Raiders of the Lost Ark

on June 12, 1981 by BOXOFFICE Staff
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"Raiders of the Lost Ark" is a wonderful movie. The good news for exhibitors is that it's also one of those rollercoaster-like movies that people will be lining up for again and again. And because word of mouth should be the best since "Star Wars" and "Rocky," and since critics and the general media have been giving the adventure more attention than a publicist ever could hope for, splashy advertising shouldn't be too necessary.
   It's been a shame that George Lucas can produce only one "Star Wars" movie every three years. But maybe now he's given us a series to fill up at least one of those two summers in between.
   The time is 1936 -- when men wore hats, Katherine Hepburn was the only woman who wore slacks and Nazis were the all-purpose villains. The hero of our story is Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), a handsome and tweedy archeology professor who spends his time between semesters fighting irate natives and impossible odds in strange lands in order to retrieve artifacts for the college museum. He may look like Jimmy Stewart in front of a blackboard, but put him in a leather jacket, hand him a bullwhip and sic the assassins on him, and he becomes the kind of near super-hero we'd all like to think we would be in desperate situations.
   After one of the most rousing opening reels of all time, in which Indy is threatened by rolling boulders, bottomless pits, traitorous Peruvians, poisonous darts, collapsing walls and his French nemesis Belloq (Paul Freeman), Professor Jones is assigned by the U.S. Government to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant. The ark, which contains the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments, is being hunted by the Nazis -- with the aid of Belloq -- because Hitler is interested in its legendary magical powers. The U.S. wants it simply because the Nazis want it.
   Before the excavating can begin, Indy must first find the medallion that will lead the way to the ark's burial place. The holder of that very important artifact is Marion (Karen Allen), who once had her heart broken by Indy when he worked on archeology projects with her father. Since the death of her dear pop she's been spending her time running a bar in snowy Nepal and drinking giant Sherpa natives under the table.
   Marion would like to harbor a grudge against Indy, but after her life is threatened by a sadistic Nazi agent named Toht (played by Ronald Lacey because Peter Lorre is no longer alive) and her saloon burns down in a deadly fight with Asian goons, she teams up with her old lover and off they go to Egypt to dig in the sand and fight Nazis.
   In the tradition of every Republic serial ever made, Indy and Marion seem lost to incredible odds every ten minutes or so. Marion is blown up (or so it seems), chased by knife-wielding assassins, kidnapped repeatedly, trapped in an airplane that's going to explode at any moment and thrown into an inescapable pit with Indy and 7,500 deadly snakes. Meanwhile Jones slugs it out with an inexhaustable supply of Nazis and is dragged by a truck through the desert. They even have a battle of wits with a traitorous spider monkey who earns his peanuts by spying for the Germans.
   Somehow Indy always saves the day just in time. And it doesn't matter if the rescue doesn't quite make sense, for before you can say "Now how did he do that?" you're swept off on another adventure. All of this would be nothing but a stuntshow if we weren't given interesting flesh-and-blood characters to cheer for. Ford and Allen are a wonderfully funny and romantic team who we just know are in love despite their constant bickering, which they continue even while fending off the 7,500 snakes with falling torches. Audiences should be anxious for the guaranteed sequels and prequels just so they can learn more about Indy's and Marion's undoubtedly interesting pasts and futures.
   Although "Raiders" is as funny as it is exciting, it's never a campy send-up. Director Steven Spielberg has respect for his characters and the exaggerated film style and conventions of the genre. Though things may get wildly improbable occasionally, in its own cinematic, pulpy world the story remains completely realistic.
   Some of the violence may be a little heavy for younger audiences, since the ghoulish corpses and dropping bodies bring to mind the type of morbid comic book that aroused those legions of decency in the 1950's. But mostly you speed along on such a wildly enjoyable funhouse ride that you never give a thought to the bodycount. Besides, only the bad guys (and monkey) die, and it's all so heroic and exciting and unpretentious that it'd be a crime to keep this movie from anybody under the age of 13. Or over 13 for that matter.
                            Jimmy Summers Paramount Pictures 115 mins.
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