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Weekly Classics: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Published May 18, 2012 02:24pm

After pretty much conquering Hollywood during the 1970s, the grandmasters of blockbuster films George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided to team up and make an adventure movie to top all adventure movies. While relaxing from the whirlwind of the ‘Star Wars’ phenomenon on a beach in Hawaii, Lucas pitched an idea to Spielberg about making a movie on a archaeologist adventurer who travels the globe in search of lost relics. Spielberg who had always wanted to make a James Bond movie, jumped at the idea. Initially, the hero was to be named Indiana Smith, named after George Lucas’ dog Indiana along with the common name Smith. Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, said he loved the entire idea except the surname Smith. Eventually the surname was changed to Jones, and thus an iconic movie character named Indiana Jones was created.

The two movie geniuses then teamed up with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wanting him to write a script that incorporated all the cliffhanger thrills of movies serials from the 1930’s. The low budget movie serials were not top quality film making, but they did create a sense of adventure by transporting viewers to exotic locations where good guys and bad guys battled each other in search of hidden treasure in the far corners of the earth.

It was exactly this kind of thrilling movie making that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wanted to recreate for a modern audience, but only on a much bigger scale. Lawrence Kasdan got the idea and wrote a script that incorporated all the excitement, action and adventure that the two movie makers wanted.

Next was the casting of the main hero. Initially the role was given to Tom Selleck, from the Magnum P.I. television series. Selleck was all set to do the role, but filming schedules collided between the TV show and the movie, and reluctantly he passed on the role. This in hindsight was probably the biggest career mistake that Tom Selleck ever made, because the role of Indiana Jones eventually went to Harrison Ford, who as we all now know, made it his signature role.

The plot of the film is fairly straightforward. Indiana Jones is a “Professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and how does one say it, obtainer of rare antiquities” who gets hired by the US government to stop Nazi Germany from acquiring the fabled Ark of the Covenant. Indiana Jones may seem like a mild mannered professor when he is on campus. But when he puts on his fedora hat, leather jacket, khaki clothes and bullwhip, he suddenly transforms into the roughest, toughest adventurer there ever was.

Jones first heads out to Nepal to find his old mentor Abner Ravenwood, who holds a medallion that maybe the key to unlock the chamber where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. As luck would have it, Ravenwood is dead, but the medallion has been passed on to his daughter Marion, a feisty and volatile girl, who also happens to be an old flame of Jones.

After a shootout and fistfight with the Nazis, the two then head out to Egypt and the city of Tanis where the Ark is reputed to be buried. It’s in Egypt where the real search begins and movie viewers are taken for one wild ride.

Whether it’s dangling over a pit filled with thousands of snakes, getting into more fistfights or chasing a truck in the middle of the desert, this film has one action scene followed by another, each one topping the one before it. It’s like a roller coaster ride that thrills audiences with a relentless pace. Add to this John Williams’ now classic Indiana Jones theme music, along with the right mix of comedy, romance and an element of the supernatural, and you have one of the greatest adventure movies of all time.

Much credit for the success of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and the subsequent Indiana Jones movies must go to Harrison Ford and his pitch perfect performance as the swashbuckling archaeologist. The role fits him like a glove and has now become his most famous screen character. Kudos must also be given to Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, John Rhys Davies as Sallah and Paul Freeman as Rene Belloq, who is Indy’s nemesis in the film.

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas not only managed to create a character that was equivalent to James Bond in this film, but also created a genre of adventure movies that has been imitated repeatedly in numerous mediums. Whether it’s ‘The Mummy’ movie series or the ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Uncharted’ video games, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ had a long lasting effect on the way audiences viewed escapist adventure. It also raised the bar on blockbuster entertainment, a standard which Spielberg and Lucas themselves set.

Still a classic over 30 years after its initial release and along with its sequels, great spirit lifting entertainment which has probably inspired more people to want to become archaeologists than anything else.

View Dawn.com’s weekly classics archive here.


Raza Ali Sayeed is a journalist at Dawn.com