in its bloody portrayal of death and danger. It also adds the sense that threats are lurking around every corner (from elaborate booby traps to a floor filled with venomous snakes).

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It is hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, even though Tom Selleck was originally offered the part. Eventually, Spielberg convinced a reluctant George Lucas to cast Harrison Ford in the lead role and averted another severely dumb Lucas decision (because we already have plenty of those floating around). Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and nobody else could possibly fill the character’s shoes. Ford is simply the perfect fit for the iconic fedora-wearing explorer!

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The film boasts memorable performances on the sidelines as well. The beautiful Karen Allen plays Marion Ravenwood and is slightly more than just another damsel-in-distress (though she finds herself in that position numerous times). She actually aids Jones in fighting off some of the baddies and contributes to one of the film’s most exciting sequences (a battle alongside a grounded plane). Aside from Ravenwood, another great character comes in Egyptian digger Sallah, John Rhys-Davies serving as a comic relief sidekick. The villains are one-dimensional, but entertaining nonetheless. Paul Freeman plays a rival archeologist who isn’t above trying to murder Jones in cold blood and working with the Nazis for personal gain. As far as the German baddies go, Ronald Lacey is unbelievably creepy as a sadistic Gestapo agent.

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Stellar production values and an unforgettable John Williams score are icing on the cake. Indiana Jones is one of the biggest heroes in cinema and though I never quite grew up with him in the way that many others have, I completely understand why people love this character! RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is pretty much the perfect adventure film. It never slows down, moves from creative set piece to creative set piece, occasionally might scare some viewers (the opening of the Ark is legitimately creepy), and will thrill you from start to finish. Harrison Ford’s performance as Indiana Jones really sells the whole film, but everything else would make for a stellar movie…even with the absence of Ford’s iconic character. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is a classic adventure for the ages!

Grade: A+

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