Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Arguably the most iconic and memorable action-adventure film ever made and a textbook example of how Hollywood filmmaking can go so right.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dir. Steven Spielberg
1981 | USA | Action/Adventure | 115 mins | 2.39:1 | English
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman
Plot: Adventurer Indiana Jones confronts snakes, Nazis and one crazy cliffhanger after another in order to find the mystical Ark of the Covenant, which is believed to still hold the ten commandments.
Awards: Won 4 Oscars – Best Film Editing, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing. Nom. for 4 Oscars – Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Original Score.
Distributor: Paramount

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Tight
Audience Type: Mainstream

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 9 Jul 2012
Spoilers: Mild

Harrison Ford, who has only been nominated for one acting Oscar in his glittering half-a-century career in film, can lay claim to playing two of Hollywood blockbuster cinema’s most iconic characters – Han Solo in the three early ‘Star Wars’ films, and Indiana Jones in the three, okay, four ‘Indiana Jones’ movies.  

George Lucas, who created the billion-dollar ‘Star Wars’ franchise, collaborates with director Steven Spielberg in arguably the greatest of all modern action-adventure films – Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the first instalment, Indy has a straightforward mission: find the exact location of the Ark of the Covenant and retrieve it before the Nazis.  

But before the plot actually starts, we are treated to one of the most exciting opening sequences in film as Spielberg confidently sets the tone of the entire picture with a potent mix of tongue-in-cheek humour and arm-pinching thrills. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark starts at a blinding pace, and never lets its foot off the pedal. Consistently engaging and wildly entertaining, this is a film that you would want to watch over and over again.

“Professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and how does one say it?  Obtainer of rare antiquities.”

Spielberg, who is a master of the spectacular, uses minimal visual effects until the quite disturbing climax when the Ark unleashes a fury of supernatural forces against its unholy perpetrators.  This is remarkable because, for most parts, the film’s action sequences feel raw and real.  

This is exemplified by perhaps the film’s most brilliant set-piece – a 10-minute plus chase sequence that sees some incredible stuntwork inspired by John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).

Despite the action mayhem that unfolds, Spielberg never loses sight of Indy as a flawed hero.  A professor of archaeology, Indy is intelligent and understands what is at stake.  He has to assume the mantle of a hero not by choice, but by circumstance.  

Despite being grounded in reality, Indy can be occasionally accused of being too overconfident and takes the kind of risks that heroes might even shy away from. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a solid genre effort and a nostalgic reminder of the times when movies were made for the big screen.  It is also a reminder why we hate snakes, and why we love John Williams.

Grade: A




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