Thursday, September 4, 2008

Raiders at midnight

I've been meaning to get around to this, but at midnight Saturday I moseyed on down to the formerly great Inwood Theater to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was the first time I have seen it on a big screen since the early 1980s, and I think the first time since its original run. When I was young, trips to the movies were not that common, although my parents and I went to most of the major blockbusters that came out in my youth. It wouldn't surprise me if of all those films this was my father's favorite. He grew up watching Saturday morning serials, and I remember him explaining to me the origins of the character after our viewing.

My notes on Saturday include the following:

1) It's great. It still is. It's adventurous, fun, but still has the lurking specter of apocalyptic dread hanging over it. I expected it to be more cartoonish than I remembered, but it isn't. In it's mood and presentation, it has one foot, and probably three toes, stuck firmly in something resembling reality.

2) A lot of people feel alienated by Karen Allen's Marion Ravenwood. Detractors find her to be shrill and whiny. That used to be my impression. Not after this screening. I love the scenes at her bar in Nepal, and the way she ends it with "Guess what, Indiana Jones, I'm your goddamned partner. " Final ruling: feisty, not shrill.

3) The effects and stunts seem dated, but what film's do not after nearly thirty years. That said, a good fistfight lasts forever. The fistfight with the gigantic German around the rotating fighter plane is magnificent. I found my head unconsciously bobbing with each blow.

4) In my review of Crystal Skull, I mentioned a scene near the end in which Indiana Jones holds up the Nazi caravan carrying the ark with a rocket launcher, threatening to destroy the ark. Belloq dares him to do so ("Go ahead. Blow it back to God"), and he can't bring himself to destroy such an artifact ("Indiana, we are merely passing through history. This ... this is history."). It's the only scene where Jones and Belloq address each other by first names, and actually seem to have respect, almost a rivalrous affection, rather than hostility. And it goes without saying that Belloq is the only character who treats the ark as sacred, who hasn't eradicated its spiritual significance from his mind. On rewatching, it remains a brilliant little scene, a piece of soul that could never appear in the soulless Indiana Jones sequels.

5) The film ends with Jones and Marion locking arms on the steps, the ark crated up and disappearing Kane-style into the warehouse. And that, to me, is the end of the series. I categorically refuse to admit the sequels exist.


Craig Kennedy said...

I defended Crystal Skull to a point, but even I have to admit it's but a shadow of the original.

I'm not ready to completely cut bait on the sequels, but I might be getting there. The first one is perfection. The others have their moments, but none have the same magic.

Jeff McMahon said...

You should take a look at Armond White's appraisal of the sequels, his contention is that each of the two '80s sequels get progressively better than Raiders, and that Crystal Skull is some kind of minor masterpiece. Of course, his thoughts are based on his own particularly weird blending of politics and Kael-esque aesthetics, but it's worth pondering over.

K. Bowen said...

Craig, you don't have to be. But I guess I am. But I probably owe them re-view before I do so.

Armond White and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Always interesting and provocative to read, but I'm not sure I would ever tell someone to go pay admission based on their thoughts.

Alexander Coleman said...

Yes, Armond White believes the Indy saga becomes greater as it goes--and, interestingly, that Harrison Ford and Karen Allen lack chemistry.

It's an interesting take, and as Jeff says, worth pondering over...

The sequels to me contribute different things; as such, I'm glad they exist, but none can recapture the insane, modern Casablanca-level magic of the first film.

I've told this story several times, both at LiC and at CCC, but anyway: I saw Raiders on July 29, 2006 with literally over ten thousand people at Dolores Park in San Francisco. Easily one of the absolute best, most astonishing moviegoing experiences of my life.

K. Bowen said...

Sequels? What sequels? Ohhhhh, if there were sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark, I think I would remember them!