Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)


I am going to be honest, I have never been a big Indiana Jones fan – maybe if you like James Bond, Indiana Jones just seems to be a bit of a bland copy. Does he work for MI6? No – for a museum. Bo-o-oring. Does he wear a tuxedo? No (except at the start of Temple of Doom if I’m right?). But, saying that, the eighties was a bit of a drought in good James Bond films (damn you Old-Roger Moore and too-serious Timothy Dalton) so something had to fill the gap I guess. I re-watched this to continue my chronological viewing of Spielberg films and, alas, I was not impressed. Lets see how we go …

Quick Synopsis

We open in the forest in South America, 1936. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) goes through a thoroughly impressive maze of traps and manages to get a gold idol and, narrowly escapes death, getting out of the temple. Waiting outside is Hovito Indians and Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) – he steals the idol and the Indians try to kill Indy. But fail.

Indiana Jones is a lecturer at a University and Army intel explain how the Nazi’s – some scary group of German militia – are beginning an archaeological search in Cairo looking for the Ark of the Covenant, aka the chest that carried the 10 commandments. If Nazi’s get it they could take over the world because this Ark harnesses a powerful energy. Indy is sent away – picking up Marion (Karen Allen) – a clear parallel to Indy – on the way and eventually ending up in Cairo to meet Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) who helps them get the Ark again – they fail – and Belloq (now hired by the Nazi’s) gets it again. Indy gets a plane and fights. Indy attacks a convoy holding the Ark – and gets the Ark. But alas, the Nazi’s get the Ark again and both Indy and Marion are captured ending up on a Nazi island. They open the Ark, Marion and Indy close there eyes, everyone bar Indy and Marion die. Fini.

What I reckon …

So, as I said, its a lot like 007. Well done Lucas with your rip-off script – “Hey Steve, I got an idea – its a rip-off of James Bond and it will make me, ahem, us, money”. Anyway, the intro is action-packed and merely introduces characters – with no real link to the story itself. But it is like a brilliant, very complex row of dominoes – you see all these traps set up: boulders, arrows, poison darts, etc and Indy, carefully gets past them and then – on the way out – every trap goes off. Its not just one big explosion or lots of punching – it is complex separate traps going off one by one.

The one thing which is a little strange I thought was some of the comedy had an air of slapstick about it. The fights had huge expressive flips and it simply seemed a little contrived – Bond never had time for fancy moves! not to mention the choice for bad guys. Question: Who are seen as the worst group in history. Answer: Nazi’s. Its all a big joke now really! Now, obviously James Bond is hardly deadly serious, but I didn’t think it was that tongue in cheek. Maybe I should re-watch some Roger Moore Bond.

Some great references though. The Western regalia of Indy is a nice link to the one genre, while the bad guy Major Toht is the link to a different genre – Gangsters. In fact, there is a huge similarity between Cagney in ‘The Public Enemy’ in black mack and hat in the rain and Major Toht in black mack and hat in the rain. A great touch. While the final shot of the film has a nice recall of ‘Citizen Kane’ – the Greatest Film of All Time – with the boxes of storage mounted up in a huge room.

I think this is one of those films which, watched in the wrong way, is not as fulfilling. I watched this in a kind-of ‘I have not watched this ‘classic’ for ages, so I have to be prepared for an important movie’, when in fact it was not made to be a classic, it was made to be a lot of fun and not to be taken seriously. So don’t take it seriously. It was new for its time and was well aware of the comparison to James Bond and, rather than ignore it, it just ran with it – referencing other films as it went. And now, it is a classic but simply because of the fun and games, the shits and giggles. But, I have to admit, I don’t buy it now. I think it won’t take long for it to fade away as just one of many blockbusters as there are so many and yes, I know it has had a further three sequels but that’s why it has had its longevity and is now a franchise. And they’re all fun so I can’t knock them but … I just think they have the same appeal as James Bond except not really as good. I got another three to re-watch and review and then I could summarise but this first one – other than the opening – is not actually that good. How ‘privileged’ we are for viewing the power of the Ark. Whatever.


  1. Another brief one (need something I can get my teeth into).

    Isn't Indiana Jones massively overrated? The only one that is mildly exciting is the third one (Last Crusade?) because it has a hot Nazi and Sean Connery. I never saw the fourth one but it sounds like people finally cottoned on and asked; 'why am I swallowing this shit?'

    And Harrison Ford is the most overrated actor in the universe. He is the very definition of wooden. He has one look, slightly pissed off. I can't think of a single good film he has done yet he's apparently been in some of the most commercially successful films ever.

  2. Insult Roger Moore at your peril. He will find you. Your comments are ageist and unfounded. It is undeniable that with Moore at the helm the franchise continued its success, and it wasn't until the casting of Dalton in the role (a far superior actor, but tragically miscast) that the films really missed Moore. View To A Kill was pathetic though. BT

  3. Don't get me wrong – Moore had a purpose: during the cheesy, materialistic and comedic eighties he was great. But the adventure and man-you-wanted-to-be charisma was not there, whereby Indy did fit that bracket, thus, filling the void. Dalton, was miscast, and his serious Bond (that I think Daniel Craig lives up to) was wrong as we were not out og the eighties yet and we wanted the comedy back! Dalton and Moore had their purpose but, looking back, Indiana Jones had the edge on adventure fiulms between 1981 and 1989

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