I can’t help but wonder if those who create iconic characters and scenes have any inkling of the impact their creations will have? When they were brainstorming and coming up with ideas that seemed cool to them, did George Lucas and Steven Spielberg realize how inspired their creativity was? Surely there are countless films that are more or less a paycheck for the filmmakers, but just as many have been made with a devotion and hope for success to rival the creators of Indiana Jones. Who knows what pop culture will embrace next, but Raiders of the Lost Ark certainly made a huge, indelible impression on it.
Most films are lucky to have one truly memorable scene, but Raiders has innumerable moments of action genius, the likes of which few films have matched. Heck, the first ten minutes have been parodied to no end. The film was meant to recall the action serials of the 1930s and 40s, even borrowing a few ideas here and there, but for the film’s generation and every one since, Raiders essentially replaced them. Practically everyone who has not been living under a rock has seen the giant rolling boulder, the snake-filled pit, the truck chase, and the crate-filled warehouse at the end. Even casual fans can probably recite lines of dialogue verbatim. Quite simply, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the quintessential action film, and I doubt many would disagree.
Likewise, between this and his role as Han Solo, Harrison Ford became the quintessential action star, dashing but intelligent, hard-edged but sensitive at times, tenacious but clearly human and vulnerable when the adrenaline wears off, undevout but able to recognize and respect a power beyond himself. From beginning to end, he’s likeable and a joy to watch. As his first love (at least to moviegoers), Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood became his preferred romantic interest, and even though it was anticlimactic, I’m glad he settled down with her in the fourth movie. John Rhys-Davies as jolly Sallah and Denholm Elliot as studious Marcus Brody are classic accessories to Jones’s adventures, and Alfred Molina found his very first role as his traitorous accomplice Satipo (though, did anyone else hear Ford say “Sapito”?). As other reviewers have said, Nazis make the best villains, easy to hate and easy to cheer when they get their comeuppance. To be honest, I’ve never found the individual bad guys like Belloq or Dietrich all that memorable, but Ronald Lacey as Nazi interrogator Toht is the perfect example of a Nazi slime ball, complete with a Peter Lorre-style accent.
In addition to iconic characters, non-stop fight scenes, and inventive action, Raiders also has plenty of humor, whether it’s Jones’s practical solution to a cocky swordsman or his as-yet unexplained fear of snakes. Plus, perhaps the most talented member of the film’s team was John Williams who provided perfect musical accompaniment for every scene, from the lighthearted fistfights to the intrepid truck rescue. If it hadn’t been for Chariots of Fire that year, the music surely would have won Best Score, in addition to its five other Academy Awards including Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and a special one for Ben Burtt’s Sound Effects Editing.
Despite its honored place in pop culture, I don’t consider it a family film, due to the surprisingly bloody deaths for a PG film, before Temple of Doom helped introduce PG-13, especially the gruesome fates of the presumptuous Nazis. While the film presents some fallacies concerning the Ark of the Covenant, it at least affirms its supernatural power and presents the divine relic as something not to be trifled with. Worthy of its status as the ultimate actioner, Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced an oft-copied, rarely-matched film hero and now becomes the first film on my list worthy of a perfect score.
Best line: (Indy) “Meet me at Omar’s. Be ready for me. I’m going after that truck.” (Sallah) “How?” (Indy) “I don’t know; I’m making this up as I go!”
VC’s best line: (Marion) “You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.” (Indy) “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”Rank: 60 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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