Celebrating Great Films

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Ark

#19 at time of writing.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

This is a near-perfect film, from back when George Lucas still had new ideas. Actually, it is perfect. A script full of wit, cracking characters, wonderfully tongue-in-cheek hokum, truly creepy bad guys...

It's the king of B movies, with a depth of attention to detail that surpasses even the best high-budget flicks. This movie has it all: action, romance, comedy, and suspense. From beginning to end you are hooked. Critic Bernard Weinraub said it best: "Deliriously funny, ingenious, and stylish." Harrison Ford is at his best as Dr. Jones. Can you imagine Tom Selleck as Indy, as was originally intended? Hm...

It starts with one of the most memorable opening sequences of all time, lifted from old Scrooge McDuck comics. Then it sprints from set-piece to brilliant set-piece, packed with iconic moments from the red line travelling across the map to the warehouse full of boxes.

Matt Groening has said that the secret of designing characters is to make them immediately recognizable in silhouette. Indy's fedora and whip ensures that he fulfills that criteria. The original kangaroo-hide bullwhip was sold in December, 1999 at Christie's auction house in London for $43,000, and again in 2008 for $57,500.

Indiana Jones

The infamous scene in which Indy shoots a flamboyant swordsman was not in the original script. Harrison Ford was supposed to use his whip to get the swords out of his attacker's hands, but the food poisoning he and the rest of the crew were suffering from made him too sick to perform the stunt. After several unsuccessful tries, someone made the off-handed remark, "Why doesn't he just shoot him?" Steven Spielberg immediately took up the idea. (But, someone tell me please, hadn't this already been done in a Bond film? You Only Live Twice or something?) Another great ad-lib was Indy's line to Marion when they are on the ship - "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage."

The music is fantastic - as good as Star Wars. But, unlike Star Wars, there are some scenes that dispense with music altogether (like the brawl in Marion's bar) and the tension is compelling on its own merit. The editing is ten times pacier than Star Wars. The cheesiness is a few Hobo Power units more tolerable.

Forget Star Wars. This is it.

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