Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Post  BoG on Tue Nov 04, 2014 5:11 pm

It may be surprising to some to see Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) lumped in with super-heroes but, in many ways, Indiana is a prototypical version of the earliest American super-heroes, with no obvious powers but an uncanny ability to circumvent certain death. The story takes place in 1936, the same year that The Phantom, the first costumed super-hero, was introduced in the comic strips. Indiana's adventures are very similar to those of the Phantom, usually taking place in exotic regions such as jungles and featuring fisticuffs or gunplay. Indiana even has close to a secret identity - when he's not defying death, he works as a mild-mannered college professor. Other similar heroes of that era were Tarzan and Doc Savage. Raiders was the first of several films featuring Indiana Jones and there was also a short-lived TV series at one point, focusing on a younger Indiana. This was the brainchild of George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg, who wanted to recreate the thrill-a-minute feel of the old adventure serials of the thirties, which thrived on cliffhangers.

In the plot, Indiana Jones and his famous whip & fedora are introduced when he's in the middle of an expedition in the jungles of Peru. Escaping almost certain death several times during this first act, Indiana returns to his day job at Marshall College in Connecticut. However, in almost no time, government agents set him on a path to prevent the villains from getting their hands on the fabled Ark of the Covenant, which might be used as a devastating weapon in the wrong hands. The villains are a rival of Jones named Belloq (Paul Freeman) and the Nazis, especially a sinister plainclothes agent named Toht (Ronald Lacey). Indiana's journey takes him to Nepal, where he gets reacquainted with an angry former lover (Karen Allen). Afterwards, they go to Cairo, where the Ark is eventually found. It all culminates in the middle of a desert, where the Ark's power is tested - to the detriment of many who are present.
Using the Nazis as the villains was really the only way to go for an adventure set in that time, the mid-thirties. There's this whole tension generated simply for the foreknowledge that most modern viewers have of historical events, the fact that World War II would begin in a couple of years and that Nazism would go down in history as the most vile sort of villainy - at least in the 20th century. While this film was a trendsetter of sorts, it also paved the way for most of the action films since then which get by on mechanical, by-the-numbers sequences and pacing. Raiders escalated the amount of action that usually occurs in one film, much like Airplane! (1980) piled on the amount of comedic gags that one film could have. Speaking of gags and one-liners, Ford was at his best here - he seemed born to play Indiana, even more so than his Han Solo character, and his humor playing in some scenes was top notch; btw, his character doesn't like snakes. The next film in the franchise was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (84), which was actually a prequel. BoG's Score: 8 out of 10

Raiders of Trivia: this was by far the highest-grossing film of 1981 and remains Ford's biggest success except for the Star Wars films;
Tom Selleck almost got the part of Indiana Jones but was bound by contract to work on his TV series, Magnum P.I.; in the years since its release, many film fans have pointed out that Secret of the Incas (1954) probably had some influence on this film, especially the outfit, the physicality and the manner of the character Harry Steele, played by Charlton Heston.

PLUS, A SHOT-By-SHOT Comparison:
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