“This – This is history.”
Some would call Raiders of the Lost Ark the best adventure movie ever made. I was curious about this claim, so as any reasonable person would, I Googled “best adventure movie.” Sure enough, there was Raiders of the Lost Ark in the number two spot. Albeit, it was crammed between Hollywood Adventures and The Avengers, so maybe Google isn’t the best way to evaluate or categorize movies. You could use Rotten Tomatoes, which has it at #51 in the action-adventure category, but when a movie like Captain America: Civil War can clock in at #39, it helps one such as myself realize that we should stop putting so much faith in lists composed by algorithms and just watch the movies for ourselves, so this is what I did. Is Raiders of the Lost Ark the best adventure movie ever made? Maybe there’s a case to be made that it is, but either way, it’s certainly worthy of discussion.
As far as cultural impact goes, you really can’t get much bigger than Indie, and Raiders is really where it all seems to derive from. The dungeons swarming with traps, the swinging around on the whip, the chase scenes, the wit, the humor, the wonderful John Williams score – it’s all here. It’s one of those movies that’s hard to watch with fresh eyes, especially for newer generations such as myself who never experienced it in theaters without preconceptions. When I attempt to look at it as an original piece of work, however, the film is honestly stunning. Spielberg is at the height of his artistic ability and his imagination with this movie, and it launched an entire genre of movies that we still see pumped out today.
I think one of Spielberg’s greatest abilities (particularly with his early work) is that he allows his movies to be fun. Jaws, Close Encounters, eventually ET – all of these films have their thrilling moments, but not without some humor to balance it out. Part of this could be the audience he was pandering to, but it’s really such a relief to watch an older Spielberg movie and see the playfulness he used to possess before he started chasing Oscars (with just about everything after Jurassic Park.) Raiders of the Lost Ark is filled with witty banter between Indie and every other character in the film. There are silly moments within the action which feel not only earned but also appropriate given the fantastic nature of the film. Spielberg knows what his audience wants to see and delivers wholeheartedly, relishing in the wild adventure himself.
Of course, a review of this movie wouldn’t be complete without praise for the leading man himself. Harrison Ford brings such a cool, heroic persona to the leading character that you can’t help but root for him despite his more off-putting qualities. It’s also a hilarious contrast to see Ford, a masculine dignified action hero, being placed in silly, demeaning circumstances such as Indie’s compulsive fear of snakes. He also brings an admirable academic quality to the character. You get to see Indiana Jones: the passionate archaeologist, and this other side of him drives his actions throughout the course of the movie as he attempts not only to bring down the Nazis but to preserve priceless relics for the good of academia. It’s hard to picture another actor carrying the role in such a heroic way, and the Indie franchise would certainly feel a lot different without Harrison Ford at the forefront.
I’ve recently decided that I should start picking out specifics from these movies that I can take with me, a sort of “here’s what I’ve learned.” With Raiders, it’s clear that you have to have a vision for what sort of film you’re making. Spielberg knew that he was making a fun adventure movie, not some brooding exploration of yada yada whatever, and this distinction pays off in every detail of his work. It’s also inspiring to note that a film regarded as one of the best of all time can be a fun, at times silly, big blockbuster adventure. More recent movies in the adventure genre may serve to discredit Indie retroactively as another cash grab in a long line of boring rehashes, but Spielberg showed in the 70s and 80s that the “summer blockbuster” can be artistically fulfilling, and it can even be considered a masterpiece. Any genre can be treated with imagination and innovation, and that’s an important fact to keep in mind moving forward while looking at movies.
Of course the greatest film of some genre is going to be subjective to an extent, but I’d say that Raiders of the Lost Ark is unquestionably one of the greats for what it aims to achieve. Steven Spielberg is at the top of his game crafting every moment of this film with love and excitement. Raiders continues to set the bar for an adventure movie of this style, and few big releases these days have such innovative concepts that change the game in the way Indiana Jones has done. It’s a film that doesn’t beg to be analyzed, simply enjoyed, and for this reason it will continue to be beloved for years to come.
Films Left to Watch: 940