Last Day Deaf really could not let 2021 pass and neglect to mark the 40th Anniversary of one of the greatest blockbuster popcorn B-movies ever made.
By the end of the 1970s Steven Spielberg had become one of the most successful and acclaimed mainstream film-makers of the decade. So what was next after the blockbuster defining double of “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and the less critically and commercially successful “1941“. And then up stepped George Lucas to raise the blockbuster bar even higher with “Star Wars“.
Being friends it was really no surprise that they came to collaborate on yet another era defining movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark“. A rip-roaring throwback to the Saturday morning cinema serials they both loved, and then some…
The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of a new style of film-maker enter the blockbuster arena, bringing an independent edge and more gritty realism to studio movies. Hollywood’s old guard was struggling to bring in audiences, and with the huge box office success of “The French Connection“, “The Godfather“, “The Exorcist“, and ultimately “Jaws“, studios were willing to back Spielberg, Lucas, and their contemporaries, offering them more in the way of creative freedom.
Arguably the 70s and early 80s was one of the most exciting periods for mainstream cinema. Resulting in hit after hit of critically acclaimed, daring, boundary pushing movies. Blockbuster trailblazers Spielberg and Lucas were at the forefront. Genre movie geeks who, unlike contemporaries such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian DePalma, set out to primarily make entertaining family orientated films.
Myself, I can clearly remember my first glimpse and introduction to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” by way of a national newspaper double spread with a picture of Indiana Jones in his iconic fedora, weathered clothes, and whip in hand, heralding “A new kind of hero.” This movie geek was transfixed and giddy with excitement knowing this was from the creative geniuses who took this youngster on cinematic journeys he could never have imagined when he sat down in the darkened auditorium. Little could I have realised this gifted movie-making duo would yet again blow my mind; and ironically on a Saturday cinema trip too. An experience that I will never, ever forget.
Opening with the Paramount logo exquisitely transitioning into a mountain, leading into among one of the most perfect, unsurpassed character introductions, and finest first acts in cinema history. In those opening scenes Indiana Jones is as fully formed a character as ever seen in a blockbuster movie. From thereon in as events reach crescendo after crescendo it just gets better and better. Yet crucially never for one second of its nearly two hour runtime does it forego the focus of characters we care about.
Harrison Ford is phenomenal, maybe never better; no mean feat following up Han Solo with another iconic character. However, he is one cog in the finely tuned machine of this work of art. He is matched all the way, first to last, by a once in a lifetime supporting cast. Headed up by Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, her introduction almost as iconic and memorable. She is also as resourceful as Indiana Jones, harking back to the likes of Lauren Bacall. Culminating, after a bar-room brawl like no other, in “Now I’m your god damn partner!!!” Paul Freeman as Beloq is one of the most overlooked and under appreciated villains in cinema history, the flip-side of “Mr Jones.” The chemistry and interplay between him and Ford is electric. Yet that is not all because we have not one, but two sublimely rounded out villains. Ronald Lacey as main Nazi Major Toht being the other. One of the creepiest characters ever realised outside of a horror movie, and surprisingly also creating some of the best laugh out loud moments; most notably his burnt hand scene. Joining Indy and Marion on the Egypt leg of their adventure is the wonderful John Rhys Davies as Sallah, bringing humour and heart in equal measure; also saving the situation in some standout moments. Who can forget the Nazi flag tied together on the sheets to try to rescue our hero. The main cast is further rounded out by Denholm Elliot as Marcus Brody, Indy’s friend and the museum curator who purchases his acquisitions, bringing gravitas at key moments.
Lawrence Kasdan‘s on the nail script from a story by Lucas and Philip Kaufman, based around set-pieces conceived by George Lucas and Spielberg, skilfully balances classic 1930s and 1940s Saturday morning serials with contemporary 70s stylings. Complementing each and every aspect behind the camera. Throughout is utter perfection, from Spielberg’s pin-perfect direction, stunning cinematography by Douglas Slocombe, Michael Kahn‘s and uncredited Lucas’ razor sharp editing, Norman Reynolds’ evocative production design, and the stunning visual effects supervised by Richard Edlund. It would be a shameful remiss not to mention the incredible stunt-work masterminded by stunt co-ordinator Glenn Randall jr and stunt arranger Peter Diamond, and their stunt crew, who all created the amazing action sequences, especially the breath-taking truck chase. All topped off by John Williams’ iconic rousing main theme and score.
One aspect setting it apart from many a blockbuster, particularly contemporary ones, is some sequences and images are straight out of an R (18) rated horror film. The ante was then further upped in the prequel “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom“, which saw the creation of the PG13 rating. And not forgetting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” audacious finale where everything is ramped up to the max, pushing the boundaries of a family film to its limits. Quite possibly the third act would never happen as such nowadays, where to all intents and purposes the hero is side-lined, having no effect on the outcome; not to mention the unforgettable gore and horror.
Each and every aspect came together in spectacular, perfect cinematic harmony. Combining wonderfully aesthetics of old school classics with contemporary cinema of the day to create a Hollywood movie the likes of which had never been experienced before.
Spielberg and Lucas again further set the template for blockbuster movies that can be felt to this day. However, none have or will ever come close, not even the sequels, to the absolutely perfect piece of popcorn movie art of “Raiders of the Lost Ark“.