Monday, 27 April 2009

Movie Review - Raiders of the Lost Ark

Released in 1981, this is a movie I first saw when I was very young but which I never forgot, and repeated viewings only make it more enjoyable. There's no slow build-up – it's straight into the action as Archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and short-lived sidekick Satipo (Alfred Molina) search for an ancient treasure in an old abandoned temple whose designers weren't keen on trespassers. Upon getting the artefact and juts about escaping with his life, he runs into another problem, one that will continue to haunt him throughout the movie – a French Archaeologist named Belloq (Paul Freeman), who just happens to have a whole tribe of poison dart shooting natives on his side.

When he gets back to the university where he lectures, Indy is given another artefact to obtain – the Ark of the Covenant. With the aid of his associate Marcus (Denholm Elliot) and some extremely spurious scriptural interpretation, it's off to obtain another relic that will help to reveal the location of the Ark. But this one's a bit more tricky… he knows where it is and who's got it, but the current owner is none other than an old flame with extremely hard feelings towards him…

And that's just the beginning.

Raiders of the Lost Ark works where many other have failed with similarly preposterous storylines for many reasons. The fact that it's all done in such a tongue-in-cheek manner stops you from taking it all seriously enough to start questioning the plot (and especially the very conveniently glossed over parts!), and Harrison Ford's performance is just the right blend of bravado, charm, cynicism, and dry wit. The action is fast and furious, and in my opinion one of the scenes (I mean the one involving the vans transporting the Ark, if you've already seen the film) is still one of the best stunt scenes ever filmed. If my memory isn't playing tricks on me, Ford insisted on doing his own stunts in this movie, and I believe he ended up with several broken bits by the end of filming!

The love interest, Marion (Karen Allen, who I've never seen in anything else) is feisty and refreshingly unglamorous, though through the efforts of the scriptwriters she does manage to get into a couple of slinky outfits at unlikely stages of the film. John Rhys-Davies is absolutely wonderful (when isn't he?) as Indy's Egyptian friend Sallah, though he is also quite possibly the least convincing Egyptian of all time! The special effects aren't amazing but they’re well up to standard, and while there is a certain element of cheesiness to many parts of the film – hey, it was made in the 80's, remember?!?!?

The evil Nazis are a bit stereotyped but the characters work well enough for what part they play in the film, and Richard Lacey is very creepy as the torturer guy (okay, he has a name – Major Toht). Other characters come and go throughout the film, but Ford is ably supported by whoever happens to be nearest – including the guy with the fancy swordplay. (There was going to be an epic swordfight but as Ford was ill at the time – diarrhoea if I remember rightly – he just shot him instead with a "I really can't be bothered" look.) There's are several instances of this dry and almost evil sense of humour in the film, quite often at the expense of poor old Indy. (Snakes? Why did it have to be snakes?!?") And just when all the action's over, Director Steven Spielburg gives us one of the best film endings ever. This film was certainly one of Spielburg’s finest hours.

Just to warn parents, though the film is only rated PG and I was only seven when I saw it, there are some pretty gruesome scenes that some kiddies definitely won't enjoy.

If you wanted to be nit-picky, there are several things you could gripe about, but you'd be missing the whole point of the film. Raiders of the Lost Ark is pure entertainment – it's fast, it's furious, it's fun. If you start trying to analyse it you're going to suck all of the enjoyment out of it, but if you just let yourself get swept along you'll enjoy the ride – and what a ride it is!

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