Raiders of the Lost Ark is directed by Stephen Spielberg and collectively written by Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay), George Lucas (story) and Philip Kaufman (story). It stars Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott. Music is scored by John Williams and cinematography by Douglas Slocombe.
What can you say about Raiders of the Lost Ark that hasn't been said before? It has been analysed, deconstructed, praised and written about at length by everyone from the highest of film critics to the man of the street film lover and his dog. Truth is, is that nothing new can be added to the millions of tomes written about what Spielberg coyly announced was his B movie homage to adventure serials of the 30s and 40s.
In simple factoid terms it was roughly made for $20 million and went on to make nearly $400 million! It quickly pulled Spielberg out of a depressive rut after the critical mauling of his period comedy movie 1941. It announced Harrison Ford as a superstar actor whilst simultaneously introducing pop culture references that still thrive today. It won four Oscars and was nominated for a further four, and as it made archaeology sexy it heralded the opening of a new era for the summer blockbuster. The whole production (apart from Spielberg) were taken ill whilst filming in Tunisia and it was the start of a franchise that still brings great GREAT pleasures to millions of fans.
Why is Raiders so adored? That it is a film that still entertains royally today, where once loved in 1981 is still loved by the very same older and wiser people in the new millennium? The answer is it gets everything right, it transcends its basic source to reveal one of the most exhilarating action/adventure movies ever made. It's packed with outstanding action set-pieces (amazing stunt-work), the special effects stunning, the locations are sumptuous, the cinematography gorgeous and Williams' score stirs the blood and raises the gooseflesh. The narrative is smooth and appealing in its good versus bad race against time simplicity, yet the pace is frenetic. From the establishment of the kinetic pleasures with its iconic opening section, to the gloriously gruesome finale, it's breakneck stuff that is by turns intense but played with considerable wit and playfulness.
Casting is also spot on, with Ford leading the way. Ford's performance as Indiana Jones - part time teacher, part time lovable rogue who lurches from one perilous situation to another - is note perfect. It's a performance of style and substance that is often wrongly ignored by the stuffy, purely because of the genre of film it sits in. That Ford oozes comic book heroics without falling into campy cliché is a great achievement, while of course he gave us iconography unbound that still exists today. The supporting performances are also outstanding, with Allen's spunky hard drinking Marion and Freeman's weasel Nazi stooge Belloq particularly hitting the heights. While on the other side of the camera and at the writing table, the trio of Spielberg, Kasdan and Lucas prove to be a meeting of classical adventure loving heart and minds, for the film is crafted with humour, energy and skill.
It undoubtedly owes a debt to olde Hollywood fare like Gunga Din, Secret of The Incas and Valley of the Kings (and more), while some stereotyping of natives exists because the film harks back to olde Hollywood adventure movies! And undeniably it's a teeny-tiny bit annoying that as we enter the home straight Allen's character arc has her shift from tough dame to "save me Indy" fodder, but small complaints be damned. This is top line genre film making, where true love is proven to always last a lifetime, because, quite simply, Raiders of the Lost Ark is still the modern day template for action/adventure movies. 10/10