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Raiders of the Lost Ark - Throwback Thursday review

Updated: May 7, 2021


Directed by #StevenSpielberg

Film review by Nathanial Eker


Undoubtedly one of the most iconic blockbusters of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark largely holds up in 2021. Certainly with greater fortitude than two of its sequels; but we'll get to those. The first of Indiana Jones' adventures is a little darker, a little tighter, and a little less silly than those that follow.

Renowned university professor and archaeologist Henry "Indiana" Jones (Ford) spends his time salvaging lost artefacts. His world becomes intertwined with magic and the Third Reich, as he's approached by the US Government to track down an ancient religious artefact: the Ark of the Covenant. Along the way, he meets old flame Marion (Allen) and rival archaeologist Belloq (Freeman), both of whom become entangled in the search for the Ark.

Raiders is most notable for its homages to classic serials of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, like Zorro Rides Again and The Naked Jungle. Many elements of Indy's now-iconic look herald back to the Golden age of Hollywood; from his whip, to his jacket, and even that famous fedora hat. What's clear is that this film is a love letter to classic Hollywood, and Spielberg and Lucas' passion for this era of cinema is apparent from the opening credits. Fittingly, this first scene would go on to become synonymous with blockbuster filmmaking in its own right, and the boulder trap and idol snatch would be forever cemented in film history.

Today, Raiders mostly holds up when viewed through a 21st-century lens. Unlike its inferior successor, Temple of Doom, which relies on lazy stereotypes and ignorant sensationalism, Raiders' use of a Christian artefact and the Nazis as its villain allows it an earnest narrative. However, though Karen Allen's Marion may be seen as a protofeminist female character, it's hard to deny that she's little more than an object for Belloq and Indy to fight over. Regardless, Allen's energetic performance is still one of the film's highlights, and Marion may as well have the depth of a Phoebe Waller-Bridge character when compared to Temple of Doom's deeply problematic Willie Scott.

The rest of the supporting cast portray their archetypical roles well, though it's unclear what nationality Paul Freeman's Belloq is supposed to be. However, it's Harrison Ford that unsurprisingly steals the show. Equal parts Han Solo and Robert Langdon, Indy is and always will be the quintessential adventure hero. Furthermore, his persona is far less diluted in Raiders and he's characterised more by cold-blooded ruthlessness and a desire for knowledge than his quips and hatred of snakes (though both are still present).

It's no surprise that Raiders instantly became a studio darling and was commodified with action figures, spin-off media, and theme park attractions. The set design is as much of an homage to classic adventure films as Indy's costume, and each individual tableau is a testament to the power of practical effects and non-CGI sets. The same goes for the wonderfully grim deaths of the three main baddies; there's no child of the 80s who doesn't recall being scarred by Toht's melting face. Thanks, Ark ghosts.

If there's one man more crucial to the identity of the Indiana Jones franchise than Spielberg, Lucas, or Ford; it's John Williams. Raiders is a masterclass in atmospheric composing, and the use of leitmotif to orally call to mind Indy's heroism, his romance with Marion, and the Ark itself are musical elements that would stay with the franchise forever. But of course, it is the "Raiders March" that is the stand-out musical motif. Immensely hummable, it has surpassed its filmic origins and become synonymous with any child wearing a fedora, pretending to be everyone's favourite whip-cracking, idol-finding, student-mesmerising archaeologist.

There's a reason that Raiders is remembered so fondly. It's not simply one of the best adventure films; it's one of the greatest American films ever made.

Bravo, Dr. Jones. See you next week, for (sigh) Temple of Doom.



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