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Monday, September 10, 2012

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: The IMAX Experience


"It's not the years, it's the mileage."

What can one say about Raiders of the Lost Ark (full title now revamped with the prefix Indiana Jones and the... to fit in with the rest of the saga's titles) that hasn't already been said in the last 30 years? Raiders is a near-perfect movie. It has flaws, but they're part of its charm. Raiders is a globe-hopping, derring-do, one-damn-thing-after-another, pure escapist fantasy into a pulpy early 20th century bursting with Nazis, supernatural artifacts, and an indomitable hero who's perpetually in over his head. And hat. It's the best Indiana Jones movie and always will be. 

Via the three sequels (though technically Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is set in 1935 and Raiders is set a year later, so Temple of Doom is a prequel) we know all we need to know about Henry Jones, Jr., nee "Indiana" Jones, who named himself after his childhood dog, a doctor of archaeology at Marshall College and expert in the supernatural and the occult. In Raiders, however, Indiana Jones is largely an enigma. Purely based on his actions, Indiana Jones can be seen as a grave robber, a meddler. We know he's a gifted archaeologist and a trouble-seeker. We know he's a killer when he has to be, and a callous one. We know he left Marion Ravenwood without saying goodbye when they were both younger (she younger than he). And yet, he is unquestionably our hero because truly evil (in the dictionary definition) characters oppose him and try to kill him, and he's played by the beloved Harrison Ford in his swaggering, macho prime. Bottom line, Indiana Jones is a good man and a hero, if you're on his side and you're not trying to kill him.

But what drives Indiana Jones to put his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones at perpetual risk time and again? He takes on the mission from US Army Intelligence to recover the fabled Ark of the Covenant for a few reasons. Ostensibly it's to recover such a sacred artifact for the museum curated by his friend Denholm Elliot. Partly, it's to learn the fate of his mentor Abner Ravenwood and see his ex Marion again. He's also interested in making sure the Ark doesn't fall into the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. Later on, his arch nemesis Rene Belloq, digs deeper - "Archaeology is [y]our religion." Belloq calls Indy's bluff that Indy could not destroy the Ark even if it was to save his life and Marion's, and he's right. In the end, Indiana Jones does what has to be done. Archaeology is his religion, but he has another equal passion: Adventure. Indiana Jones needs adventure. This is why despite the adoration of his students, Dr. Jones can't wait to blow out of his stuffy classroom and don his leather jacket and fedora.

The famous truck chase scene where Indy tries to commandeer the truck containing the crated up Ark is probably the finest action sequence in Raiders, but one wonders why Belloq and the Nazis, who spent the entire chase in a convertible Mercedes Benz driving in front of Indy's truck, didn't just pull over at any point and force the truck to stop? Probably because they knew Indy would try to ram and kill them no matter what. Anyone complaining how Bruce Wayne was able to return to a sealed off Gotham City in The Dark Knight Rises would probably also question how Indiana Jones was able to survive riding atop a Nazi submarine all the way to their secret island base, and then infiltrate the base without being detected. At the very least, Indy was lucky the Nazis apparently never chose to submerge their sub for some reason.

Probably the strangest thing about Raiders, in hindsight, is how surprisingly unquotable the dialogue is. "Fortune and glory.", "I'm not leaving here without the stones", "No time for love, Dr. Jones!" come from Temple of Doom. "We named the dog Indiana.", "You chose... poorly." come from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The most famous lines from the saga came later. 

Belloq, played by Paul Freeman as the best of the Indiana Jones villains, is presented as Indiana Jones' equal as an archaeologist but he isn't quite. Belloq is a well-dressed French dandy who never get his hands dirty. He never digs or excavates on his own, and when he tries to learn the secret location of the Ark, he ends up sending the Nazis digging in the wrong place. In one respect, Belloq is brilliant - he's made a career of trailing Indiana Jones around the world, letting Indy do the actual dangerous risk-taking, and then stealing the spoils. He even tries to steal Marion, Indy's girl. Probably the only half-way noble thing Belloq does in Raiders is constantly trying to keep Marion safe from his Nazi overlords. Whatever Belloq intends for Marion, at least it's not the death, or worse, the Nazis would inflict on her.

Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood is the undisputed best of Indiana Jones' love interests, though it's better to remember her young, sexy and spirited in Raiders than as Shia LaBeouf's mom in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Marion is a brave and tough girl who can drink any man under the table, but she is still a girl and this is a pulp adventure yarn. Thus, Raiders uses Marion as a perpetual prop and hostage to be passed around between Indy and the Nazis. She's kidnapped no less than twice, thrown into a pit of snakes, and twice made to change into dresses that become flimsier and flimsier. She screams a lot too, but not nearly to the ear-splitting extent Kate Capshaw does in Temple of Doom. "We never can catch a break, can we?" Marion asks a beaten and battered Indy as he falls asleep instead of making love. When Indy and Marion walk away together, we expect a happily ever after that we learn later didn't quite become so.

The biggest question that hangs over the Indiana Jones saga is: when Marion and Indy finally did have their torrid, steamy sex, how did the two of them end up producing Mutt Williams?