Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I’m not going to beat around the bush. Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite movie of all time. Is it the “greatest” film of all time? Mmmmmmaybe. However, it’s certainly the one that brings me the most joy. This ultra-pulpy action-adventure flick just puts a big, dumb smile on my face and totally captures my imagination.

Archaeologist Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford) is recruited by the U.S. government in 1936 to go on a globe-trotting adventure to obtain the lost Ark of the Covenant, the gold box rumored to contain the original Ten Commandments, before Nazi Germany can. Stop and think about the plot too long and you might find it preposterous. Why is the American government so concerned about this artifact? Why are the Nazis in Egypt, which occupied by the British at the time? All of this being said, these thoughts won’t ruin the film for you, as the movie fully embraces and revels in its pulp origins. The motion picture’s enthusiasm is infectious and it clips along at a breakneck pace, thanks to its razor-sharp editing.

It should be noted that Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first entry into the Indiana Jones series, it not just some cheapo actioner that somehow acquired a cult following, explaining its popularity today. This mega-iconic film has phenomenal production values that makes it look like more than just some rough-and-tumble beat-’em-up. The aforementioned editing makes sure there’s not a wasted second and the genius musical score from John Williams is one of the very best ever composed. To say that the comic relief is effective is a dramatic understatement. I laugh frequently while watching this masterpiece. The film works magnificently as an action-adventure, but also contains strong elements of comedy, drama, romance, suspense, and even horror. There is also some great use of shadows and silhouettes, and the special effects are timeless. An appropriate sense of awe in the supernatural is instilled in the audience.

Of course, one of the primary reasons people watch an action-adventure movie is for the action scenes, and, boy, does Raiders deliver. The choreography, cinematography, editing, sound effects, special effects, daredevil stuntwork, tempo, music, etc. of these sequences are essentially perfect, creating an unforgettable adrenaline rush of an experience. These just may be the most well-rounded action scenes ever committed to film. The occasional Spielbergian time-stretching is only the icing on the cake.

Another key reason people watch action movies is for the hero, and Indiana Jones is simply the coolest fictional character of all time. College professor by day, and badass action hero by night, he’s tough, yet vulnerable, grounded, yet intellectual, competent, yet reliant on luck. Harrison Ford’s performance as this character seems effortless. To accompany him on his journey is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). Now, I usually don’t like romantic subplots in my action pictures, but I have no problem with Indiana and Marion’s relationship in this flick. They’re partners, they need each other, and both can handle themselves in a tough situation. The romance is natural and unforced.

What good is a fantastic hero if there’s no great villain? Well, Raiders has the entire Nazi Empire for Indiana Jones to take on. René Belloq (Paul Freeman) is a sneaky French archaeology with a sense of class who serves as Indy’s rival. Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey) is a ghoulish and sadistic Nazi agent on our heroes’ trails, while Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler) is the Nazi officer in charge of the excavation of the Ark.

From its atmospheric introduction in Peru to its amazing, spine-tingling ending, Raiders of the Lost Ark is cinematic ecstasy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

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