Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

The epitomization of the Action/Adventure genre, Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a wry ’80’s biblical mystery epic with breathtaking action scenes, bureaucratic/religion/archeological themes, a celebratory Williams score, & one Ford’s best characters: Dr. Indiana Jones. 9.4/10

Plot Synopsis: Renowned archeologist and professor of antiquities Dr. Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. Government to find the Ark of the Covenant, a Biblical relic believed to still hold the Ten Commandments. However, Hitler’s men are also after the Ark, leading to a race by Indy and ex-lover Marion to get to the powerful relic before evil does.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Secrets Of Civilizations

After The Breakaway Success Of The Star Wars Films, Lucasfilm Is Back To Recreate The Magic Of ’40’s Serial Comic Adventures

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

After the smash-hit box office and critical success of The Star Wars Films (Ep. IV & V), Lucasfilm craved more with an insatiable cinematic hunger by which the blockbuster world had never seen before by a independent studio so comparatively-tiny. The firm went from a team of only five to over 100, still fractions of pennies to the millions of dollars of big-budget Hollywood studios both metaphorically and financially, and decided to partner with Paramount & imagineer Stephen Spielberg to bring another epic vision they had to the big screen: Indiana Jones. What amounted was a breathtaking adventure film just as powerful and poignant as A New Hope – in a completely different motif, one that reverberated historical/archeological themes that has fascinated mankind for centuries and catapulted Ford to the highest rank of actors in the world (perhaps, to-date, the Greatest Movie Career of All-Time). The epitomization of the Action/Adventure genre, Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a wry biblical mystery epic loaded with breathtaking action scenes, a celebratory Williams score amongst the best ever in blockbusters, clever governmental/religion/archeological themes, and one of Ford’s best performances ever: Dr. Indiana Jones – despite The Big Bang Theory flaw.

One Of The Greatest Establishment Scenes

Perhaps The Best Opening Scene Ever Rivaled By TDK’s Bank Heist, A Masterpiece Of Pure Adventure & Treasure Hunt Thrills

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

One of the greatest establishment scenes ever made, Raiders Of The Lost Ark opens into a masterpiece of pure adventure and mystery-intrigue. The senses are provoked by shadowy figures moving throughout a zoomed-frame of a jungle in what appears to be South America – only to discover the remains of an ancient civilizational Mayan/Aztec-esque ruin hidden deep beneath all the flora and fauna. We see the clear-dominant leader of the group heroically travel inside the cave without fear – throughout cobwebs of mammoth sized orange-and-black tarantulas, limitless booby-traps, bottomless pits, and a golden idol sitting suspiciously open at the end of a large atrium for him to get (only for the cave to collapse and a giant boulder to nearly flatten him).. all without so much as a single iota of ostensible fear and with surgical precision, a fact that makes his indigenous counterpart Satigo right behind him gawk in awe. The scene is a legendary opening and masterclass in how to establish/set-up a film – through the technical use of a ‘surrogate’ that personalifies the audience into the role of the onlooker Satigo, brilliant mysterification of who is this clearly-gifted & capable treasure-hunter/adventurer with his face always-obscured by shadow dodging certain death and who is the villain who takes his find after the harshest of escapes, the highest of epic blockbuster action we would normally see not in the opening frames but halfway or the end of the movie, and plot-miniaturization being the same plot/characters/goals as the main plot of the film on a smaller (appetizer) treasure & scale.

The Set Pieces & Direction

From Egyptian Pharaoh Tombs To Mayan Temple Jungle Ruins To Gigantic Boulders, A Background Of A+Set Design To Breathe Life

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

What really sets the opening scene apart as one of the greatest achievements in ’80’s moviemaking and blockbuster history – as well as the rest of the film – though, is the set-pieces and direction. The avant-garde decision to subvert classical storytelling and cinematic conventions by starting with a big blockbuster epic piece right at the beginning is Spielberg innovation at its finest – but it wouldn’t even be effective if not for the magnificent set-design and people behind the scenes. Bringing to life such jaw-dropping set pieces as ancient Mayan/Aztec-inspired ruins with golden idols in the jungle aesthetic, Egyptian pyramidal pharaoh tombs complete with godlike statues and hieroglyphs as far as the eye can see, snake-puts, tarantula-cobwebs, rock islands in Greece with bottomless caverns built at for military vessels, and everything in the between is a limitlessly-difficult accomplishment – especially in the ’80’s, where tech was still comparatively-nescient but starting to evolve to the point where things like this were plausible but took hard work-ethic and craftsmanship to achieve. It’s no surprise the film won the award for Best Production Design at the 54th Academy Awards. The way Raiders Of The Lost Ark paints these scenes though is fringed with a seriously-impressive motif that reverberates through the rest of the film: respect/appreciation for history and archeology.

The Thrills Of History

A Respect For The Civilizations & History Of The Past; A Brilliant Angle For A Blockbuster Drawing On Mankind’s Deepest Mysteries

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

‘Jones, you & I are just passing through history; This [is] history.’ The backbone of the entire film is the pure love of history and archeology that drives Indiana Jones and the characters around the canvas. There is a mega-refreshing eulogization of the record of civilizations and differences-of-thought that has shaped the history of mankind – from governmental to religious to ideological; the preservation and knowledge-gained by history is what Jones lives on, for example not even being able to save the day by destroying the relic ark in classic-heroicism fashion when he has a clear shot because of its historical significance and how much he cares and going on these escapades for artificats not for money or fame but the thirst for academia. The story itself is a case study of the evils of Nazi Germany, heroicism of the United States of America, and ancient treasures of Biblical nations as well as those hiding in ancient parts of the world like South America & The Middle East – making points about the cycle of history when we fail to respect and follow its warnings like that which happened to Belloq and the Nazis when they opened the Ark centuries of knowledge and relics told them not to just like it did back in Israel & how some things never change like bureaucratic interference and hammering down of imagination/potential/knowledge-expansion of the mysteries of our universe and of life sequestered metaphorically and physically in backroom-warehouses under security clearances with as many historical-mysteries as the eye can see. The thrills of which are foundational to the protagonist and star of the show: Dr. Indiana Jones.

The Performances

A Collection Of A+ Performances, Led By Ford’s Career Gruffy, Masculine, Charming, Duality-Expositional Dr. Indiana Jones

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

A film is only as good as its performances though – no matter how brilliant it is screenwriting-wise. Luckily for Raiders Of The Lost Ark, it’s punctuated by some of the greatest characters and acting in the history of the Action/Adventure genre. Of course, 95% of the magic of ROTLA is in Harrison’s Ford iconic, generational Dr. Indiana Jones – it’s one of the best performances of his career and what skyrocketed him even further into becoming one of the Top 3 ultimate movie stars in the history of movies (with Star Wars & Apocalypse Now behind him and Blade Runner coming out the next year alone – that’s unbelievable). The powerful duality with which he plays a badass, capable, machismo, taciturn ’80’s adventurer straight out of serial comics by night and timid, composed, astute, charming university professor of archeology by day is masterful – the type of physicality-driven and existential impossibility reminiscent of Reeves’ ’78 Superman. This brain-and-brawn PhD/expert-on-the-occult/obtainer-of-rare-antiquities is juxtaposed with multiple other personalities and performances on the sidelines to boost the dramaticism of the story – from the spunky firecracker love interest of Nepal bartender and strong female lead of Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood (one of the strongest female leads of the ’80’s) to teddy bear-ish best friend of John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah to bone-chilling Nazi-muscle of Ronald Lacey’s Major Tohl to Paul Freeman’s masterful antagonist Dr. Renée Belloq provoking fear and a perfect opposite counterpart to Jones being of the same origin but utilizing his ‘powers’ for evil & profit without even looking like a villain beyond ideological complexity.

An Amalgamation Of Genres

A Collection Of Action Scenes & Adventure That Defines What The Genre Is At Max – with Romance, Spy, Mystery, & Horror Too

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Raiders Of The Lost Ark also manages to astound with its magnificent blend of genres and tone. The film is quintessential Action/Adventure; it might just be the 20th Century’s best example of the genre at maximum performance. Scenes like the iconic opener tomb-raid, rotating plane fist-fights, and jaw-dropping car chase one featuring stuntwork beneath moving trucks are exhilarating beyond comparison and a textbook example on how to get pulses-rattled through the magic of moviemaking: a veritable clinic. But to simply characterize it as only an adventure film would be a gross understatement of all it achieves. Spielberg manages to inject romance, spy-thrills, mystery, comedy, and horror into the limitless imagination canvas too, as only he could juggle so deftly for one of the most diverse blockbusters of its era. There is something for everyone on this ride: a love-triangle between Indiana, Marion, and Belloq, spy-thriller race-against-time complete with epic trenchcoat and governmental secrets hidden in magnanimous backroom-warehouses, comedy of wry jokes like a man showing off fine sword skills to intimidate Indy in Cairo – only for Indy to shoot him with the more advanced pistol, mystery of Biblical proportions of what hides inside the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of God himself, and horror of snake-pits, mutilated corpses hung as decorations for eternity in ruins, and literal face-melting that will evoke even the most seasoned scare-veteran’s respect for its ghastliness & unforgettability.

The Cinematography

A Primordial Lens Through Which This Revisionist Archeological Epic Is Captured; Together With Its Set Pieces Pure Gold

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The cinematography is also brilliant, a canvas by Douglas Slocombe that, together with the VFX & production design put career work into painting the film’s wild and out-there events so realistically and tangibly – unsurprisingly, being nominated for a clean sweep in Best VFX, Editing, Production Design, & Cinematography while winning in 3 of the 4. Together, the visual packaged accomplished in Raiders is one of pure adventure, breathtaking archeological history, and the mysteries of God. The aesthetic makes you want to go explore and is compositionally-inspired in even the smallest of details like perfect centrality and POV-shot use in the opening scene to evoke extra investment in the role of Indiana Jones ocularly – and one of our favorite shots in cinematic history in the golden-hued, mirage-sunset men-at-work shot in the mysterious deserts of Egypt with the white man standing over them (a shot indicative and referential to slavery as engrained in American and World History that it was the means of how they built the pyramids in the first place thousands of years ago). The visual cues often highlight the plot’s best parts in portraying the Nazis as shadowy spectres of evil lurking behind magazine covers and in dark trenchcoats and consistently touting the blood-red vexillology of their hate-symbol flag right at us in the audience by-frame, as well as the heroicism of Jones and his crew of protagonists bolstered by the use of a classic John Williams score.

The Score

A Classic Williams Score That Punctuates Scenes with Acoustics; Light Trombones, Airy Keys, Epic Drums, & Diverse Range

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The maestro John Williams has done it again – ROTLA boasts a classic blockbuster score I feel like I’m running out of hyperbole to ascertain. What begins as an atmospheric dread peppered by tribal drumtaps and xylophonics in the opening South American temple raid evolves into big booming orchestral shakes auricularly mimicking the collapse of the ruin onto itself and giant boulder both trying to get he who dare disturb the resting place of the sacred idol, aka only someone as demented as Indy. From his escape there of the ruins and onslaught of native peoples chasing after him with poison-darts, the film’s main theme slays everything in its path: a sequence of triumphant horns in a high-pitch, light trombone timbre that feels exceptionally triumphant and captures the pure comic serial joy of classic heroic epics straight out of a ’40’s serial Spielberg claimed was the singular focus here. The film even reverberates the cultural soundscapes of its physical surroundings when it shifts locations around from everywhere by Nepal to Egypt to Islands off the coast of Greece – while being crisply-edited and recorded. It’s sacrilege that Williams lost the Academy Award for Best Score here nominated to Vangelis’ Chariot Of Fire – but at least it was runner-up while multiple other Oscar’s were won for Sound & Sound Editing.

The Themes & Morality Parable

The Punishment Of Evil In Nazis, Religious/Moral Themes Of Piety & Ethics; The Duty Of Archeology, Bureaucracy, History, & Lines Mankind Shouldn’t Cross

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

ROTLA is one of the most thematically-resonant and referential blockbusters ever made. The film is a pastiche of cinema – blending multiple genres from comedy to romance to horror to spy-mystery into what Spielberg aptly-titled a ‘tribute to filmmaking’. Referenced are tons of classic films like Citizen Kane, Buck Rogers, Zorro’s Fighting Legions, Yojimbo, Lawrence Of Arabia. The film reverberated contemporary era-fears of the time like the security of Americans and gave them a fantasy escapism at a critical time after the national embarrassments of Watergate and The Vietnam War in the ’50’s-’70’s. Faith and morality are everpresent themes in the film too: the punishment of evildoers in Nazis and saviorship of the good, both in God and Indiana Jones. The Jewish heritage of Spielberg drives the narrative: it is very much a fantasy chastisement and embarassment of the Nazi’s by the clear mention of the ark and Ten Commandments being given to the Jewish people by God, irony of the Nazi’s having to use and lust after a Jewish artifact to subjugate the world like they did the Jews in their genocidal horrors only to have them be the ones to experience the horror hand-delivered by God while the heroes are the only ones left unharmed, and active rejection of the Nazi’s the ark does throughout like burning the crate’s swastika symbol while leaving the crate itself unharmed. However, it feels exceptionally American in classic good-vs-evil adventure/fantasy epic wherein heroicism triumphs and good defeats evil. Greed and deception are also important, with punishment of the amorality of them – with Satipo dieing seconds after betraying Jones, Belloq being singularly-driven by it in his conquests, and even Jones being partially-driven by the prestige of finding the ark and being unable to destroy it when given a clear RPG shot on the mountain.

The Big Bang Theory Flaw

As WB’s Hit TV Show Pointed Out: Indy Doesn’t Make A Difference In The Final Outcome Of The Story; An Epic Plothole

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Flaws in Raiders Of The Lost Ark went ~unnoticed for decades – with near-universal praise, until October 10, 2013. A TV sitcom by WB by the name of The Big Bang Theory, following the exploits of brilliant theoretical physicists and geek-culture at Caltech, aired an episode called ‘The Raiders Minimization’ – and, quite honestly, might’ve ruined ROTLA. The episode makes the bombshell discovery and conclusion that Indiana Jones makes no difference in the events of Raiders Of The Lost Ark – the Nazi’s would’ve eventually found the ark, opened it, and died regardless of Jones’ presence. The crew spends the whole episode thinking of ways to disprove this dark hypothesis about one of their favorite movies, but fails. First, they claim that the Nazi’s were digging in the wrong place and wouldn’t have found the ark if not for Indy. Then, they remember that Belloq-and-co. were only digging in the wrong place because Jones got to the medallion first and, without his presence, they would’ve had the medallion and found the ark first – and faster, if anything. Finally, they rewatch the film with a disgusted scowl as the end-credits roll – coming to the conclusion that the only thing Jones really accomplished was to get the ark delivered to the warehouse for ‘proper filing and storage’ (‘like a hero!’ they celebrate as we’re meant to laugh at them for clinging so desperately & excitedly to such a lame accomplishment: Jones being resorted from badass adventurer-hero.. to a glorified mailman). The episode ends with them remembering that Jones was supposed to deliver to a museum for analysis and historical significance – but couldn’t even manage to do that, as they all groan in disappointment.

The Big Bang Theory Flaw

As WB’s Hit TV Show Pointed Out: Indy Doesn’t Make A Difference In The Final Outcome Of The Story; An Epic Plothole

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

All of these conjectures are correct: Indiana Jones basically-accomplishes nothing in the narrative of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and we’re as disappointed as you are. Fanbases have tried desperately to debunk the theorization – claiming that Belloq might’ve died in pursuit of the Aztec idol at the film’s beginning if Jones hadn’t gotten it first, the ark is out of the hands of the Nazi’s so that is alone a win and it might’ve killed Hitler if opened for him or been able to be weaponized, and they might not have known about Ravenwood if not for Indiana’s connection to him. All of these are, unfortunately, conjecture with no definitive proof and even some analytical flaws: it is not posited that Belloq would’ve tried to snatch the golden idol himself from the ruins but instead knew that Indy was going after it and hired the indigenous tribe to take it from him (the tribe also could’ve helped him retrieve with native secrets as well it if they were that willing to help him steal it from Indy) and Belloq is a gifted adventurer too, no one can use the ark because of God’s wrath and t1930’s technology was archaic and wildly-incapable of weaponizing a force like that – plus the Nazi’s clearly say they would never bring it to the Fuhrer without testing and making sure the Commandments are there and worked, and a criminal organization as powerful as the Nazi party would’ve easily had the resources to be able to find out about the world’s leading expert on the subject they’re after in Ravenwood. The Big Bang Theory arc about the ark single-handedly dropped our ROTLA score out of the top films of all-time in the 9.7/10-10/10 range to the amazing but just outside the G.O.A.T.’s: 9.2/10-9.4/10. The glaring story problem is a massive detraction from all that Raiders accomplishes – a plothole as epic as its Biblical scale and one that must be taken into consideration and dropped the score as it would’ve 10x over for most other films. While the rest of the film is SO good that it deserves a pass and the flaw does not necessarily ‘ruin Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ as the TV sitcom claimed, it certainly affects it and, unequivocally, a big flaw.

Conclusion

The Epitomization Of Action/Adventure

A Blockbuster Magic As Epic As Its Subject Lore That Combines Genres & Complex Themes Too – A Movie Experience Of Biblical Proportions w/ A Classic Ford Lead

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Overall, Raiders Of The Lost Ark is one of the greatest blockbusters of all-time. The film is perhaps the ultimate definition of what it means to be an adventure film – recreating the magic of ’40’s serial comic adventures generations read as children in a perfect translation to the big screen that manages to also sneak in comedy, horror, romance, spy thrills, and mystery for a wowing Spielberg mix of genres. A combination of fantasy and cinematic motion, ROTLA reinfused life back into the box office after years of declining profits, together with Reeves’ Superman II it mirrors tonally and its protagonist reverberates brilliantly in duality-exposition with old-fashioned American heroic charm. The film inspired many to go into archeology and historical analysis as a field, and the serving of pure escapist entertainment experience came as the perfect elixir/antidote to U.S. citizens wanting to escape the national embarrassments of Watergate and The Vietnam War. A beautiful, soaring, 5x-Oscar nominated masterclass of how to make blockbuster thrills with charming classicism we can all root for while sneaking advanced underlying themes like punishment of evil & greed + religion and the importance of history, ROTLA is a blockbuster above most others. The epitomization of the Action/Adventure genre, Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a wry biblical mystery epic loaded with breathtaking action scenes, a celebratory Williams score amongst the best ever in blockbusters, clever governmental/religion/archeological themes, and one of Ford’s best performances ever: Dr. Indiana Jones – despite The Big Bang Theory flaw.

Official CLC Score: 9.4/10