Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark: 40 years on

Harrison Ford starred as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Photo licenced by creative commons

There was great excitement this June when actor Harrison Ford arrived in the North East to film his latest project. Ford was not just making any film though; he was reprising one of his most iconic roles in the fifth Indiana Jones film. By a happy coincidence, June also marked the 40th anniversary of the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the film that introduced the character to the world. So, what better time to look back at this classic?

Conceived by George Lucas as a homage to the pulpy adventure serials of the 1930s, Raiders follows archaeology professor Indiana Jones (Ford) and his ex-lover Marion (Karen Allen) as they search for the Ark of the Covenant, a legendary Hebrew artifact that supposedly contains the original ten commandments. Along the way he must battle rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman) and a group of Nazis who are also hell bent on finding the Ark themselves.

Raiders of the Lost Ark turned down at first

The film was turned down by every major studio before Paramount picked it up. This is surprising, not only because Lucas and director Steven Spielberg had produced the two most successful films ever made up to that point, Star Wars and Jaws, but also because the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan is as close to perfect as a script can be. No scene is wasted, each one serves to further the plot or develop the characters, and none overstay their welcome.

Thrilling moments and far from a clear-cut hero

Of course, the highlight of any adventure film is the action sequences, and Raiders has some of the most thrilling moments in all of cinema. Spielberg’s tight direction, John Williams’ rousing score and Harrison Ford’s performances adds to the suspense. Ford does not play Indiana (or Indy as his friends call him) as an invincible superman. He gets hurt, is physically outmatched by his opponents, and barely gets out of some situations by the skin of his teeth. Indy is also far from a clear-cut hero. He fights dirty, has no qualms about killing and is implied to have begun his relationship with Marion when she was a teenager. Ford’s natural charisma and roguish charm helps the audience like the character despite his negative qualities.

As a villain Belloq works because he is in his own words “a shadowy reflection” of Indy. They are both driven by the same goal of finding historical artefacts, but Belloq is far more unscrupulous, going as far as working with Nazis to get what he wants.

No typical damsel in distress in Raiders

In the hands of Karen Allen, Marion, who could have been presented as a typical damsel in distress just there to be rescued by the hero, is shown as a strong and capable woman who can handle herself. Her chemistry with Ford is excellent, with their performances conveying her anger with Indy over their previous relationship but that there is still a deep love between them. It is little wonder that Marion is still the most popular and beloved of all of Indy’s love interests and why she was eventually brought back in the fourth instalment Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Most of all Raiders of the Lost Ark is an absolute joy to watch even after all these years.

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