Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Number Four: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981)

I wanted to be an architect when I grew up. My mother still insists on telling everyone about how I used to build ramshackle cities made of anything with vaguely building-like materials. There were bristle-blocks next to Legos next to cooking utensils. Later I graduated to drawing Tolkeinesque maps and using them to plan out elaborate Dungeons and Dragons adventures. I never actually played with anyone because I had no friends. It's more fun to think up the adventures than to play anyway.

My Medieval dreams were shattered one day when an actual architect, a friend of my parents, asked to look at the plans I had made for a tavern. She said that it looked good but that I would have to redesign it because some of the rooms had no windows. I was taken aback. Surely building regulations were somewhat more relaxed in 10th Century England I said. She nodded but stated again that all taverns, even in those days, would have windows. Confronted with the terrible limitations of reality, I decided that architecture was not for me.

What was left to want to be when I grew up? The answer was obvious-I wanted to be a treasure-hunting, Nazi-killing, whip-wielding Professor of Archeology named Indiana Jones. Say what you will about George Lucas and "Episodes" I-III, the man can create characters better than anyone since Charles Dickens. So what if they're 90% Buck Rogers ripoffs, it's the last 10% that makes a character memorable.

One of the things I like so much about Indiana is that he's an adventurer, not a fighter. Compare him to Bruce Willis in Die Hard or other conventional action movie heroes. Those guys win by brute force, the plots of their movies leading them on inextricably to victory. Indy solves puzzles, goes into weird places, and half the time wins by running away! He falls somewhere in the same category as the Ghostbusters and Marty McFly, heroes so implausible that you identify with them all the more for it. Why ghosts? Why the 50's? Why archeology? If they explained that the movies wouldn't be half as fun. I can't think of any films that fall into this category that weren't released in the 80's. All the other heroes were trying too hard to be cool. Indiana Jones and Peter Venkman just were cool.

I could say more about other aspects of this film, but that other stuff doesn't really matter. Oh sure, Spielberg's directing probably helped-but the truth is I love this movie for one reason, and that's my powerful desire to become a...well I listed all the stuff earlier. So if you see any openings for a Professor of Archeology let me know. The rest will come naturally.


ninquelote said...

Friggin awesome! I remember only seeing this movie after Temple of Doom. I told my parents how cool I thought TOD was and they told me, "Well the original was better."

The original? When did this happen? Where was I?

When they told me the title of the movie I didn't believe them because it wasn't preceded by the name "Indiana Jones". But when I watched it I realized TOD didn't even hold a small, flaming torch to this movie.

Han Solo may have been beginners luck, but Indiana Jones proves that Lucas can create characters, and Ford deserves an acting career.

yoggoth said...

I read that they offered the role to Tom Seleck first because Lucas didn't want to make 3 movies with Ford in a row. Seleck didn't take the role because he was filming Magnum, PI. Talk a bout lucky breaks--for the audience especially.

Temple of Doom was such a huge disappointment after Raiders. It's like a cheap Disney version, complete with cloying sidekick and shallow female lead. Contrary to popular wisdom, I thought The Last Crusade was a return to form. I hope the fourth movie is decent.

ninquelote said...

After watching 'Raiders', TOD was a big disappointment. If you look back to my comments about trilogies in one of the earlier posts, I talk about saving trilogies by making a fourth one to replace the weakest part of the trilogy. I think I might have even used Indiana Jones as an example.

'Last Crusade' was infinitely better than TOD, and was more in the form of 'Raiders'. I hope the fourth one is just as good (even though it is minus the alcoholic Scotsman)

Schrödinger's Penguin said...

INDYYYYY SAVE ME! *Asian accent*

UGH! *Indian man wields weapon*

...Lost Ark was the best. Nothing like melting people to scare the shit out of me.

Little Earl said...

Great movie, obviously, but for some reason not quite one of my personal favorites. Haven't seen it in a long time and I don't really feel a strong desire to see it again (it's not in my DVD collection, for example), but sure, it's deserving of its acclaim. I guess when it comes down to it, the closest the movie gets to thematic depth is the idea that it's sort of a young Jewish kid's fantasy about taking really cool revenge on the Nazis (Ebert has an interesting essay on Raiders of that nature). Other than that it's pretty light on the profundity. Sure, Raiders isn't trying to be deep at all. But just look at Star Wars, which managed to be entertaining and deep at the same time. In short, there's nothing like Raiders to make me feel like a movie snob. When people talk about how much they love it I always say, "Yeah, sure, but have you seen Lawrence of Arabia?"

yoggoth said...

I wouldn't characterize the revenge fantasy of a young Jewish kid as thematic depth. I agree that Raiders doesn't have that, but I don't see any credible argument that Back to the Future has any more thematic depth. It is just another type of childish fantasy-the wish to go back in time and change your life for the better, assuming that you could have lived the life of another better than they did. This doesn't bother me. Some entertainment is just so fun to watch that it doesn't need any greater thematic depth as long as it isn't overtly lacking in morality either. Fighting Nazis is a good thing, even if it isn't advocated for any greater purpose.

If Lawrence of Arabia had been made during the 80's it would have been higher than Raiders on my list. I somehow have managed to find time to watch and enjoy both movies.

Little Earl said...

Well I haven't, so nyah nyah nyah!