My Thoughts on: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

So as I was booking movie tickets last week, I was delighted to see that my local Regal Cinema was showing the 40th anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hard as it is to believe that this film is 40 years old, I couldn’t say no to the chance to see this film in theaters, as the only other opportunity I had to see this film on the big screen was five years ago when I got to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in concert (a fun experience, but not quite the same as seeing it in a theater).

I‘ll start off by saying that Raiders of the Lost Ark is just as good as I remembered. I grew up watching this film, seen it more times than I can count, and oh my goodness was it fun to see it play out in a movie theater. If you’re not familiar with this film, this is the first movie to feature Harrison Ford as archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones. A lot of the movie collections will actually retitle this film “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” but Raiders of the Lost Ark is in fact the proper title. And as the title implies, Indiana Jones is in search of the fabled Ark of the Covenant….but so are the Nazis (because this film is set in 1936 so of COURSE the Nazis are the bad guys).

Half of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark so amazing is John Williams’ phenomenal score. Williams has never done a bad film score, but I feel like this point in time was particularly good for him, as Raiders of the Lost Ark came out the year after Empire Strikes Back (and we all know how good THAT score is). My favorite musical moment in this film remains ‘The Map Room’ when Jones has to deduce where the Well of the Souls REALLY is (after learning that his rival doesn’t know after all). This is a perfectly shot scene and what makes it memorable is that the music does 90% of the work. From the moment the cue starts until the end, Harrison Ford doesn’t say a word because the music is telling the story for you.

And then there’s, of course, the story of the film itself. It’s classic good guy vs bad guy storytelling and even though I can quote most of the film from memory, it never ever gets old, that’s how good this film is. Something I’ve grown to appreciate over the rewatches is how this film subverts the adventure tropes that it claims to emulate. Examples include (but are not limited to): Indiana Jones is initially presented as a tough explorer, but he’s TERRIFIED of snakes; Jones steals a uniform from a Nazi guard but it doesn’t fit him when he tries to put it on (subverting the idea that the enemy uniform you steal will ALWAYS fit); Jones is also not as smart as he thinks he is, for proof I cite the opening scene when he tries to trick the booby trap into letting him remove the golden idol without setting it off.

I’m also a big fan of Paul Freeman’s Belloq, the French archaeologist who is Jones’ primary rival throughout the film. On the initial viewing, you might be inclined to just hate Belloq because he works with the Nazis, but the more you watch this film, the more you realize it’s not quite that simple. Sure, Belloq is on the wrong side of history (and he pays for it dearly), but his interest in the Ark is 100% genuine. Also, I think his feelings for Marion are real too, as he seems genuinely upset when Marion is thrown into the snake-filled Well of the Souls. Really, I just like that Belloq is a nuanced villain, in contrast to the Nazis who are just out and out evil.

One thing that’s always bothered me though is the ending. I can still remember watching this film as a kid and being absolutely bewildered that the last thing we see is the Ark getting shut up into a box and taken deep into a packed warehouse. It frustrated the heck out of me as a kid, and even though I sort of understand why the film ends this way, it still frustrates me now if I’m honest. I can’t help but agree with Jones’ final assessment “Fools…..bureaucratic fools. They don’t know what they’ve got there.”

Raiders of the Lost Ark may be 40 years old, but it’s only improved with age. If you get the chance to see this anniversary screening, please go watch, it’s an experience everyone should have at least once.

Let me know what you think about Raiders of the Lost Ark in the comments below and have a great day!

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