Just over a week ago, I had the incredible privilege of watching Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater for the first time ever. This is a movie I’ve loved since I was probably ten-years old, and is almost entirely responsible for my lifelong obsession with adventures and globe-trotting heroes, and finally being able to see it on the big screen was everything I could’ve hoped for and then some.
Most importantly, however, it got me thinking about just how much I love this movie. While watching it in my living room is great in its own right, seeing the story unfold on the big screen was an amazing experience that showed me that this is, without a doubt, one of the best movies ever created. Everything about it is practically flawless, and it still blows my mind that it is just as enjoyable now as it ever was in the past.
There are so many reasons that make Raiders of the Lost Ark the movie that it is, and I could spend hours and hours talking about every single one of them. But I won’t, because then this would be a review too long for anyone to ever want to finish. So to make this as easy as possible, I’m going to summarize this entire movie in a single word: perfect.
I love everything about this movie. From the absolutely thrilling introductory sequence, which has yet to be topped even to this day, to the phenomenal pacing or impeccably written dialogue, or the literally perfect soundtrack, this movie literally does everything right.
This is a movie about adventure, excitement, and heroics, and even if the plot had been nothing more than a backdrop for the characters, which it most definitely is not, this would still be an amazing movie. Why? Because of Indiana Jones. He is, without a doubt, one of the best movie characters to ever have existed, and he is brilliantly brought to life by both Harrison Ford’s timeless performance and the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan.
Indy is one of those special characters that anyone and everyone can relate to. Despite the dangerous and explosive adventures he frequently goes on, Indy defines the everyman. He’s not a superhuman, he feels pain just like everyone else, falls down when he’s punched, and will even run away when the time calls for it. In a way, we can all see a part of ourselves in Indy’s character, and that’s probably part of the reason why the character is still beloved today.
Harrison Ford brought a life to his character in a way few actors could, and even though he had recently had the defining role of Han Solo in Star Wars, Ford still managed to make Indy feel like someone entirely new. Sure, there are similarities between the two, but Indiana Jones is the character Ford was absolutely born to play. He does everything right, and I struggle to think of a more instantly recognizable character in pop culture.
However, Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t a movie that only succeeded because of Ford, but rather, because of the brilliant work dedication from the entire cast and crew. Everyone put their all into this movie, and it shows. The subtle details in the set design that make you feel like you’re really there, the improvisation from the actors, or even the oddly relatable yet still horrific villains, it all comes together to make an experience like nothing else.
The plot moves at an extraordinarily fast pace, and rarely stops to catch its breath, but yet with everything going on it never once feels unnecessarily long or overpopulated. Every single scene, character, and line of dialogue serves a purpose, and the pacing never falters for even a second, guaranteeing that you are on the edge of your seat from the very first scene to the very last.
Steven Spielberg is a master behind the camera, and it’s truly astounding how he has managed to direct so many masterful and unforgettable movies. And his work on Raiders of the Lost Ark is no exception. The way he maneuvers the camera, and in turn the audience, throughout the movie is astonishing, and there is easily at least half-a-dozen shots here that are immediately and timelessly unforgettable.
Whether it’s the iconic opening scene in the temple, the fist fight that literally takes place around a moving airplane, a thrilling car chase through a jungle and over a mountain, or the tense and even frightening escape from the horrific Well of Souls, Raiders of the Lost Ark is full of moments that, even today, leave me with my jaw on the floor.
While there are a couple shots of outdated special effects, for the most part this movie still looks just as good today as it did in 1981. The practical effects hold up surprisingly well, and even some of the more comical characters haven’t lost an ounce of their individuality thanks to the impeccable writing and acting.
Karen Allen nails the role of Marion Ravenwood, and while she might be a romantic interest, she’s such an independent character that she goes far beyond the role of Indy’s ‘lady friend.’ She doesn’t take anything from anyone, and I absolutely love how she actually saves Indy once or twice, instead of being the completely helpless stereotype that we see far too often.
Even the villains are fantastic, with Paul Freeman nearly stealing the show as the gleefully evil René Belloq. Belloq is the kind of character we all love to hate, and despite the horrible things he does, we still can’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy for him simply because Freeman makes him such an incredibly likable villain.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those movies I will never, ever get tired of watching over and over again. It does everything it sets out to do and then some. It’s an endlessly enjoyable and exciting adventure film that defined a genre in a way few movies can ever claim to have done. There are too many iconic scenes and moments to even try and recount, and even those who have somehow not seen it can immediately recognize its characters.
Even though the ending feels a little insane in regards to the rest of the movie, it’s still one of the most iconic endings in cinema, and is just another example of why Raiders of the Lost Ark is such a timeless film. The flawless John William’s soundtrack, jaw-dropping directing, phenomenal cast, and sarcastic, witty writing all make this movie the masterpiece that it is, and I cannot think of a single way it could’ve been better.