What is perfection? Is there such a thing as a perfect movie? Can a movie truly be perfect? Well, yes, actually. The Godfather (Parts I and II), The Shawshank Redemption, The Empire Strikes Back, to name but a few. To that list, you should really add Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Conceived by George Lucas, and then famously pitched to Spielberg on a beach in Hawaii, the weekend Star Wars was released no less, when Spielberg told Lucas he would love to do a James Bond picture, to which Lucas replied he had something better, Raiders of the Lost Ark, from its very first frame to its last, is a BRILLIANT movie.
Coming off the heels of 1941, one of the very few pure flops in Spielberg’s career, the Jaws and Close Encounters director wanted to make something that actually came in on budget, since his last three films, two of them of course monster hits, had went way over budget but miraculously made their money back by creating and contributing to the culture of movies being labelled “blockbusters”.
Very many things about Raiders have passed into movie making lore that to talk about them in detail seems churlish. If you want detail then read Laurent Bouzereau’s brilliantly definitive book on the making of the movies. But alas, the things that are important; George Lucas’ dog, the near-casting of Tom Selleck, the bug going into Paul Freeman’s mouth, exploding heads, Laurence Kasdan and food poisoning in Tunisia.
Like Star Wars, it was conceived as a glorious love letter to serials of the 1930’s and 1940’s, but unlike the Skywalker saga which was a tip of the hat to space opera, Raiders was more real world based, taking inspiration from wartime adventures, setting itself just before the breakout of World War II and relying on physically bracing action sequences and a more grounded style of physical adventure, but one with supernatural elements.
Kasdan’s script is perfection, his use of witty dialogue clear to see, and with Spielberg directing there is a magical sense to the adventure, and even to the horror, on display that can only have come from him. Being a Spielberg movie, there is at lease one sequence that is a bit too much for a PG-rating, but the film would be a lesser place without those melting, exploding heads. It’s kind of ironic that this movie would get away with it, and yet Temple of Doom would actually get into trouble, contributing to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
Conceived as a trilogy, albeit one of stand alone adventures, the following two movies would run the gamut of being excellent to equalling the first one, but then 2008 would come around and this previously perfect series of movies would have its very own Phantom Menace, but that’s a story for another day.
On its own, Raiders is…well…perfect. The casting of Ford was destiny, Lucas may not have wanted him but Spielberg was absolutely correct in getting him for the role, much like Sean Connery as James Bond (yes, I know) or Christopher Reeve as Superman, there is something truly definitive about Ford in that costume; Karen Allen is still the greatest of all Indiana’s leading ladies, fully capable and more than his equal, whilst Paul Freeman brings smarmy charm and inadvertent bug eating abilities to Belloq. The supporting cast is rounded up by the perfect duo of John Rhys Davies and Denholm Elliot, who would get even bigger roles in Last Crusade, and whose absences was keenly felt in Doom.
The action sparkles, the humour is hilarious, the stunts are fantastic and John Williams’ score is amazing. Raiders of the Lost Ark…it’s perfect.
COMING SOON: “Fortune and glory kid. Fortune and glory.”