(1981) dir. Steven Spielberg
As a film guy, such as I am, I am always trying to direct my kids to see movies of better quality (in my opinion) from the myriad spectrum of random choices they might make at the video store or just whatever is the latest kids flick to hit the big screen (I apologize ahead of time if I end up writing about Underdog (2007) here). Of course, my son is now just shy of 6 years old and my daughter is 3 1/2 so they aren’t quite ready for a lot of things. We ended up exposing him to Star Wars films when he was younger than I would have, but I am of the mind that most films rated PG will probably be okay. So, after some prompting and promotion, we rented the fantastic Raiders of the Lost Ark, sat back, and enjoyed.
Actually, my son and his friend who is a six year old girl not exposed to this type of film spent almost the entire film intensely cowering behind pillows with my son eventually joining me on my lap. They were more frightened by the action sequences, prompted by the musical score that set the tone for moments of tension and suspense. I was most worried about the final sequence, when the spirits zoom out of the Ark and melt and burn the Nazis. I remember that as being pretty scary when I was 12 when I first saw the film and I warned them that that part was going to be the scariest. They were expecting more, I guess. They had fun.
The film is perhaps Spielberg’s best. The whole thing is utterly brilliant and fully fun and wonderfully cast and executed. Style and panache and charm exude from the film at almost every turn and the set pieces and action sequences feel totally classic. Karen Allen is perfect as Indiana Jones’ love interest: tough-drinking, cute, wily. And Harrison Ford, in his prime. He just fit the bill to the “T” for this role. He played so many great popular characters in his prime and was utterly spot on. This is definitely the best of the three Indiana Jones films, and likely will remain so even if they do make a fourth one.
This is my favorite of John Williams’ scores. I had a professor in grad school who referred to the telescoping of emotion in Williams’ music akin to an “aural rape”. While there is something amusing in this, and Williams has a knack for poppy classical scores, this one really has the great Indiana Jones riff: “da ta da ta, da ta da/da ta da ta, da ta da ta da”. You know that you hear it even now.
And while there is this critical retrospect about how the birth of the summer blockbuster films of Spielberg and George Lucas ruined American mainstream cinema, well, I have to say that they also helped to redefine it, and the reason was because they were excellent at leading these types of fun adventure narratives. In many ways, it doesn’t get much better than this.