“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“You want to talk to God? Let’s go see him together, I’ve got nothing better to do.”
Here we are, about a third of the way through this countdown, and we’re only now just getting to the first super fun, rollercoaster ride style blockbuster. Sure, we’ve had classic comedies like A Night at the Opera, song and dance frivolity with Swing Time, and kids’ movies that work well for adults too, like Toy Story. But the majority of this AFI 100 is so obsessed with drama and cinematic downers, Raiders of the Lost Ark simply sticks out more than pretty much anything else on there. And any excuse to rewatch this movie is a good thing.
In what is one of the best and most iconic opening sequences in cinematic history, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) basically commits a break an enter on a South American temple, stealing a golden idol. But just when he thinks he’s free and clear, rival archaeologist Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) manages to claim it for himself. But back home at his job teaching at a prestigious American college, he gets a new assignment that makes him forget about his stolen idol.
It’s 1936, so while WWII is still a few years away, the world is already concerned about Hitler’s Germany and the rise of the Nazis. And when the American government intercepts a German communique about the Nazi hunt for an artefact known as the Staff of Ra, they think the Americans should probably pursue it as well. According to Indy and his colleague, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot), the staff is the key to finding the Ark of the Covenant, the box said to hold the original stones of the Ten Commandments. And with the Ark, comes massive power that would make its holder invincible.
They know the Germans are looking for Indy’s old mentor, Abner Ravenwood, in connection to the staff. So they dispatch Indy to find him first. While Abner is hard to find, due to being dead, Indy does find Abner’s daughter, who just so happens to be Indy’s old flame, Marian (Karen Allen). Now, Indy and Marion are reluctant partners, heading to Cairo, with an evil Nazi interrogator, Toht (Ronald Lacey), hot on their heels.
Being a kid of the 80s, I’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark more than a few times. But this time around, I noticed something that I don’t think I’ve ever been consciously aware of before. Even thirty odd years ago, Harrison Ford had a bit of a crotchety, grumpy old man thing going. As Indiana Jones, you can tell he’s had plenty of these kinds of adventures before, and they’re not exciting to him, or threatening. They’re just another obstacle in his way. And thinking about it, he brought the same kind of attitude to Han Solo in the Star Wars movies as well.
Then there’s Marion, who I think represents the best and worst parts of this movie. On the one hand, they write her to be tough as nails, able to out drink and out fight any man on screen. And that’s awesome, it’s the kind of female character we don’t see enough in movies. But then, they almost immediately throw a lot of that the window out, just so she can be Indy’s damsel in distress.
But I can look past all of that, because this is a super fun, rollercoaster ride style blockbuster that totally deserves it place on this AFI list. With Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Speilberg and George Lucas took the old fashioned serials and matinee idols of the 40s and 50s, and made a modern hero for the 80s that has gone on to become one of cinemas great characters. Not only that, they managed to back it up with two amazing sequels that managed to live up to the high standard set by this opening chapter.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Chariots of Fire)
Best Director (Spielberg nominated, lost to Warren Beatty for Reds)
Best Art Direction
Best Film Editing
Best Visual Effects
Best Sound Effects Editing