The Chronological Spielberg: Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Like many children of the 80s, I am a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movies. I actually like them all (yes all) and have a special affinity for Temple of Doom that I’ll get to after making my way through a few more Spielberg movies. As a young kid I didn’t have a ton of movies on VHS and yet I remember seeing the Indy movies as well as the Star Wars trilogy a lot on cable back then. I eventually got the box set form my grandparents while in college but haven’t really watched them a lot since then. Still, I like having my favorite movies in my possession so I can watch them whenever I do feel like it.

A few years ago, my wife and I did watch one of the Indy movies, I can’t remember exactly which one, but I think it was Raiders. Anyway, I was struck by how damn good the movie is. It should haven’t been a surprise, but I wasn’t sure if it was one of those things where the movie basically lived in an awesome space in my brain because I saw when I was young. I was glad to find that it really is an expertly put together film that not only pays homage to old adventure films, but also reinvented the genre using Spielberg’s ridiculous knowledge of film and film making.

Take the introduction of Indiana Jones for instance. We keep getting glances of him in bits and pieces, but never the full look until we’re granted something epic showing how cool and brave he is. But, the point of the film isn’t to show a perfect hero, so we see him get screwed over a few times and then in his school environment where, even though he’s handsome and the ladies love him, he’s still kind of awkward. This is not his true environment and it shows. And of course, not long after this he gets ANOTHER awesome reveal when he shows up at Marion’s bar as a gigantic, looming, context-filled shadow. Boom.

Which brings me to another wonderful aspect of this movie: Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. She’s brave and powerful and vulnerable and resourceful and can drink like a damn champion, all qualities that don’t just appeal to me but make her incredibly human and real. She’s not one of these one-not female characters who either plays the damsel or needs no man to help her, she’s a rounded, full character, one that I’m drawn to. I was really excited when I found out she was involved in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and enjoy how that story ended up.

I also want to talk about something I almost never do when writing about movies: sound effects. I realized while watching this movie again that the effects for certain things in this movie are ingrained in my thinking. When I think of someone punching someone, I think of Indy punching a guy. Of course, the crack of the whip is in there too, but so is the sound of that propeller plane. That’s a pretty incredible impact the more I think about it.

All of this is even more impressive when you think about how uneven and mark-missing 1941 was (at least in my opinion). While I barely cared about anyone in that film, I don’t think there was a character in this movie that I didn’t love or hate or feel something in between for. This is the Spielberg who made the incredible Close Encounters and Jaws, this is a Spielberg who understands his strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to create a hero that has proven to stand the test of time, something most people dream of. I wonder how much of that came from screenwriters George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan and how much was Spielberg, but regardless of the breakdown, it shows wonderfully on screen.

For what it’s worth Lucy seemed to get pretty caught up in the story as well, so that’s something.

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