'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)/Directed by Steven Spielberg/Grade: A+
Harrison Ford attempts to nab a priceless artifact in this first iconic film in the Indiana Jones series.
Here it is. The one that started it all. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a crucial movie for me because it completely changed the way I looked at cinema. When I was a kid (maybe 10 or 11), movies had just been pure entertainment for me. After seeing this, though, I wanted to know everything about how movies were made. How they were shot, how they were edited, scored, etc. I remember sitting there as the credits rolled, thinking: That's what I wanna do. My aspirations have changed since then, but my appreciation for cinematic craftsmanship owes everything to this picture. It was everything movies could be- funny, action-packed, scary, romantic- and it continues to be to this day.
What I love about Raiders the most are a few specific things: its tight plotting, its charismatic and memorable characters, and its exhilarating action sequences. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and editor Michael Kahn (who rightfully won an Oscar for his work on this movie) keep every scene reduced to just its most vital elements to move the story and characters forward, then get out of it. Watching it again last night, 115 minutes flew by like 5.
The characters are also incredibly distinctive, which does owe some credit to story creators George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, but mainly to the performances. Harrison Ford shows plenty of range as Dr. Jones himself; tough, noble, tender, fearful, brave. Karen Allen is a spunky delight as his sidekick/love interest Marion Ravenwood. She's a good sparring partner for him, leading to some charming romantic, witty banter. But as the film progresses, she shows herself to be more than capable of holding her own in the face of danger, never resigning herself to the 'damsel in distress' position. Additionally, she and Indy share some genuinely romantic moments, including the scene where they finally kiss as Marion tends to his wounds.
Paul Freeman is snarky, nasty, and undeniably gripping as Renee Belloq, the main villain of the film. While every other Indy villain so far (save for Walter Donovan from Last Crusade) has been very enjoyably maniacal and over-the-top, Belloq remains the best because he knows just how to push Jones' buttons to make their rivalry (which has been long-standing, a unique trait for other antagonist relationships in the franchise) evermore frustrating for him. Every time they're in a scene together, it's like watching The Joker and Batman in The Dark Knight: How can I, the bad guy, push you, the hero, and bring you down to my level, as fellow archaeologists.
The action sequences are all masterful as well. From the iconic opening wherein Indy has to capture an idol and barely escapes from South America with his life, to a fight scene at a bar, and a truck chase through the desert- the best chase sequence I have ever seen- every stunt looks legitimately dangerous, every special effect looks realistic, John Williams' music thrums underneath every beat with utter excitement.
Over the years, as I've experienced so many ups and downs, changes and surprises- being diagnosed with autism, battling depression, learning to drive, attending college- this movie has always been a comforting blanket of a film that I can come to when I just want to decompress and relax, and when I just need to remind myself why I love movies so much in the first place. If I ever got to meet Steven Spielberg or George Lucas or Harrison Ford, I would just want to thank them for what they created. It has shaped my life in ways I couldn't have anticipated, and couldn't have been more grateful for.