Raiders of the Lost Ark is at once timeless and transient. Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1981, there is something specific to the styling of the film that makes it inextricable from the time period in which it was produced. Like many other pre-millennial Spielberg action films, the current of adventure in Raiders is traversed by a rugged male lead who forsakes convention and assistance. He is motivated to embark on his journey by self interest, but ultimately he embraces the role of hero. In 2019, we’ll have the opportunity to witness Spielberg and Disney again revive the franchise for the contemporary audience, but part of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark distinctive from its counterpart productions is that it strikes a chord that balances the seriousness of a formidable, realistic enemy against an almost juvenile insistence that the romp will be fun in spite of its gravity.
Tag: Indiana Jones
Not long ago Steven Soderbergh removed all of the color and sound from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in an attempt to better study the visual staging of Steven Spielberg’s massively influential adventure film. The theory – according to Soderbergh – is that “a movie should work with the sound off”, that the coordination and arrangement of the visual elements of the story should, essentially, tell the same story as the dialogue. With Raiders, the theory certainly holds water: from the thick rainforest and cobwebbed tunnels of the opening action sequence to the quiet Archeology classroom of the very next scene, from the snake-infested underground temple to the desert chase, the staging and pacing of the film is continuously surefooted. “No matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are,” Soderbergh writes – and the attention he calls to the visual aspect of Raiders proves that Spielberg’s dedication to a strong sense of story isn’t compromised by a black-and-white color palette or a bass-laden electronica soundtrack.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – 2008 – dir. Steven Spielberg
It was only a matter of time, I suppose, until aliens would show up in an Indiana Jones film. After countless screenwriters and even more countless drafts, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finally saw the light of cinemas nearly twenty years after the release of Last Crusade. The actual legend of the crystal skull concerns a series of artifacts discovered in Central and South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Explorers purportedly unearthed several carved quartz skulls, and it was claimed that these skulls possessed not only unimaginable powers but that they could not have been crafted by modern means. A 1996 BBC documentary investigation revealed that several crystal skulls that had been displayed in museums and held by collectors throughout the world were forgeries. However, there did indeed exist a few specimens whose construction defied conventional explanation.
Speaking of defying convention, Indiana’s fourth outing has been tossed about as one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) of the series. As an action film, it delivers, and Harrison Ford himself presents a terrific performance. So what’s the problem with Crystal Skull?
By Jessic O’Byrne
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – 1984 – Steven Spielberg
It would be easy to pick on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for its outdated and grandiose special effects or its condescending treatment of women, children, minorities, and essentially every other character in the film that is not played by Harrison Ford. It would be equally simple to write the film off as pure, unsubstantiated kitsch filled to the brim with unrealistic depictions of, sex, foreign cultures and academia. To do so, however, would be to stomp on the cavaliering dreams of the millions of little boys (and girls too, myself among them) who grew up in an era when our first glimpses of the outside world were broadcast to us in our cribs via TV and movies and our fictional heroes had to somehow be more grandiose than the already larger-than-life celebrities depicting them. The world has changed a lot since this film was originally released in 1984: we’ve all become a little older, a little fatter, and a little more politically correct. Temple of Doom offers viewers a chance to travel back to a simpler time when we could be satisfied with a tub of popcorn, and orange soda, and an entertaining (if not always fully engaging) adventure story. And so, as responsible stewards of our younger, less cynical (more easily amused) selves, we must throw aside our super PC mantles for a couple of hours in order to bask in the glory of all that is Indiana.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 1989 – dir. Steven Spielberg
Harrison Ford is in this movie too, but Indy for the first time takes a backseat to a character that is even more engaging than he is: his father.
A public left scratching their heads at the significance of Shiva Lingas identified far more readily with the lure of the Holy Grail. “Every man’s dream,” indeed.
Of course, the Holy Grail is a metaphor, and while it makes a physical appearance in this film, it stands for tempered wisdom, responsibility, and courage. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) says, “The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.” Indiana Jones, as he walks the breath, word, and path of God, demonstrates his humility, his wisdom, and his bravery. In short, Indiana must prove himself heroic to be worthy of the grail. Certainly, so must we all.
Serenity: Sci-Fi on the Raggedy Edge
If you’re familiar with writer-director Joss Whedon’s much-beloved 2005 science fiction film Serenity, you’ve likely heard the tale of the picture’s convoluted path to the big screen. It begins with the 2002 premiere and subsequent, swift cancellation of Firefly, Whedon’s hour-long TV series that fell victim to an impatient network (not to mention a dreadful ad campaign that featured Smash Mouth’s then-ubiquitous tune “Walking on the Sun”). Serenity picks up where Firefly was forced to leave off, and Firefly’s vocal fans (some who watched the initial broadcasts, many who were converted by the hot-selling DVDs of the series) embraced the big screen version, only too happy to have their favorite characters back. Fans championed the film with a missionary zeal; at the time of Serenity’s release, a story circulated about a Vancouver man who bought 320 tickets to the film just to give them away to strangers. Alas, Serenity didn’t set the box office aflame during its initial run, but it has predictably had a strong DVD afterlife, and indeed more staying power than the Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan (a massive hit, moneywise, in 2005) that held the number one box office spot when Serenity opened, or the Vin Diesel vehicle Doom (even that had a bigger opening weekend). Serenity’s charms are many whether you’re a newcomer or a diehard, and in the past few years it has settled comfortably into a position of rare prestige in the cinematic sci-fi canon.
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.
U.S.A, 1959. 136 min. MGM / Loew’s Inc. Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Ernest Lehman; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
During the 1950s and early 1960s there arose a type of film that I nebulously think of as the “cheerful Technicolor sex comedy.” Including such points on the spectrum as Daddy Long Legs, the Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bell Book and Candle, and I’d Rather Be Rich, these films have dated noticeably, but that’s part of the fun of watching them. Their particular brand of romance, especially if it had a cat-and-mouse quality, was found to blend nicely with an element of adventure. If you imagine a tale of such ilk crossed with an ultra-stylish suspensor of the noir mien, you get North by Northwest.