Raiders Of The Lost Ark Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan
Story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman
Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey
Score by John Williams
Released June 12, 1981 (U.S.)
The 1970s announced the finest era of the summer movie blockbuster. Two of the biggest movies of that decade, Star Wars and Jaws, defined the summer movie season. These movies, directed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg respectively, are still heralded by us – the geeks. Most of us would not be here writing and reading this very website if it were not for these movies (my name is Obi-Dan for crying out loud!). This movie-making dream team came together to create one of the greatest action adventure movies ever made: Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
From a story by George Lucas and Phillip Kaufman, who had recently co-written the screenplay for the outstanding Clint Eastwood-starring Western, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Indiana Jones began to take real shape in the late ’70s. The screenplay was then written by Lawrence Kasdan with Raiders only his second screenplay to get made (his first?: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back just a year earlier. Talk about hitting the ground running).
Raiders Of The Lost Ark begins in hostile environs in 1936. After failing in his bid to retrieve the Golden Idol from the jungles of South America, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is soon enticed into seeking the Staff of Ra, which will lead him to the Well of Souls, the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. The head of the Staff is now in the possession of Marion (Karen Allen), a bar owner in Nepal; a tough environment where the people are tougher: she can drink men twice her size under the table and the first time she meets Indy onscreen she punches him in the face.
As the movie takes place in the 1930s, there is a most heinous people also in pursuit of items of the occult: the Nazis. Aided by his sidekick and guide, Sallah (Jonathan Rhys-Davies), Indy must use his wits, whip, gun, and guile to locate the Ark and keep megalomaniac Belloq (Paul Freeman) and Toht’s (Ronald Lacey) nasty Nazi mits from it.
Indiana Jones is the most famous and certainly coolest character ever to be named after a dog. I’m guessing that sharing the same name as George Lucas’ Alaskan Malamite (a breed of dog, not a euphemism), Indy is as far as the similarities reach — unless there is an unpublished draft of the screenplay where Jones defecates on Lucas’ kitchen floor and licks his own genitals. Again, I’m only guessing. His image is one of the most iconic in movie history – throw on a fedora, brown leather jacket, and a whip and you’ve got yourself a fancy dress costume, Mister. A man originally described by Lucas as James Bond – a character who spends more time betwixt the legs of exotically and often comedically crudely named women – without the hardware, so to speak. But Indy doesn’t need to rely on (admittedly awesome) gadgets to get the baddy and the girl. And the Nazis.
Lucas wanted a relative unknown to play the all-action archaeologist rather than the pilot of the Millennium Falcon. It almost wasn’t that simple as Spielberg wanted Ford. Tom Selleck was screen tested for the role, but I guess Spielberg and Lucas decided that thick crop of auburn manliness on Selleck’s top lip would prevent him from sniffing out Nazis and archaeological treasure.
Another member of the aforementioned dream team was John Williams. His movie scores have become as famous as the movies they help to color: Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, to name a measly but powerfully iconic few. At the time of working on Raiders he had over 20 years’ experience at writing music for film and TV.
Re-watching Raiders it is astonishing to think this movie is 30 years old. It still feels fresh and clever and exciting. It really feels like watching a movie made by a group of people in complete control who know exactly what they’re doing and what they want to do. And that’s exactly what it is. It has reached over a quarter of a century in age and like the Staff of Ra, the catalyst for our hero’s adventure, this movie lights the way. When it reaches its half-century, people will still be talking about Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.