Ah, yes, it was the summer of 1981… I was 11 years old, and all of us neighborhood kids whiled away our time playing Space Invaders, furiously working on our Rubik’s cubes, and reliving the thrill of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater. We’d enthusiastically recap key points of the movie to the poor souls that were not so lucky to be dropped off at the sticky-floored multi-plex for a matinee. Ohmygosh, remember when Indy was running from that huge boulder? Or when the monkey ate the poison date? Then there was that time when Indy rolled under a rapidly closing wall (this was re-enacted by rolling under an automatic garage door, of course)? Or when Indy wielded his bullwhip in all sorts of crafty ways? And to top it off, what about the Nazi’s face melting at the end of the film?!?! Holy crap, we were beside ourselves with that one! It was simply the most fantastic thing we had EVER seen on screen.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fantastic action adventure movie, combining the red-hot talents of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford. Try as they might, they have never matched the original’s thrill. And unlike most movies, repeated viewings don’t dull the fun, even if you’ve seen it so many times that you know exactly the point when a fly crawls into Belloq’s mouth, right there on screen.
Harrison Ford, in his studly prime, plays “famed” archaeologist Indiana Jones. In his down time, he is a college professor, memorably invoking hard crushes from all of his students… but what really lights his fire is the lure of a good hunt to find rare, priceless artifacts—which he then dutifully puts in a museum (where they belong!). Alas, not all archaeologists are as noble as he, and he keeps crossing paths with Frenchman Dr. Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), who always seems to be right on his trail, showing up just in time to literally take the glittering prize right from Indy’s hands.
Rumor has it that the latest hot lead is that the location of the famed biblical Ark of the Covenant has been found in Egypt. Belloq and the Nazis are digging, but Indy is just a little smarter than them. He knows that a missing piece of the puzzle is in his ex flame Marion’s (Karen Allen) hands in a rough bar in Nepal. He gets the missing piece, picks up the girl, and heads off to find the prize. The adventure (notably tracked by a red line criss-crossing a map) takes off, going from the U.S. to Nepal to Egypt to a submarine, and finally to a mysterious island—all of it culminating in one of the most memorably boggling and funny closing shots of any popular movie.
The sidekicks in this film are fabulous, with Karen Allen easily being the best (and most badass) female character in all the Indiana Jones movies, and John Rhys-Davies bringing a warm presence as Indy’s trustworthy buddy Sallah. But it’s really the bad guys that so are memorably delicious in Raiders, especially Ronald Lacey’s doughy, heavy breathing Nazi, who cracks open menacing nunchucks only to twist them into a coathanger for his trenchcoat.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the perfect example of why it is so much fun to go to the movies. If you can ever catch this film on the big screen, you’ll be reminded what an inherent thrill it is to be in a roomful of people laughing, gasping, squealing and cheering at the excitement unfurling on screen. It is easily one of the best adventure movies ever made.
About a dozen or so new special features are included in the Adventure Collection of the Indiana Jones trilogy, spread across the three DVDs. The Raiders disc (retitled dorkily Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) includes a new introduction by director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas as they reminisce about the making of the film; a recap of the trilogy from the perspective of the fourth film (a bit odd, with newly introduced actors talking about films they weren’t in); plus storyboards, photo galleries, and an ad for LEGO Indiana Jones. There is no commentary, nor the feature length documentary included on the previous release. But the best of the new extras on this specific disc is, unsurprisingly, “Mystery of the Melting Face”, that features the makeup artist who created the original fabulous effect talking about his method, while in the meantime some modern effects artists try to recreate the melting face using the same techniques. Good fun.