Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Endless Summer – The Birth of the Blockbuster which runs from August 30th to September 1st at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
May was coming to an end and I exited the frigid theater into the outside world. As my feet transitioned from shined tile to rough concrete I couldn’t help but smile. Indiana Jones, a character I had always loved, had returned to the big screen. With each step I excitedly reminisced on the iconography of the character. Step. The hat. Step. The whip. Step. The attitude. With my next step, a dark cloud glided overhead, and I began to rethink the actual film. Those monkeys and meerkats did look pretty awful. Did he survive a nuclear blast in a fridge? Wait…did they just end an Indiana Jones film with aliens?! At this point, the smile was gone, in its place now rested a hurt scowl. What had they done to my Indy? What was this that I just watched, and why was I just now realizing how terrible it all was? My excitement masqueraded as enjoyment. Like finding an old toy, the nostalgia of it all had blinded me to just how little fun it now afforded. But that is just how great Raiders of the Lost Ark is; so immediately fantastic that it had momentarily allowed me to enjoy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The establishment of the character is a testament to the success of the film. So many of its moments are regarded as iconic that it is difficult to fathom a time before it existed in society.
The Indiana Jones of 2008 had undergone a massive change, as any character would over the course of 27 years. The problem was that over the eight years of the original trilogy we hadn’t really seen him age. If anything, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade establishes a younger point-of-view, as he grapples with the literally patronizing presence of his father. The shock of a strikingly old Jones that appeared even more jaded and now was an absent father, just didn’t sit right. For a guy with such deep rooted daddy issues, it seemed strange that he would reject the notion so completely. The spark of discovery had been sapped from his psyche and it was a struggle to understand why he would continue on these adventures that he didn’t even appear to enjoy anymore. Our adventuring Indy had been swapped out with an obligatory one. It broke the character.
What Raiders does so well with Indy is to show him as a flawed, complex and vulnerable person. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas offer up just enough morsels of his back story while avoiding labored exposition. It allows the audience to establish a more naturalistic relationship with the character. By the end of the first film you feel like you have come to know him through experience rather than dictated story. There are enough quirks to him to allow for a wide array of connectivity. While it is easy to focus on the adventurous side, the dirt covered searcher with just the right amount of stubble, he is in all actuality quite intellectual. A professor and appreciator of history, he does not venture into the unknown for his own personal glory, but to allow the artifacts to be experienced by the masses. When you dig into the character, his primary goal is to foster education, a concept that is nearly unheard of and flirts with the absurd for adventure heroes. In his own roundabout way, Indiana Jones shows that it is cool to study. His years of schooling are what ultimately save him when the greedy Nazis melt away. In short, Indiana Jones made being a bookworm cooler than it had ever been.
With breathtaking visuals that even David Lean would no doubt be proud of, Raiders of the Lost Ark builds on its own history to offer up an adventure tale that is amazing adept at balancing humor, action, suspense and even romance.
The establishment of the character is a testament to the success of the film. So many of its moments are regarded as iconic that it is difficult to fathom a time before it existed in society. Whether or not you have seen the film (and honestly whoever hasn’t needs to rethink some life choices), you are undoubtedly familiar with the boulder chase. For a film with so many grandiose set pieces it is surprisingly reserved. Spielberg offers up small morsels at a precise pace. He waits to unveil his hero and when he does, has him appear out of the shadows like a theatrical actor gracefully walking onto a stage. Like Indy, the audience is an outsider in this land, so we cautiously take his hand as he leads us through the decrepit temple. Harrison Ford invites us to trust him, and we jump in with both feet. Inspired by the adventure serials of a lost time, the film transcends its own inspiration. The plot avoids overcomplication, its fairly simple structure allowing the viewer to become more immersed in the surrounding world. With breathtaking visuals that even David Lean would no doubt be proud of, Raiders of the Lost Ark builds on its own history to offer up an adventure tale that is amazing adept at balancing humor, action, suspense and even romance.
The summer blockbuster is a creature nearly separate from the rest of the film world. Identified by its grandiose sensibilities and tendency to appear larger than life, the blockbuster can also veer into the pandering. At its most evil, the studio is not interested in quality, but in the dollar, seeking out a premise that has universal appeal while maintaining a general inoffensiveness. Or that is what the blockbuster has come to mean now. Raiders of the Lost Ark was an inarguable box office success and the most financially successful film in 1981. But this wasn’t just a film that audiences embraced; it also went on to be nominated for nine Academy Awards (including Best Director and Best Picture) and took home four (as well as a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing). It refuses to trade in its adventuring ways for a lack of quality. The story is captivating and successfully establishes one of the most iconic characters of all time. Raiders of the Lost Ark is more than an enjoyable film, it is a film so wonderfully assembled that it continues to be celebrated by generations, increasingly unaware of a time before its existence. It is the ultimate big screen escape and as familiar and exuberantly reliable as a childhood stuffed animal.
[notification type=”star”]95/100 ~ AMAZING. Raiders of the Lost Ark is more than an enjoyable film, it is a film so wonderfully assembled that it continues to be celebrated by generations, increasingly unaware of a time before its existence. It is the ultimate big screen escape and as familiar and exuberantly reliable as a childhood stuffed animal.[/notification]