Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Raiders of the Lost Ark

It's time for Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch something in my library and blog about it, because I don't have a life.  I never know what to write when it comes to these truly legendary, much-beloved classics.  Books have been written on them, many another critic has heaped praise on them...so what more can I add?  But yet, I try once again as we look at Raiders of the Lost Ark.  This shows up in my notes at October 19, 2013.  

Raiders of the Lost Ark poster

Well, then, shall we tackle George Lucas's other big franchise?

The Indiana Jones films made their big debut on Blu-Ray about a year ago. I'd been wanting to upgrade. I'd been waiting until they dropped below $50 in price. I think I've mentioned before that $50 is my upper echelon...any more than that I don't buy. That being said, I recently, finally got myself a high-definition television, and I figured some new Blu-Rays were due to break it in. I looked at Indiana Jones and said, "What they hey?" And I bought it out of the States, which was just $40, so my principles weren't violated.

As much as Star Wars, Indiana Jones is just part of the background noise of my childhood. The fedora, the whip, the iconography, it's all there. Indiana Jones is a huge part of the 1980s, and it's still there.

I don't think I need to recount the tale of its making, as books have been written on it. On a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, it was rightly described as "the love child of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas." Two filmmakers who started reshaping Hollywood when they burst onto the scene in the mid-70s, and this is the franchise they chose to collaborate on.

I'll just hit the high points, though. According to legend, the year was 1977. George Lucas taking some much-earned time off after Star Wars hit theatres, and Steven Spielberg was also taking some time to himself before his sci-fi opus, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, hit theatres. So they were just hanging out. This being California, they were hanging out on the beach. And Spielberg was a little depressed. Spielberg had always been a James Bond geek, and his negotiations with the Bond producers about doing a Bond film had fallen apart. Spielberg told this story to Lucas, and Lucas said, "Ya know, I've got an idea for a film. It's kinda like James Bond, but better."

And Lucas told Spielberg the outline he'd hammered out for Raiders of the Lost Ark...an update of the classic film serials he'd watched on TV when he was a kid. Spielberg said he'd make that film, and the rest is history.

But they needed their hero...they needed their main character...Indiana Smith. Spielberg was convinced that Harrison Ford was the right guy for the role. Lucas agreed, but Lucas was hesitant. Lucas already put Ford in the Star Wars films and American Graffiti, and he didn't want to get the reputation for putting Ford in all his films. (See the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp relationship for a modern day example.) So, they started casting, and they found their perfect Indiana Smith in Tom Sellick. With their hero in hand, they were ready to start filming, but o no! This TV series that Sellick was starring in called Magnum PI got picked up for a full season, and Sellick had to bow out to be Magnum. So Spielberg went back to Lucas and said, "Now can we get Harrison Ford?" And Lucas agreed. Spielberg also suggested that "Indiana Jones" had a better ring to it than "Indiana Smith," so they changed the character's name and the rest is history.

When I was seven years old, 1984, I became obsessed with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (more on that when we do Temple of Doom). And it was that obsession that finally drove me to seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. Back in those days, you had to rent both the movies AND the VCR because VCRs weren't commonplace yet. There we were in our local movie rental place, perusing the movies, when my brother pointed out Raiders of the Lost Ark to me. "Is that Indiana Jones?" said my brother.

"Yes it is! Is Raiders of the Lost Ark an Indiana Jones movie?" My brother nodded in agreement. We knew then, we had to rent this and watch this movie. So we did.

My memories of watching Raiders for the first time at the tender age of 7 all involve the blood. I remember the death of the German mechanic and his blood spattering all over the tail of that airplane. I remember the scene in the Well of Souls when they're trying to escape and Marion gets swarmed with the corpses. And of course, I remember the face-melting, head-exploding climax. I remember the blood and not much else. The Indiana Jones movies do get pretty bloody.

I really didn't see Raiders of the Lost Ark again until college. There was a stretch in the late 1990s when it seemed to be on basic cable at least once a month, so there was more than one Sunday afternoon where I watched it on TV instead of studying. At that age, I was finally able to watch it and appreciate it and see beyond the blood. And the film I saw was...pretty good.

I know that Raiders of the Lost Ark is considered the true classic of the franchise, and many declare it the greatest action/adventure movie ever made, if not the greatest movie ever made. And it might be somewhat blasphemous, but I prefer Last Crusade. It all comes down to tone. Raiders is very, very serious, but Last Crusade has a lighter touch. And I like a lighter touch in my action/adventure films.

I'm sure you're familiar with the plot. Indiana Jones, renowned archeologist, is contacted by the US government one day. The Nazis have a massive archeological dig going on in Egypt, and they want to know why. Deciphering the intel the government agents share, Indy determines that the Nazis are after the Ark of the Covenant. According to Biblical lore, the Ark of the Covenant contains the fragments of the original Ten Commandments, and it can be used to harness the power of God. Such a relic could make the Nazis unbeatable. So Indy is charged to find the Ark before the Nazis do.

First thing Indy has to do is track down his old mentor Abner Ravenwood, as he has a relic that points the way to the Ark's burial place. Abner and Indy haven't talked in years, though, as Indy romanced Abner's daughter Marion, and broke her heart. Indy heads to Nepal, the Ravenwoods' last known location, and he finds that Abner is long dead...but Marion is still very much alive, and very bitter. The Nazis show up and a battle ensues, and when Marion's tavern is destroyed in the fight, Marion declares herself Indy's partner, as she's coming along to recoup her losses.

I will agree with one bit of praise heaped upon Raiders of the Lost Ark, Marion Ravenwood is the best female character in the entire franchise. She's not a shrieking damsel in distress, she truly is Indy's partner. She's able to keep up with him, blow for blow, and she's good in a fight. She is a great, strong, female character.

Indy and Marion head off to Cairo, and begin their own search for the Ark, accompanied by Indy's contact in Cairo, Sallah. With the Nazis digging in the wrong place, Indy and Sallah soon find the correct resting place of the Ark, and are able to recover it. But, the Nazis discover them, steal the Ark from them, then Indy steals it back, the the Nazis steal it again, and they take it to a deserted island to test its power, the godless Nazis get their faces melted, and Indy takes the Ark back to the States where it'll be looked after by "top men."

As I said, you know the plot, you can fill in the blanks.

Oh, and of course, when it comes to films of this era, have to throw a ton of praise on John Williams' score. I love his Ark of the Covenant theme. It's like the evil twin of the Force theme he wrote for Star Wars. (Kicks in at the 30s mark in the video.)

So much of this film has become iconic.  There's not much more to be said.  It truly is deserving of its title as being one of the best...if not my favourite. 

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