Tuesday, March 31, 2015

AFI Top 100: #66 "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark

There's something about watching a film geared towards the kid in all of us that remind us why we go to the movies in the first place. Yes, I said it: #66 on the AFI Top 100 list, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is a movie for kids. That is, kids of all ages. It is simultaneously timeless and a throwback to times long past, which is, I believe the recipe for nostalgia. There are very few films like this on our countdown list, and this Steven Spielberg directed starter for one of cinema's most successful trilogies (I refuse to accept Kingdom of the Crystal Skull actually happened) a non-stop thrill ride.

The first of (currently) four films about anthropologist & professor-by-day, adventurer-by...well, also day... Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), maybe cinema's coolest character. Set in 1936, Indy, as he's known to his friends, makes a habit of finding lost treasures for preservation rather than for profit. As a result, it's no surprise when the US Government hires him to track down the ancient Ark of the Covenant, a relic described in the Book of Exodus believed to house the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments... before the Nazis find it first! Indy embarks on a harrowing treasure hunt, using his cunning wit and knowledge to outsmart the occult-obsessed Nazis, who think that possessing the Ark will appease Hitler and make their army invincible.

Of course, he doesn't do it all alone, which is what makes Indiana Jones so fantastic. Whether its his sidekick, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), coming through in a pinch to rescue him in a foreign land, or his probably-smarter-than-him ex-lover, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), charming her way out of the clutches of the enemy, Indy and his mission are in pretty capable hands. There's a "swashbuckling in the desert" feeling to Raiders that gives it grit, and the excitement of discovery drives the action towards maybe one of the most satisfying climaxes in move history.

The 'pulp' qualities of Raiders are pretty impossible to ignore, once you realize that's why the movie is the way it is. Sitting down to re-watch this, really for the first time as a critical viewing rather than the handful of times I'd seen it for fun, I had to force myself midway through to adjust my thinking. The part of me that wanted to deduct points for exaggerated and frivolous fight choreography, or the over-the-top character 'face pulling', comparing the film to the last 35 we've watched... all of that needed to be squashed down so I could remember what this flick is really about: our comic-esque hero, Indiana Jones (his name alone is our first clue), and his high-flying, danger-fueled adventures! This is pulp entertainment at its best, and it delivers on everything it promises.

Harrison Ford will forever be remembered as two iconic characters: Indy, and Han Solo, from the #13 film on this list, Star Wars (and their subsequent trilogies). What makes Indiana Jones stand out to me, surpassing Han's renegade bad-boy, is that he's driven far less by ego. This is most evident during Raiders' action sequences, notably the fights on the truck and around the airplane. Every close call, every moment where he almost doesn't make it (or loses his head!), he pushes forward not for his own self-satisfaction, but because it's the right thing to do. He must defeat the bad guys, no matter how brow-beaten he gets in the process. Level-headed but not cocky, he's capable of being just a little bit scared... and that's pretty darn sexy.

The Indiana Jones films live in a world of their own, where, as viewers, we should only ever compare one film to another from the series. Don't believe me? I can't recall a single conversation I've ever had where one Indiana Jones movie is mentioned and someone else doesn't chime in with "Well, I prefer The Last Crusade over Raiders..." or "I can do without Temple of Doom, Last Crusade for the win!" or "Who greenlit Crystal Skull?!?!" Okay, those might be my personal thoughts, but you get what I'm saying. The worlds are rich and varied, the plots are fun, thrilling, and most of all, playful. Indy is the hero that every kid dreamed of being, finding priceless treasures and pummeling the bad guys (usually Nazis). We can imagine Indy and his friends racing through the pages of a 10¢ drugstore pulp comic from the 1930s, showing just how exciting—and rewardingit can be to be smart.

I mentioned before, I have a bit of a preference for The Last Crusade over Raiders, and I've seen the former probably 20x more. However, Raiders may have some of the most iconic moments in cinema, with a soaring score and theme music, dynamic action sequences, and on-point comedy (seriously, you guys, don't bring a sword to a gunfight). Not to mention, we get to enjoy Marion, Indy's most capable and believable love interest.

While Raiders may be viewed as one of the 'best' or a favorite of the films listed on the AFI Top 100 for many movie lovers out there (maybe some of you?), it doesn't quite rise above some of the scripts and stories yet to come, at least for me. Its inclusion on the list is a no-brainer, and it's placement at #66 feels just right. Okay, maybe we could prop it up to the 40's, and I'd be happy as a clam. More than anything, though, it comes in our countdown at just the right time, as we recover from the seriousness of dramas and the violence of wars. Indiana Jonesand this filmlive on as the embodiment of fun.

Rating:  ★★★½ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews] | [images © Paramount Pictures]

Check back later this week for #65 on the list, The African Queen — or better yet, have your own viewing party and watch along with us!

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