Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Favorite Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Lawrence Kasden
Story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood
Paul Freeman as Dr. RenĂ© Belloq
John Rhys-Davies as Sallah
Ronald Lacey as Major Arnold Toht
Denholm Elliot as Dr. Marcus Brody

Many film fans will be asked, "what is your favorite movie?" Some fans will be able to come up with the answer pretty quickly. Others will really have to dig deep and think on it. I get why. If you're a massive lover of movies like I am, it's hard to narrow it down to that one movie that you think stands above everything else. I have seen almost 2,000 films (according to my Letterboxed account) and for years my favorite film would vary. However, upon revisiting it many times, I finally narrowed it down to Raiders of the Lost Ark. I can confidently pick it as my favorite of all time. 

I first saw the film back in middle school. In band, we were playing a medley from the film's score. I'd never seen it and it happened to be showing on the Sci-Fi channel one night so I recorded it. I took the video over to my grandparents' house to watch with my grandmother whom I would watch movies with on the weekends.  It was one of those movie experiences that was life changing for me. I remember sitting on the bedroom floor in awe. From the greatest movie opening ever as Indy and Satipo go through the trap filled temple to Harrison Ford's endlessly charismatic performance to John Williams' iconic score, I was entranced. It also was helpful for practicing my bells part, because I now knew how the theme sounded. My grandma enjoyed the film as well and it's a memory I cherish to this day. I've watched many films with both grandparents and I'm always happy to watch one with them when I go home to Wisconsin to visit them. I even got to choose the film clip that accompanied our performance of the piece. I went with the truck chase scene. If it weren't for Mad Max: Fury Road, that would be my choice for the greatest action sequence ever.

After seeing the film, I quickly made sure to see the two sequels. I actually like the original three Indiana Jones films more than the original Star Wars trilogy. I prefer Raider of the Lost Ark to the original Star Wars. Temple of Doom isn't as great as The Empire Strikes Back, but it's one of my favorite sequels and Last Crusade is a much stronger part three than Return of the Jedi. A couple of years later, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out. I saw it opening night and I had to keep convincing myself that I liked it, but after a couple of more viewings, I knew it was inferior to the other three films. I don't have a seething hatred for it that many other people do, but it is a disappointment.

That summer, my family took our annual family vacation to Birchwood, WI and I had just gotten the trilogy on DVD and the Lego video game. Anytime I was by myself, I'd either be watching one of those films or playing that game. I'm pretty sure that video game is one I've put more hours into than any other. I really wanted a fedora as well and we found one close enough in a shop while we were there. Indy was the movie hero that I wanted to be. I would often daydream about going on adventures like him; finding precious artifacts of history while fighting Nazis. I was obsessed. He was the character I looked up to. Upon rewatching the films, I still get excited to go on these adventures with our heroes. I was even lucky enough to see it in its limited IMAX release and that was easily the coolest theatrical experience I've ever had.

Steven Spielberg invented the blockbuster with Jaws and he perfected it with Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Harrison Ford is iconic as Indy. What I love about him is that he's not an action hero who just brushes off a punch, nor is he flawless. The truck chase scene is thrilling to watch every time, because of how much he goes through, from getting shot and punched to being dragged from behind a truck. The in camera stunt work is astonishing. It's great to see films from a time when people couldn't rely on computers.

Karen Allen as Marion is one of my favorite female leads in an action film. She was one of my first celebrity crushes. The fact that she could hold her own with all of the men onscreen just made her more attractive. John Rhys-Davies is a delight as Sallah. It was neat seeing him in this after I had seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Paul Freeman and Ronald Lacey are perfect villains as Belloq and Toht. I think Belloq is such an underrated villain. Many people mention Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter as two of the best villains and I think Belloq belongs among their ranks. He's not just a mustache twirling villain; he's humanized. The scene where Marion is trying to get him drunk is probably his best scene in the film. Then there's Toht, who is a villain you just love to hate. From his first scene in the tavern, you just want this guy dead. It helps that he's a Nazi, too. His death is my favorite movie death of all time. Watching this piece of shit Nazi's flesh searing and melting off of his face until he's nothing but a skeleton is one of the most brutal and awesome deaths ever put on screen. The effects make it even better. That entire sequence with the ark opening up and having it kill all of the Nazis is the most satisfying third act I've ever seen.

There are certain films that you have a life changing experience with when you first see them and Raiders of the Lost Ark came at that perfect time in my life. I was at an age where I could fully appreciate it and get a good experience out of it. I found a hero in film to look up to and it further fueled my love for Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and John Williams. There are few films that I call perfect. It's hard to watch a film without picking it apart in one way or another, but I think this movie really is flawless. I've seen it so many times and have analyzed it in behind the scenes features. It's a true masterpiece. With Jaws, Spielberg started out with a perfect movie already, but with Raiders of the Lost Ark, he brought us something even more unique and special. It's a movie that can be celebrated and watched by generations of people. When I look back on my favorite movies, this is the one that sticks out the most.  Anytime I put it on, I find myself absorbed into it every time. I think back to when I first watched it with my grandma, realizing that what I was seeing was something truly special. If you're bored with the modern blockbuster, I think this is a perfect alternative. As the poster's tagline read, it really is the return of the great adventure, indeed.

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