Oscar Vault Monday – Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 (dir. Steven Spielberg)

I love Raiders of the Lost Ark so much. It’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I can’t think of a better adventure story and I do believe Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas and Philip Kaufman created something close to perfect with the character of Indiana Jones. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Score John Williams and won four – Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. It also received a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing. It was up against Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Reds and winner Chariots of Fire. Of those, I’ve only seen Chariots of Fire and I must say it is one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. It really disappointed me. This was another one of those years were the “art” movie won over the popular movie. The thing is, half the time that happens I agree withe the Academy’s decision and half the time I disagree wholeheartedly. This is one of those times where I disagree.

What I love so much about this movie, is it’s a perfect combination of action and adventure and comedy and romance. It’s like the writers took all their favorite genres and threw them in a blender and ended up with the best mixture ever. It features some of my favorite contemporary actors and my favorite actress from the 80s. It also contains my favorite performance from Harrison Ford. I mean, Indiana is my favorite of all the characters he’s played and he was never as good as he is in this first film. Although, I will say he’s pretty great in the third film when they throw Sean Connery as his father into the mix. Definitely one of the most perfect father/son casting decisions in Hollywood history.

The very first scene is just so wonderful. It’s part thriller, part action, part comedy, part adventure and completely fun. My father is an archaeologist, so I know I can’t talk about this film without mentioning that Indy is more on par with a pot-hunter than an archaeologist and because of these films there’s a lot of misconceptions about what archaeologists actually do. That being said, this opening scene establishes a level of energy and fun that continues throughout the film.

Also, the scene with Indy back at his university job did a lot for the sexiness of tweed-clad college professors in glasses, if I must say so myself. I would definitely take a class from Professor Jones if given the chance. It’s just such a great juxtaposition from the version of Indy to which we’re first introduced.

And yes I have included a third picture of Harrison Ford. I love all the costumes they have him in throughout the film. He looks good in all of it. Apparently Ford was Spielberg’s first choice for the role, but George Lucas had already used him in several of his films and didn’t want him to become “his Bobby DeNiro” – in reference to Scorsese using Robert DeNiro in a lot of his films. So as the story goes, they auditioned several lesser known actors, including Tim Matheson, Peter Coyote, John Shea, and Tom Selleck. Selleck was then offered the role, but had to turn it down because of his commitment to Magnum, P.I. Three weeks before filming began Spielberg convinced Lucas to cast Ford, and the rest, as they say, is history. The thing is, I could kind of see Selleck in this role, but he’d have made it more of a comedy role. I can’t imagine him being as stoic as Ford often is. But then I also can’t imagine anyone else playing Thomas Magnum, so I’m really glad the casting went the way it did.

Karen Allen is my favorite actress from the 80s. She gave some of my favorite performances in the late-70s and into the 80s, including in Animal House and Starman. But my absolute favorite is as Marion Ravenwood in this film. From the very first time we meet her character, out drinking men twice her size in a tiny little hole-on-the-wall bar in Nepal. I like how, unlike the women in the sequels, she can really take care of herself. She is no damsel in distress. She’s a tough woman and Allen plays her to perfection.

This film marks the debut of Alfred Molina. He’s only in the first scene, but what a memorable scene it is. He gives a crazed, almost maniacal performance and in the end gets what’s coming to him. It’s a great role to introduce such a wonderful and versatile actor to the world.

I love John Rhys-Davies, mostly because he was so great in the sci-fi television show from the 90s, Sliders, but also because he is so wonderful as Sallah in this film (and the 3rd film). He’s jovial and loyal and has great on-screen friend chemistry with Ford. Apparently Spielberg originally had Danny DeVito in mind for this role, but was unable to cast him due to a scheduling conflict. I’m not sure if I can see the role working with DeVito in it, he’s a little too squirrely I think.

I feel like I have to mention Ronald Lacey because his character Major Arnold Toht is one of the great cinematic Nazi villains of all time. His villain is could have been a caricature of evil, but Lacey brings an edge of realism to the role.

Paul Freeman is also great as Indy’s arch-nemesis Dr. René Belloq. This film really does contain some of the greatest cinematic villains of all time.

Lastly I just want to point out how creepy the end of the film is. A warehouse chock full of who knows what top-secret things hoarded by the U.S. Government? Completely creeptastic, completely fantastic.

If you’re interested in buying this film, you can do so here.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on July 5, 2010, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very nice. Well I don’t remember Atlantic City but Reds, Chariots of Fire, and On Golden Pond all three bored me shitless.

    Being an archaeologist I got a real kick out of this Indiana Jones going all over the world seeking lost treasures for a museum and teaching at the university. Really different from my world of archaeology where I survey for mundane projects like new cattle gaurds or my excavations which usually end in the condition known affectionately as black snot. Ok I have found objects created by human beings 10,000 years ago and that is amazing but no gold, no famous religious relics no ark of the covenant.

    Harrison Ford first got my attention in American Graffiti and if you watch that scene at the end of the drag race carefully, you will see that he would have dominated the scene without careful direction. Then Star Wars – Han Solo was hot hot hot. 🙂

    So here he is playing an archaeologist albeit a fantasy one which put him straight into my fantasies. And the movie was just plain fun. I like movies that are fun.

    The Academy often appears to have forgotten what business they are in. They make movies to entertain audiances and make money. This movie was entertaining and made momey – why snub it? But they do it all the time – snub movies because they are popular as if a movie being popular is a bad thing.

    They want to be “artistes” or something and can’t admit that they are actually in the business to make money. Nothing is wrong with that – making money is good. So is making a wonderful fun movie which takes the viewer into another time and place. And I agree – what great villains!

  1. Pingback: Auteur of the Week – Steven Spielberg (1 of 4) « the diary of a film awards fanatic

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