Raiders of the Lost Ark
***** (out of 4)
Review by Paul Preston
My favorite movie all time is back in theaters. Sorry, Bradley Cooper, I’ve no time for “The Words”, which is getting pretty much panned, or no time for “Bachelorette” of “For a Good Time, Call”, a couple of indie comedies that actually look pretty good. But not when the best movie ever is back on the big screen.
In conjunction with this month’s release of the entire Indiana Jones series on Blu-Ray, which includes three films and a fourth we don’t talk about, they’ve decided to put the newly-restored for Blu-Ray version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” back in IMAX cinemas for one week, so clear your schedule!
Good news, Spielberg didn’t go all George Lucas and change anything with the original. He didn’t swap out guns for walkie talkies like he did with the “E.T.” 20th anniversary re-release. This is “Raiders”, as you remember it, but a little crisper, cleaner and awesomer (some of the digital clean-ups made for the original DVD release, like removing the reflection of the cobra snake on the safety glass, remain).
Is this the best movie ever made? Well, the great thing about movies is that arguing what the best one of all time is can keep you arguing until you pass out. But this is certainly my favorite, hands down. Every element hits 100% – the actors, the gorgeous cinematography, the exotic locations (before filmmakers got lazy and shot with blue screens), the classic John Williams score, the smart and clever script, the non-stop, breathless action sequences and visual and sound effects that somehow stand the test of time rather well. The sequels of this franchise never quite matched the original’s brilliant mix of keeping the overall adventure’s stakes really high (and taking them seriously), while having fun doing it. There was a goofiness that infested the sequels that isn’t as satisfying as what you get here.
Need I tell you what it’s about? This is a combination of a fantastic pool of movie-makers. The great Lawrence Kasdan (“Body Heat”, “The Big Chill” and who also wrote the best “Star Wars” movie, “The Empire Strikes Back”), took a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman (who made “The Right Stuff”), and wrote a great screenplay about an archaeologist who needs to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do in 1936. If The Ark falls into the Nazi’s hands, they’ll use it’s power to destroy the world. So, they send one guy! It’s the best. Best hero ever invented, better than Bond, better than superheroes, a fallible, funny, tough-as-nails hero who you can see WORKING. It’s a struggle for him, and therefore, more fun for us.
And it’s not just the effects that stand the test of time. The entire movie holds up leagues better than most films made in 1981 (many of which are “stuck” in the ‘80s). What they have going for them right away is that it’s a period piece, much like “Animal House” holds up ‘cause it’s a ‘50s movie that keep from getting stuck in the ‘70s, when it was made. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is timeless (side note – if you haven’t seen “Ghostbusters” in a while, that movie amazingly escapes the ‘80s without looking dated, outside of some FX work – but the locations, clothes and dialogue stand the test of time amazingly).
“Raiders”, although nominated, failed to win Oscar’s Best Picture. It won four deserved Academy Awards, but I gotta admit, I still haven’t seen “Chariots of Fire” (the winner). I just know that if that film isn’t remotely as good as “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, I’ll start throwing things, and hurting the people around me. And no one wants that.
I must admit, the digital print wasn’t totally without flaws. There were some focus issues early that seemed to clear up as the film went along (perhaps an issue more with the projection than the file. But everything you know and love up on the big screen again – the scene where Indy has to take out a truckload of Nazis and steal the truck, the fistfight with the musclehead by the airplane, the Nepal tavern shootout, and, of course, the legendary opening scene awaits. The action is swift and huge and you’re absolutely swept away.
And as one who has seen this film over (at least) twenty-five times, I STILL saw some new things – Indy’s face isn’t just scared when he’s face to face with a cobra, it scrunches up like a five-year old eating broccoli. Hilarious. What really got me was the moment Indy first comes across the resting place of the ark. In the past I’ve seen that moment as “they’ve arrived”, but there’s a bigger arrival that Harrison Ford lives in for just long enough. There’s real significance in the slow reverence with which he approaches the Ark that wasn’t lost on me this time out.
That’s a testament to the masterfulness of this movie. No one’s in a hurry, no one’s showing off and there’s a confidence on display that carries the film to greatness.
This film is PG, but 1981 PG, when people weren’t so uptight. I was 11 years old and saw people’s faces melt in that movie and thought it was the most awesome thing I ever witnessed. But when Indy tells Marion to keep her eyes shut at the end, it may not be such bad advice for the very young.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Release Date: September 7, 2012
Run Time: 115 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures