This week on Movies Worth Rewatching we’re continuing our spotlight on the films of Steven Spielberg with a look back at one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Paramount Pictures).
I can’t tell you the first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark as it was quite some time ago. For as long as I can remember, this film has literally been a regular part of my entertainment regiment. So this week I might just have to skip past the usual “remember when” portion of my column. Raiders is great. I want to be Indiana Jones. You now know the story.
So how does it hold up 31 years after it’s initial release?
Raiders of the Lost Ark is an absolute blast to watch! There are some films that come together so perfectly, creating a cinematic juggernaut that will live on forever. Raiders is definitely one such film. The story, which serves as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’s love letter to the adventure serials of old, features enough action and adventure to fill a whole trilogy of films while still remaining fun and entertaining. Don’t attempt to read too far between the lines though, Raiders of the Lost Ark was meant to entertain and not much else, but boy does it do that well.
The film features the career breakout role of Harrison Ford as the movie’s titular character, Indiana Jones. Hard as it is to imagine now, back in 1981 Ford was an “unproven” actor, despite the success of his part in the Star Wars movies. Raiders was the first of many great roles to come that proved Harrison Ford was so much more than just Han Solo and was capable of carrying a film as a leading man. In his performance as Indiana Jones, we find all the tough guy resilience we want in a nostalgic two-fisted hero, wrapped in a charming stubbornness with hints of a repressed romantic peeking through occasionally.
The supporting cast of Raiders doesn’t just sit back and let Harrison Ford take all the credit though. Karen Allen plays the second best son-of-a-bitch that cinema has ever seen (second only to Miller’s Crossing‘s Tom Raegan) and, quite possibly, the only female character in movie history tough enough to earn that title. Paul Freeman plays the inexplicably evil Belloq with extreme relish, even going so far as to throw an evil laugh our way. The real scene stealer for me is the always delightful John Rhys-Davies as Indiana Jones’s noble fried, Sallah. Ryhs-Davies lights up the screen with a character so full of life, love and pleasure that I can’t help but smile every time he’s on the screen.
Beyond it’s engaging and fun characters, the numerous spectacular stunts that appear throughout Raiders of the Lost Ark secure its place in cinema history. Tireless fist fights, exploding cars and planes, hanging from ledges, this film’s got it all. Most notably, one of my favorite stunts of all time appears in this film, involving the great Vic Armstrong hanging onto the bumper of a moving truck before sliding underneath it. To this day, that 20-second clip never fails to entertain me and rings in my head as one of the more impressive feats ever captured on film.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is without a doubt high on my list of the greatest movies of all time. It’s not great because of some large intellectual concept or mind expanding social commentary, its greatness is purely derived from its unabashed joy in entertaining an audience through tongue-in-cheek cliché and non-stop action. Raiders of the Lost Ark was made lovingly for the 8-year old adventurer in all of us. I’ve watched it more times than I can remember (heck, twice already this week) and will continue watching it again and again, year after year. Its various scenes and quirks are familiar to me like an old friend and it is my cinema junk-food equivalent to my favorite home cooked meal (my mother’s meatloaf). Raiders of the Lost Ark is currently available on DVD and is soon to be released on Blu-ray in the upcoming Indiana Jones boxset. If you’ve never seen it before, do yourself a huge favor and check it out. If you have seen it before, and that wasn’t in the past 24 hours, go ahead and watch it again (you know you want to). Raiders of the Lost Ark is the kind of fun that movies were made for and I can’t recommend it to you enough.
by Mel Dale