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: Steven Spielberg
Almost everyday, Silicon Valley launches companies that strive to change the world with new technologies. Autonomous cars, for instance, similar to those featured in the 2004 movie I, Robot, are currently in the testing phase. Martin Cooper, who invented the first cell phone, has stated that the handheld communicators used by the members of the Enterprise on Star Trek inspired his invention. Another example of film and television’s influence on real-world technology is with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the film, Dr. Heywood Floyd, while en route to a space station, uses videoconferencing to wish happy birthday to his daughter. History is replete with such instances where the visionary creations in cinema inspired real-life inventions whose life-changing capacity in turn cements the legacies of these films.
Last year, the modern blockbuster celebrated its 40th anniversary. Following the success of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS, the Hollywood system once again smelled blood in the water. Two years later, it went in for the kill. The phenomenal returns for George Lucas’s STAR WARS (1977) made JAWS look like a guppy, and changed the media landscape forever. Q.E.D. But the legacy of STAR WARS, and the commercial resilience of the tent pole JAWS had raised, were cemented a few months later by Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: an obvious counterpart to Lucas’s film, but a different reaction to the same bloodied water.
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.
To call JAWS a classic film is an understatement. It is the yard stick against which every modern monster movie is measured. To this day, the film still draws crowds, drives Narragansett beers sales, and terrorizes skittish beach goers wherever a shoreline is visible. What is it about JAWS that is so alluring? What gives this film the ability to scare audiences as easily today as it did 38 years ago? It certainly isn’t the riveting dialogue, or advanced special effects. Rather than these, it is the film’s cinematography and camera work which make the shark attacks feel personal–a sensation that defies generations.
Jaws – 1975 – dir. Steven Spielberg
No critique by an amateur film critic could ever refute the monumental experience that is Jaws. It’s possible to examine the socio-political themes in Amity Island, the class struggles between characters, and the great battle of man versus nature; but to unveil a hidden flaw, an imperfect note in this film, is impossible. The film is good. So good in fact, most fans can probably recall their first time witnessing it, that experience of hiding behind their hands from an unseen monster. It’s cinema’s Moby Dick and once again, in the chaotic world outside the theater, we can again bear witness to life imitating art.
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.
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.