Raiders of the Lost Ark
The movie that defines the action-adventure genre, Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced movie audiences everywhere to Indiana Jones, the romance of archaeology, and just how dangerous the ark of the covenant can be.
*FUN FACT: According to the Ten Commandments, graven images were strictly forbidden. However, the one time God makes an exception in the bible is for the lid of the ark itself, adorned with two golden seraphim. Why do you think that is?
Indiana Jones took full advantage of the blockbuster mentality that had gripped Hollywood since the arrival of Jaws six years prior. Gone were the days of the big studios, the stables of stars, and the Vietnam-enriched, experimental filmmaking that defined much of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Indiana Jones defines escapism to the core, and succeeds on a level that George Lucas’s Star Wars does not. What makes Indiana Jones so endearing is that, while it’s fun to pretend to fly an X-Wing or wield a lightsaber in the Star Wars universe, it’s ultimately fantasy. What made Raiders so terrific is the fact that everything in it, while pushing the boundaries of reality, seemed at once not only believable, but fully possible. A battle against a planet-sized space station? Fun, but not likely. A whip-crackin’ archaeologist up against primal booby-traps? Why, any one of us can study archaeology and go after the prize. And why not?
Raiders is nearly non-stop action, but it works. How the hell will Indiana Jones (originally named Indiana Smith in the shooting script) make it out of this situation? Or that one? How much beating can an archaeologist really take? Most importantly, how many sequels can they possibly squeeze out of him? Why did it take Spielberg as many as four movies to somehow jam aliens into the mix?
I’m trying very hard to not rely on the IMDb’s trivia nook to write this, although, if you should have the inclination, its fact repository for this film is astonishingly large. I actually wonder if this film generated more trivia and facts than any other. Of course, it hasn’t, but the very fact that so many people want to know MORE about this particular film than what’s presented onscreen is a true testament to the power of a scruffy fellow with a bullwhip and a well-worn fedora. Indiana is interesting.
Indiana appeals to our sense of adventure and the film is very much an homage to the serials of yesteryear, themselves hearkening back to folktales and legends of questing heroes in search of forgotten treasures locked within ancient places. In fact, the one thing that each Indiana Jones film has in common is that singular object, the “MacGuffin,” as George Lucas has termed it (although originally invented by English writer Angus McPhail in the 1930s), that one supernatural object that ignites the story.
However, it’s the object itself that typically falls into the background in Indiana Jones films. As the story progresses, it’s not the object we’re interested in. It’s Indiana, and that’s what makes Raiders damn smart storytelling.
It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.