Saturday, 30 April 2011

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the kind of film that is absolutely ludicrous, but is absolutely brilliant. On paper, the idea of trying to locate the Ark of the Covenant and rescue it from Nazis really shouldn’t work; but if you get Steven Spielberg to direct it, George Lucas to produce it (and to help with the writing), get a great cast, and it all works perfectly! So perfectly that “Raiders” is one of the most entertaining films ever made; even George Lucas admitted that it was the most fun he had making a film! Just to convince you of its greatness, here’s 5 things you probably already knew.

Harrison Ford
In 1981 Harrison Ford had made his mark as Han Solo and worn some excellent glasses in Apocalypse Now; but he was yet to solidify his position in film history. Between Indy and Decker he was assured of it. Indy is very similar to Han, only this time he is the main character. Some of the sex appeal that Han had is written into the character, and some of the cockiness removed, throw into the mix some archaeo-sleuthing skills and we have cinematic gold.

Steven Spielberg
Always a proponent of the “More is More” school of thought; Spielberg doesn’t hold back in Raiders; and we all reap the rewards. After the initial exposition, the action is almost non-stop, over-the-top, and often ludicrous; but always brilliant. Spielberg’s inspired, outlandish set-pieces are perhaps typified by the opening scenes: the bag-of-sand-idol swap and the boulder escape are so iconic that there few action scenes before or since are so memorable.

Supporting Cast
Inspired. John Rhys-Davies is wonderful as Sallah “Asps! Very Dangerous. You go first!” Karen Allen is a great love-interest/companion; girly enough to squeal when thrown into Indy’s adventures, but ballsy enough to take on the Nepalese at drinking games and stand up to the Nazis (to an extent). Paul Freeman is intense and condescending as Belloq; Ronald Lacey is perfect as the weird, sinister Toht; and a very young Alfred Molina is cool as the tarantula-covered soon-to-be-spike-impaled Satipo.

Shadow Acting
As if to prove that he is not just about fighting, explosions, and elaborate action sequences, Spielberg gets very creative in Raiders. There are many bits of scenes shot with shadow. Not least the first few minutes of the film where we only see the silhouette of Indy; probably the most iconic silhouette in history (not just in cinema!). There are also several shots of other characters talking towards the camera and Indy’s shadow behind them, far more dramatic than just filming two people talking. Also neat how some of the shadows in the Egyptian tombs seem to reflect the two-dimensional carvings on the walls. All very cool, and all serve to make a hugely enjoyable film even more fantastic.



Melting Nazis
It’s always good to see the bad guys get their comeuppance, and even better when they melt! Having made a cast of Ronald Lacey’s head, the sfx guys coated the inside of the mask with various layers of wax; the effect was then achieved by melting the face plus hat plus glasses with a hairdryer! Fairly low-tech, and quite laborious when it requires more than one take, but it still looks pretty great 30 years later! Of course if it was done now it would be all done in a computer, and doubtless wouldn’t look half as good. I’ve argued this before, but when effects are done “in the flesh” they always looks better and more convincing than “pretty” effects done in a computer.

So there we go, 5 reasons to love one of the best action adventure films ever made. Of course there are countless more reasons why Raiders is so good, but then this post would go on for ever! Indy shooting the big guy with swords because he had the runs; the cheesy maps with dotted lines showing where Indy is travelling to; the girl’s eyelids with “I love you” written on them; storing the Ark of the Covenant in a huge warehouse; Toht looking like he’s getting an implement of torture out but it’s actually a coat hanger; and... and...