Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Indiana Jones tries to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. 

Memorable Quote:
Snakes, why did it have to be snakes.  ~Indy

The map room scene with John Williams's amazing theme. Powerful stuff.

The implication behind the conversation when Indy sees Marion for the first time:
  • I learned to hate you in the last ten years.  ~Marion
  • I never meant to hurt you.  ~Indy
  • I was a child. I was in love. It was wrong and you knew it.  ~Marion
I know what you're thinking, that it's a little weird that she says she was a child, but that's just a figure of speech, right?  Let's ask George Lucas, whose thoughts were preserved in a transcript of a brainstorming session he had with Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan in 1978:

  • We have to get them cemented into a very strong relationship. A bond.  ~Lucas
  • I like it if they already had a relationship at one point. Because then you don't have to build it.  ~Kasdan
  • I was thinking that this old guy could have been his mentor. He could have known this little girl when she was just a kid. Had an affair with her when she was eleven ???!!!!!!??????!!!  ~Lucas (I added the extra punctuation)
  • And he was forty-two.  ~Kasdan
  • He hasn't seen her in twelve years. Now she's twenty-two. It's a real strange relationship.  ~Lucas
I'm speechless. Apparently the script had Marion at 15 and Indy at 25 when they first met rather than 11 and 42, but that's still statutory rape. 

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
When Brody first goes to Indy's house to discuss the mission, Jones is dressed the way he is because he is entertaining a young woman in his bedroom. The script originally planned to show her before moving to the next scene, to give Indy a more worldly persona (like James Bond). However, her appearance was cut, as Steven Spielberg thought that being a playboy did not fit Indy's character.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Paramount Pictures: the same studio that gave us MacGyver and Mission Impossible. Consider me on Team Paramount. 
  • Vic Tablian plays Barranca (the guy dressed in white who pulls a gun on Indy) and the monkey man later in the movie, and he played Demetrios in Young Indy's My First Adventure and Spring Break Adventure. Alfred Molina plays Satipo, and I know him from Maverick and Chocolat. I'm not sure why Indy has Satipo along -- he doesn't seem to add any value. 
  • Where did the boulder end up going?
  • Notice the plane's tail letters: "OB - CPO", as in Obi-Wan Kenobi and C3PO.
  • Indy is surprised to see the snake in the plane (Reggie), but wouldn't he have seen it before, assuming he was on the same plane on the way down?
  • Great opening that's simple, gritty, and reveals everything we need to know about the character: his rough edge, his daring, the costume, the whip, the fear of snakes, the theme song, and his relationship to Belloq. 
  • It's clear right from the beginning that Harrison Ford is the perfect choice to play Indiana Jones. With all due respect to Tom Selleck and anyone else that was considered, no one else could have done what Ford does with this character. 
  • Now we move to the classroom and see Professor Jones, and his nerdy, clumsy demeanor is a sharp contrast to his macho persona from the previous scene. 
  • I like how a student leaves an apple on Indy's desk and then Marcus picks it up, brushes it off, and puts it in his pocket. 
  • Marcus says, "I'm sure everything you do for the museum conforms to the international treaty for the protection of antiquities." Uh, what?  Indiana Jones might have a lot of good qualities, but he wasn't conforming to any academic standards when he went into the Peruvian temple to steal a gold icon from the natives while making no effort to research the site or do any historic preservation. Lucas makes it clear in the transcript I mentioned earlier that Indy has a bit of a dark side and is not a by-the-book archaeologist:
    • He is an archeologist and an anthropologist. A Ph.D. He's a doctor, he's a college professor. What happened is, he's also a sort of rough and tumble guy. But he got involved in going in and getting antiquities. Sort of searching out antiquities. And it became a very lucrative profession so he, rather than be an archeologist, he bacame sort of an outlaw archeologist. He really started being a grave robber, for hire, is what it really came down to. And the museums would hire him to steal things out of tombs and stuff. Or, locate them. In the archeology circles he knows everybody, so he's sort of like a private detective grave robber. A museum will give him an assignment... A bounty hunter.
  • Watching this movie and Last Crusade as a kid legitimately made me want to work as an archaeologist when I grew up where I would hunt for treasures and pledge loyalty to a museum that would receive all my findings.
  • Why couldn't Professor Abner Ravenwood be in a young Indy episode when he's at the U. of Chicago? 
  • Indy asks if the college museum can have the ark when he finds it, and Marcus says yes. Imagine being a small college museum: "Here we have some old coins, there's some ancient pottery, over here is the Ark of the Covenant..."
  • My second favorite scene is where Indy and Marcus are explaining what the ark is to the two Army Intelligence officers in the college's great hall.  The dialogue and acting is excellent, and I just enjoy it, especially when Indy opens the book (is it a bible?) and shows the army guys the picture of the ark and we hear the ark theme. 
  • Interesting that Indy is described as an "expert on the occult" while also being completely dismissive of "magic, superstitious, hocus pocus."
  • According to the Indiana Jones wiki, Marshall College is in Connecticut, but Indy's plane is shown taking off from San Francisco. 
  • Toht, the nefarious Nazi, is on Indy's flight from San Francisco. On such a long flight on a small plane with several layovers, wouldn't everyone on the plane have spoken to each other at some point?  That would have been a fun deleted scene where the plane stops to refuel in the Philippines and Toht fakes an American accent while making small talk with Indy. 
  • The Marion drinking scene is reminiscent of MacGyver-Eye of Osiris, as noted by me in my Eye of Osiris review. 
  • An incredible entrance by Ronald Lacey as Arnold Toht, a great villain who doesn't get enough screen time.  "We...are....not thirsty!" 
  • It's nice to see Sallah as more intelligent than in The Last Crusade, where he's kind of a buffoon. I'm a little confused about why they say he's been hired about the Germans -- is that because he was forced to or because he's acting as a double agent?
  • Great blasé facial expression from Ford as he shoots the swordsman. Supposedly there was going to be a more elaborate fight scene, but Ford had dysentery during filming and suggested a quick resolution because he was uncomfortable. 
  • Some good dialogue between Indy and Belloq in the bar, though I wonder why they wouldn't kill him there or try to get the headpiece out of him. I guess as my mom would say, then there wouldn't be a movie. 
  • There's quite a bit of important screen time for the monkey.
  • I've always been a bit bothered by Indy's transparency and lack of discretion while digging out the Well of Souls. He seems to think he and his small digging team can operate completely out in the open (and on top of a hill, no less) while surrounded by tons of Nazis. Not that there's an easy way to be discrete about it, but still.
  • It's crazy the lengths that the production team went to in filming the snakes, some of which is recounted in the IMDB trivia. For all that I complain about the use of CGI in movies of today, I understand why someone would choose CGI over bringing in thousands (repeat: thousands) of real snakes.
  • Where does the kerosene bucket and pump come from in the Well of Souls?
  • When Indy and Marion exit the Well of Souls, there's a brief shot of a guy sitting there kind of slumped over -- is he dead, or taking a nap?  Also, shouldn't the exterior where they exited have been a clue to the Nazis that something was in there when they were first looking for the ark?
  • I'm not normally someone who pays much attention to costuming, but the default Indiana Jones costume is spectacular. It just looks so freakin' cool, worn, and comfortable. Apparently it was modeled after Charlton Heston's costume in Secret of the Incas
  • The truck action scene is outstanding, though I wonder why the Nazis didn't just shoot the truck tires. 
  • Indy doesn't have his fedora when he swims to the sub. I guess he must have found a way to contact the sub when he got back to the States and asked them to send his hat back. 
  • As you know, I'm not a huge fan of magic in tv/movies, and so I don't care for the ending where the ark melts everyone's face and burns them with fire lasers. The ark is good at cleaning up, too, because there's not a trace of any Nazi bodies when it's all said and done. 
  • When the bureaucrat condescendingly says "Top men", Indy should slap him. 
  • Well done on the box scene at the end. I'd say that we'll see the box again in Crystal Skull, but I'm still pretending that movie doesn't exist. 

Final Analysis:
Obviously it's a groundbreaking, transcendent movie. My impression is that the majority of moviegoers and critics feel like it's the best Indy movie, but I see it as a notch below and as laying the foundation for the next two, which are two of the best movies of all time. I don't mean to put this movie down, though -- it's a great one. The plot is the epitome of high concept -- as you can see above, I completely summarized the movie in 14 words. I also love the high stakes, which Marcus Brody establishes when he says, "An army which carries the ark before it is invincible."

I'll say it again: Harrison Ford is beyond perfect for this part. His look, his voice, his attitude, his sensitivity -- we're talking about a once in a generation combination. Much like RDA, he's basically playing himself, whether it's as Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Witness, Air Force One, The Fugitive, Patriot Games, etc. But that's not a criticism, given that "himself" is a pretty cool dude and someone we love to see in movies.


  1. Great review. I learned a number of things in your comments. I definitely hadn't heard that Ford had dysentery in the scene in the Middle Eastern market with the swordsmen and wanted a quick resolution to that scene. I wonder how long his dysentery lasted and if it delayed production considerably. Good thing RDA never got dysentery during "MacGyver" because TV production schedules wait for nobody.

    I found out a few years ago that Marion was intended to be 11 years old when she was lovers with Indy. It's startling to imagine a time when viewers would have ever seen that relationship as acceptable. Even in the late 70s when they were spitballing that notion, Indy would have lost all connection with viewers if they were let to believe he'd molested an 11-year-old. As you said, it was bad enough to learn in the final script that she was 15....and Indy didn't even feel guilty about it!

    Who wins the musical arm wrestling contest between John Williams and Randy Edelman in your bracket?

    The Toht character was great....and there's a popularized meme comparing him to former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, particularly with those similar glasses.

    The truck scene was very impressive...they did an homage to it in a 1984 episode of "The Fall Guy". And of course "MacGyver" had something of an homage to the snake pit scene in "Halloween Knights". Very grateful that both productions took the extra effort to film with real snakes and didn't resort to either today's CGI fallback or the 80s-era blue screen work.

    As a kid I thought the supernatural ending was pretty cool as the idea of Toht's face melting seemed pretty badass when I was 10. I still don't hate it, but it is a little dissonant with the world created in the first 95% of the movie. There are "MacGyver" fans who absolutely lose their minds about the "magical powers" of Carol in "The Madonna" as completely disqualifying in a show rooted in science, but I wonder if they're as hard as the supernatural moments in the similar man-of-science Indiana Jones films.

    Now you got me curious about Charlton Heston's "The Secret of Incas". I always liked Heston as an over-the-top crimefighter and that movie sounds right up my alley even if it's cheesy.

    One of the final episodes of "Magnum, PI" which aired in 1988 was a fantasy adventure that put would-be Indiana Jones Tom Selleck in Indiana Jones-style scenarios. I was only able to catch a few moments of the episode in a rerun many years ago so I don't know how good it is, but Selleck did get the opportunity to play homage to the role he narrowly missed. Now we just need to see the lost episode of "MacGyver" where RDA pays homage to the John McClane role he narrowly missed out on.

    I'm with you that while I'm certainly a fan of this movie, I scratch my head at those who insist without a shadow of doubt that it's the best Indy film by a country mile. That's the broad consensus among fans. Clearly I'm not qualified to be a respected critic of cinema or film as, like you, I always like to this one as the opening salvo to two follow-up films that I personally enjoyed more. Three-star movie for me....always enjoyable to revisit but I don't get quite the adrenaline rush from it that I do the others.

    1. I've actually thought about doing a John Williams breakdown like I did with Edelman where I rank all his greatest hits. The Jurassic Park theme is one of my all time favorites, and Indiana Jones, Superman, Star Wars, and Midway March are all right up there. I'm not prepared to make a choice right now -- I'm going to have a hard enough time trying to make a choice between Temple of Doom and Last Crusade.

      I've never seen Secret of the Incas before either, but I'd be interested in checking it out (the full movie is on Youtube). It's interesting how so many things in this film (like the costume) and in other films are based on things that came before. A lot of the stuff in the opening of this movie was inspired by a Disney Uncle Scrooge comic book, including the large boulder.

      I had heard that RDA was considered for the role of McClane -- do you know if he "narrowly missed out" on it?

    2. Also, what is your opinion of Harrison Ford in the role? Do you hold him in as high esteem as I do?

    3. Just like RDA as's hard to wrap my mind around anyone but Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. He fit the role like a glove. Based on the creepy statutory rape conversation which had imagined Indiana Jones as being 42 years old 12 years prior to the film, it sounds like they were contemplating going with a much older actor. For endless reasons, I'm glad they didn't end up going with a mid-50s Indiana Jones character. On top of everything else, it would have made the stunts he performed in the three movies more logistically questionable. On the other hand, if the Indiana Jones of the original three was really mid-50s, we'd have been far less likely to endure "Crystal Skull" 20 years there's that!

      I don't know how seriously RDA was to getting the McClane role....only that RDA, Bruce Willis, and Don Johnson were three choices producers had in mind. It really seems like a stretch in my opinion and RDA would be my third choice of those three as most believably filling the role, especially if RDA was as personally anti-gun as the MacGyver producers always said he was. In addition, that would have been the abrupt end to "MacGyver" if RDA had gotten the role, which of course would have been unthinkable.