Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Raiders of the Lost Ark


I'm absolutely shocked, I tell you, shocked at the turn of events in my life over the last day. Everything started out so ordinary this morning. I was in my palatial bathroom, the one with the ormolu fixtures and the cascading waterfall into the tub, dealing with my morning toilette. I had just finished with the lavabo when there was a noise in the bathtub. I flung aside the shower curtain I picked up at Dennis Koszlowski's recent garage sale and there stood Norman. Rather there stood Norman's shade, I suppose I should say, as he was quite transparent. The toothpaste then immediately hurled itself around the room, he reached out to me saying something about carpet slippers and I keeled over in a dead faint. 

Mrs. Jerry, my housekeeper, found me senseless on the floor a few minutes later and revived me with the little jar of lavender smelling salts we keep for such emergencies and I told her about my ghostly encounter. She was a bit skeptical but then said, should I run into Norman again, to please ask him not to rearrange the spice cupboard in the kitchen as she's tired of reaching for the sage in order to finish the venison roast and picking up the cumin or coriander instead. As this is my first experience with the supernatural, I told her I'd try to contact him but that I'm not exactly sure of protocol. I was too flustered to go down to the studio to work on Mother Teresa: The Musical but opted to stay home instead with a nice pitcher of Margaritas and stay tranquil on the terrace. Tommy, my Jungian therapist, thought this might be a very useful plan. 

A little sunshine can go a long way and I eventually retreated back inside where I decided to find a film with a nice supernatural conclusion and which required little in the way of brain power for analysis. Looking over the 'to view' pile, I happened across the new DVD release box set of the Indiana Jones films from Steven Spielberg and decided to settle in with Raiders of the Lost Ark; as I recalled, there was something about ghosts towards the end, some humor and some fairly spectacular action sequences throughout the proceedings. 

For the five or six people who are unfamiliar with the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark stars Harrison Ford as the adventuresome archeologist Indiana Jones, professor at some nameless American university in the 1930s. While most university professors sit in the library writing rather dull monographs, Dr. Jones spends his time circumnavigating the globe and acquiring rare artifacts through amazing adventures. The film, and its sequels are homages and send ups of the adventure serials of the 1940s in which square jawed heroes ran off to exotic parts of the back lot, rescued damsels in distress, fought large numbers of extras from south central LA disguised with war paint, and generally triumphed over evil. The whole genre and the tone of the film is set in the opening sequence, in which Indiana, deep in the South American jungle, attempts to liberate a golden idol from a booby trapped temple. 

The major thrust of the film begins after this establishing sequence when the US government asks Dr. Jones for help in recovering what may be the lost ark of the covenant, the chest which, according to the bible, the ancient Hebrews carried the shattered pieces of the ten commandment tablets. In order to do this Indy travels first to Nepal where he hooks up with old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who's busy running a dive bar for drunken Sherpas and then to Cairo where they join up with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a digger who has the inside information on what the Nazis are doing in the desert. Hitler, you see, wants the ark and will stop at nothing to possess it and has sent an evil assassin (Ronald Lacey) after Indy and Marion. Needless to say, the ark is recovered, despite the interference of a treacherous rival archeologist (Paul Freeman) and, after many feats of derring-do, there's a final showdown at a secret Nazi base on a Mediterranean island in which god declares himself anti-Nazi in a most spectacular way. 

The film was released in 1981, just before the advent of computer assisted special effects. The spectacular action sequences, therefore, are real people throwing themselves around magnificent sets, not computer generated shadows, giving the film a more immediate feel than many of the more modern action spectaculars. Steven Spielberg is completely in his element. His love of boys adventure stories is allowed full expression and he's at his best leavening a long and complicated chase sequence with a brief bit of visual or off-kilter humor. Who could forget the outcome of the showdown of the scimitar wheeling fighter and Indy in the Cairo marketplace? Many of the sequences have become modern classics - Indy's running from a giant rolling boulder, the tangle of snakes in the vault protecting the ark, Indy's gallop and takeover of a truck convoy bearing the ark away from the dig site. 

Spielberg loses his touch when it comes to some of the more adult aspects of the story. He's never been comfortable with romance, sex and love and the romance between Indy and Marion is never allowed to blossom the way that it should and tends to be played more for laughs than anything else. Karen Allen, with her cats eyes and her spunky attitude, makes a great foil for the sardonic Harrison Ford and one wonders where the relationship between the characters might have been taken in the sequels. Unfortunately, reports from the set suggest that Miss Allen and Mr. Spielberg were unable to see eye to eye on much of anything and Miss Allen was not asked back for future films for quite some time and her character was never mentioned again until a much later sequel, even if it would have made sense to do so. 

Harrison Ford, in a part originally intended for Tom Selleck (who could not get out of his Magnum P.I. contract for the filming), makes Indiana his own and cemented his status as movie icon, already in ascent after his turn as Han Solo in the Star Wars trilogy. His deadpan delivery, his ability to inhabit the physicality of the character and do many of his own stunts, and his complete understanding of the necessity of humor to make the film rocket along all lift the undertaking to the status of modern popcorn movie classic. He repeated the part twice more over the next decade and many years later, an unneeded fourth film which, given Mr. Ford's age, should have been entitled Indiana Jones and the Bottle of Geritol. 

The DVD is one of a boxed set of four, including all three of the original films in corrected color, pristine widescreen prints and Dolby enhanced soundtracks. The fourth disc is packed with extras examining the art and creation of the trilogy. 

More than twenty years later, the film still holds up as a grand adventure with heroes to cheer, villains to hiss, and some eye-popping visual delights. I heartily recommend it. 

Tarantulas on back. Speared Alfred Molina. Drinking contest. Burned hand. Traitorous monkey. Basket confusion. Inappropriate evening gown wearing. Poisoned dates. Cobra close encounter. Jeep in ravine. Submarine climbing. Peeved holy spirits. Crated valuables. 

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