June 6, 2010

#66: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Bumm ba-dum BAAAAA, bumm ba-DAAAAA!

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a brainchild of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the men who ruled the world circa 1981, after successes such as Jaws and Star Wars. While I would argue that the first film in the Indiana Jones franchise doesn't quite measure up to either of those landmarks, it still holds its own ... and probably didn't need that franchise extension in 2008. Blurg.

Company: David, fan; Kecia, purveyor of flan; Stephanie, sister and anthropologist; Tina, former roommate of Stephanie and hardcore enthusiast for all things fancy and fun

Cuisine: Doritos and Digiornos (what is this, high school?) and Mich Golden Light (oh... guess not)

Indiana Jones (played with leading man swagger by Harrison Ford, already 39 in this movie!) is a character around whom a movie is based, and the movie is based on those old serials of the 1930s and 40s. Spielberg and Lucas wanted to pay homage to those films and yet bring them into a modern technological era. They were on top of the world of special effects, and both knew how to excite an audience. Leave it to them to start the movie with what is arguably its most exciting scene, where Indiana leads a couple traitors into a cave in South America to find golden monkey head treasure, only to be chased out of there by a huge boulder and saved at the last minute from angry natives by bi-plane!

How very convenient, too, that Mr. Jones is Professor Jones, an archeology professor who provides the film with a vessel for every scientific explanation the plot requires. Which isn't much, truth be told: honestly, who cares? You don't watch a movie like this for the plot, do you? Even luckier is that whatever plot device having to do with the Lost Ark Indy and his buddies are looking for, the Nazis want it too -- which immediately makes the crusade infinitely more noble!

Look at those seedy eyes. Must be a Nazi.

Also ranking low on the priority list is fleshing out female characters (see also: most action movies ever, besides the Alien franchise). I've seen this movie several times and I still can't get the vital information about Marion Ravenwood to stick in my mind. I just know she gets trapped in a plane that's spinning in circles at one point, only to be dashingly rescued by Indy at the very last second. As we can see from this frame, she's got some piece of the puzzle, but the flame over her face may indicate that danger is near. Nazis burst in and demand information. Again, the dramatics! Luckily, Indy is never far away.


Seriously, though, a movie like this isn't in the business of subtlety. A successful movie like this one requires archetypes, carefully paced storytelling, magnificent production elements and good guys winning the day and the girl. Spielberg and Lucas both knew this, and it's clear from the uber-stylized score (thanks John Williams) and classy art direction that we trust that they knew this.

It also requires that the hero be alone for earth-shattering discoveries like this one.

And that he receives no help in dealing with one of the only elements of his personality that makes him at all comical: his petrifying fear of snakes. Again, we're lucky that Indiana Jones isn't a huge baby about it.

A side note about the score: my roommate told me to mention that she and our friend discovered in high school that the famous Raider's March theme is used to convey nearly every cinematic emotion in the film. Triumph, obviously, but also longing, regret, determination, etc. Check it out.

Awesome Nazi-consuming fire!

This hasn't been a very serious blog entry, but Raiders of the Lost Ark asks us not to think too hard about it, regardless of its historical subject matter. The film was aimed at twelve-year-old boys wetting themselves over the special effects ... and Karen Allen. Let's all revert to that state of mind, sit back and enjoy what two masters hath wrought.

Am I losing it? Has this blog lost all academic or intellectual stamina? Perhaps. We'll see. Only a third of the way there, chumps. Next up: Bogart and Hepburn, dahhling, in The African Queen.

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