COVID-19 has already drastically altered our lives; forcing millions of Americans to remain home and practice "social distancing" to (hopefully) slow the spread of the disease. Movie theaters are also closing and the release dates of just about every major studio release has been pushed to the end of the year or 2021.
In the interest of maintaining sanity (and a tenuous income stream, I'm not Gandhi over here), Review For The Easily Distracted will start taking a look at some of our favorite movies. The only real criteria is that they be available on demand or streaming and that they provide a little escapism (no Outbreak here). First up: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
And yes, we're using the original title. When a movie shows post-release blockbuster franchise potential, you sometimes see a marketing change like this. But to me, Raiders is Raiders, not "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark." And Star Wars is not A New Hope. I don't care if we've got front-row seats to the collapse of society, some things will not stand.
The movie was brought into existence because two recently enriched directors (Steven Spielberg — Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, George Lucas — Star Wars) were drinking by a pool in Hawaii and trying to come up with a way to make even more money. They decided to go with Lucas's idea to reboot those old serials from the '30s and — for some reason — chose the guy who scripted Continental Divide (Lawrence Kasdan) as screenwriter.
And thank that non-lethal combination of hubris and piña coladas that they did, because Raiders is one of the purest distillations of cinematic joy ever. It introduced us to the famed archaeologist (Harrison Ford, never better) as he braves a D&D-style Hovito temple, only to lose his treasure to the hated Belloq (Paul Freeman) — a not uncommon occurrence, as we learn. From there, it's daring escape upon daring escape, fisticuffs, shoot-outs, and some of the greatest stunt work ever filmed.
Is it fair that two directors coming off a couple of the biggest box office smashes of all time were able to produce such a ridiculously entertaining film? No, no it isn't. And I say this as someone who counts Raiders as probably my favorite film. It's testament to the movie's entertainment value that when I saw it for the first time (at age 12), I was suffering from a stomach bug that forced me to leave the theater twice to puke. Did I ask my parents to take me home? I did not.
There isn't an ounce of fat here, either in the film's running time (a hair under two hours) or Ford's frame. A couple scenes were planned but never used, one where Indy dodges gunfire behind a rolling gong, and one in which he makeshift parachutes out of a plane on a raft. Both would be included in the sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and honestly would've felt out of place in Raiders.
But while Raiders is rightfully acknowledged as one of the best action movies of all time, there's a surprising amount of humor on display as well. Spielberg sets a different mood early in the film, when Indy bullwhips the pistol out of Barranca's hand and emerges from the darkness, he's the no-nonsense adventurer who wasn't about to make the same mistakes Forrestal did.
It doesn't take long, however, before the tone shifts. Giant rolling boulders tend to do that, as does Reggie the pet boa constrictor adroitly establishing our hero's fear of snakes. Ford may not have been entirely "making it up as he went" (sic), but one iconic sequence, originally scripted as an epic sword/bullwhip duel, was scrapped because Ford had dysentery.
Raiders also wouldn't work without Marion Ravenwood, brought to profane life by Karen Allen. Marion is no mere screeching damsel in distress (*cough* Willie Scott *cough*), but is as capable as Jones in many ways, engineering an escape from Belloq (albeit an ultimately fruitless one) and having the moxie to face off against Gestapo agent Toht (Ronald Lacey). Allen's presence was missed in the first two sequels, and she was criminally underused in the third, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
At least we got lots of Shia LaBeouf in that one.
Raiders is also singled out as a movie in which the main character supposedly has no impact on the final outcome. Indy's actions, it's argued, change nothing: Belloq and the Nazis open the Ark and are — in the delicious words of Indy's colleague Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) — "wiped clean by the wroth of God." Two things: first, without Indy, Marion almost certainly dies. Second, even if the bad guys croak after opening the Ark on Geheimhaven, it's still in German hands. Instead of ending up in Hangar 51, the Nazis have all the time they want to figure out how to weaponize it.
I didn't realize until writing this that the concept came from The Big Bang Theory, which is fitting. A fake nerd show misses the entire point of one of the greatest adventure movies of all time. The Ark is just a Maguffin, another relic from the era Spielberg and Lucas were trying to emulate. Jones fails almost entirely, except in evolving from a mere treasure hunter into someone with respect for what he once viewed as "rare antiquities."
A better question is how the archaeologist who scoffed to Brody that he didn't believe in magic or "superstitious hocus-pocus" was the same guy who watched Mola Ram pull a beating heart out of a man's chest a year earlier.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is available on Netflix.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.