In the late 1970s and early 1980s there was none more celebrated producers and directors than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. One had created the ‘Summer Blockbuster’ with release of Jaws, the other had created Star Wars, a franchise so popular that it is still on peoples favourite films list to this day. In 1981, shortly after the release of Spielberg’s biggest box office disaster 1941 came a genre-defining action-adventure film called Raiders of the Lost Ark. The success of Raiders of the Lost Ark was almost unparalleled at the time as it not only was the highest-grossing film of the year, but was nominated for 8 Academy Awards.
Raiders of the Lost Ark begins in 1936 with archaeologist Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in search of an ancient golden idol in Peru. He is beaten to claiming it by his rival, who has begun working with the Nazis. Upon returning to the USA he is approached by two army intelligence officers about the possible existence of the ‘Ark of the Covenant,’ the storage place of the Ten Commandments. Concerned that the Nazis might be close to actually uncovering its resting place, they employ Indiana to beat them to it. On the way to the site of the dig in Cairo, Indiana meets up with an old flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who he knows holds one of the key pieces to discovering the arks true location.
To say that Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the finest examples of action-adventure film-making would be doing it a disservice. From the superbly exciting scenes with idol and the now infamous rolling boulder all the way to the dazzling and surprisingly gory finale, Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn’t miss an opportunity to thrill and enthrall its audience. Its such a breakneck pace in fact that you almost miss the fact that Allen, its one female ‘lead’ is in fact a non-entity for most of the running time. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a young boys fantasy and in this area it delivers in spades.
The lead character Indiana Jones is a throwback to the TV adventure serials of the late 1940s and 1950s. He is smart, funny, brave and not afraid to defend himself. In fact in one of the highlights of the film, when Ford’s Indiana is faced with a martial arts trained swordsmen who wants to go man-on-man, he simply pulls out his gun and shoots him before turning to shrug at the camera and run off. That scene is the epitome of Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s success. It’s simplicity is its strength and whenever there seems to be a lull coming in the action, something else pops up to keep it going. Lucas and Spielberg had clearly found their rhythm with a pulp fiction portrayal of history and archaeology.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is the film that started one of the most successful and well-loved franchises in film history, while cementing Harrison Ford’s place in the A-List. Commercially and critically its success gave Lucas and Spielberg the final push they both needed to become the icons of Hollywood that they are today. Propelled at high-speed with a great cast, tight script and a stirring John Williams score, Raiders of the Lost Ark has excited, thrilled and enchanted audiences for decades. And really, even now, who doesn’t want a fedora, a bullwhip and the chance to go adventuring in far off lands? As long as there’s no snakes of course.