Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

raiders_cov.jpgYear: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 95+

Plot
Indiana Jones races the Germans to find the Lost Ark.

Quick Review
Raiders of the Lost Ark is case study in the construction of an action movie. Intelligent enemies, great pace, tremendous attention to detail in the action scenes, and outstanding characters all add up to overwhelm the simple plot, negligent character development, and structurally weak ending. Simply put, this is one of the best action movies ever made. We happily present it with a Kaboom Review Gold Medal Award and include it as a candidate for Best Action Film of All-Time.

Full Review
On many movie sites, Raider’s of the Lost Ark is often cited as the best action movie of all-time. It’s easy to see why. Even after 26 years, Raiders of the Lost Ark shines as if it were made yesterday. This movie should be required viewing before making an action movie today. It’s a perfect example of how to emphasize the critical elements of escapist entertainment.

raiders_2.jpgIt’s interesting to note the weak elements of Raiders first. There is little character development, a simple plot, and an average script. Steven Spielberg, the director, said that he considered Raiders of the Lost Ark a B-movie as he was making it, and I’m guessing it was the weakness of these elements of the film that led him to believe this film was destined for mediocrity. But Raiders of the Lost Ark proves that character development, plot, and script are secondary in a great action film, and to a degree can actually hinder an action film. Raiders of the Lost Ark strikes a perfect balance with regard to action and plot, and gets the most important elements right.

The pacing in Raiders of the Lost Ark is flawless. The movie opens with a tense and exciting romp through a jungle temple, stops for a few minutes to set the story, then rockets along from that point on, stopping just enough to flesh out and explain the minimalist plot. Just as important, the movie never jumps ahead of its pace. The editing balance here is exceptional, and the film does each scene justice.

The characters in Raiders of the Lost Ark are unique and instantly likeable, and the acting is more than adequate to make them believable. Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones, the nerdy, tough, and sensitive archaeology professor/action hero. The humanness of his character makes him so easy to relate to. He’s an ordinary guy on an extraordinary mission, who defeats his enemies through persistence and cunning. More movies would do well to copy this model for an action hero, rather than the aloof, macho type that Hollywood often uses to fill the hero role.

raiders.jpgSupporting Indiana is Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen. Allen nails the female sidekick role. She hits the balance between femininity and feistiness to perfection. She can drink men under the table one minute, and tend to Indiana Jones’ injuries the next. Her character is vibrant and charismatic, and she plays the role perfectly. The rest of the cast is adequate if not exceptional. John Rhys-Davies is noteworthy in his an above average job as Sallah, Indiana Jones’ friend in Egypt.

Although it’s more accurate to say that the villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark is the entire German army, the main villain in is Dr. Rene Belloq, played by Paul Freeman. I found him relatively weak as a villain. He doesn’t have the force and presence of a truly outstanding villain. However, Raiders of the Lost Ark goes to show you that a key element to getting a villain right in an action movie is not the character, but the intelligence. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a perfect example of a movie that achieves greatness by the strength of the strategies employed by the villains. Like Die Hard, the Germans in Raiders of the Lost Ark show resourcefulness and sense in their actions. The result is a frantic game of give-and-take as Indiana Jones and the Germans struggle for possession of the Ark of the Covenant. More action movies would do well to emulate this critical element in achieving greatness in an action film.

Action movies live or die by the quality of their action, and it is here where Raiders of the Lost Ark rises to the top. The action in this film is simply superb. I could talk in length about how brilliantly edited and constructed a half dozen scenes are in the film. Of particular excellence, however, is the truck chase scene in the back half of the movie. The scene took six weeks to shoot but was well worth the raiders1.jpginvestment. The back and forth action here is thrilling, crisply shot, and stays within its premise to near perfection. This scene is of such outstanding quality that it merits inclusion in the Best Scene in Action Film History Competition. There are other scenes that nearly equal the excellence of this scene: the opening sequence, the fight in the bar, the fight around the airplane. It’s hard to think of a movie that has so many outstanding action sequences.

What’s interesting about Raiders of the Lost Ark is how well it stands the test of time. The action in this film is basic, mostly driven by simple stunts and great camera angles. The visual effects—which won an Oscar in 1981—are limited to the climax of the movie. Although they appear heavily dated today, they don’t drag the film down substantially. With the vast majority of the action separate from technology, the movie feels (until the end, that is) as if it could have been made just a few years ago. While we’re on the subject of the ending, it’s worth noting that despite the stellar special effects for their day, the ending is a disappointment from a story-telling aspect. Indiana Jones plays an insignificant role in the final scene, and that simply shouldn’t happen in a film this good.

I’d also like to mention the famous scene where Indiana Jones—when confronted by a dual-sword wielding Egyptian—proceeds to simply blow him away with his revolver instead of engage him in hand-to-hand combat. This scene goes a long way to showing how well the film stays within its premise. raiders-of-the-lost-ark-1.jpgHow many times have you seen a hero toss a pistol away out of some silly sense of pride instead of just shooting someone? How many times have you seen an army engage someone in sword combat instead of shooting him with arrows? This scene is such a long overdue, hilarious, and classic moment in action film history. This scene as well, because of its humor and attention to premise, deserves inclusion in the Best Scene in Action Film History Competition.

The attention to premise is on the whole outstanding in movie. Simply put, events and actions on the whole are believable and make sense. There are problems, however, and with a bit of scrutiny, the veil of perfection falls off Raiders of the Lost Ark. For example, in the truck chase scene, at one point Indiana Jones drives a German vehicle off the edge of an incredible cliff, but the entire chase happens on mostly flat ground. Where did the cliff come from? It’s a jarringly out of place moment in this scene. Also, in that scene, wouldn’t the Germans in the back of the truck that Indy is driving just shoot through the back of the truck? In another scene, Indiana clings to a U-Boat on what appears to be a journey of several days. How did he survive? I understand that U-Boats would likely not submerge, but it’s a bit of a stretch to travel that way. Lastly, at the end, Indiana is left to live when captured by the Germans. Wouldn’t they just shoot him? On the whole however, these issues can be explained to a degree, and don’t detract greatly from the overall attention to detail in this film.

The amazing thing about this film is that it could have been awful with any less attention to detail. In the desert dig scenes, for example, the scenes carry just enough sense of confusion and chaos to make it believable that Indiana Jones could do what he does inside the dig. If these scenes were created with raiders04.jpgthe wrong mood or slightly less chaos, the sense of believability here would be lost.

With regards to Babes and Hunks, the film shines behind the charisma and energy of Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. The sensuality of this film is minor, but there is solid charisma between the two actors, and this drives the Babes and Hunks ratings in this film fairly high, despite the family entertainment flavor to the film.

Lastly, it can’t be stated enough how fitting and enhancing the dramatic musical score is in this film.

On the whole, Raiders of the Lost Ark is case study in the construction of an action movie. Intelligent enemies, great pace, tremendous attention to detail in the action scenes, and outstanding characters all add up to overwhelm the simple plot and negligent character development. Simply put, this is one of the best action movies ever made. We happily present it with a Kaboom Review Gold Medal Award and include it as a candidate for Best Action Film of All-Time.

Fun Fact

The conversation between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg that initiated the process to create the film occurred while Lucas and Speilberg were making a sand castle in Hawaii.

Score
Pace: 90
Plot: 70
Action: 95
Consistent Premise: 88
Script/Quotes: 64
Characters: 96
Acting: 87
Villain: 76
Body Count: 39
Time to First Dead Body:
Babes: 72
Hunks: 86
Explosions: 35
Special Effects: 24
Stunts: 82
Ending: 74

Overall: 95+

[tags]Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Action Movie, Movie Review[/tags]

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