by Catriona Mills

Is There Anything Bad About Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Posted 4 May 2008 in by Catriona

I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, which is convenient, given that the new movie is coming out this year.

I can, however, think of a very long list of extremely good things about it.

1. Possibly the two most parodied moments in movie history, excepting perhaps half of 2001: A Space Odyssey: the original raid on the temple of the golden idol and the abortive sword fight in the Cairo markets.

2. Karen Allen. Man, I can’t express how happy I am to see that she’s going to be back in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. She was Indy’s only non-irritating sidekick, if we don’t count his father as a sidekick. No offense to Kate Capshaw; she’s a stunningly beautiful woman, but her nightclub singer was intensely irritating.

3. Spy monkey—I love the idea of using a monkey as a spy, even if the monkey is wearing a little waistcoat, and plan to put spy monkeys to work in my own, far-distant, intergalactic empire. I’m always sorry when the spy monkey falls victim to his master’s perfidy.

4. Alfred Molina. Sure, he dies about five minutes into the movie, but I do love him even when he’s evil. That’s why he made such a good Doc Ock.

5. John Rhys-Davies. Sure, he’s playing his natural height here—which negates some of the fun I got out of watching him as a dwarf in Lord of the Rings—but . . . well, see Alfred Molina above, minus the comment on villainy.

6. I’m slightly ashamed of this, but I secretly rather like Karen Allen’s wardrobe in the movie. Not the awful dress that the French archaeologist buys her as a prelude to seduction, but definitely the funky if high-waisted red trousers she’s strolling around the Cairo markets in. I even rather like her “what to wear when you’re stuck running a Sherpa bar in Nepal” chic.

7. Indy manages to keep his job without, apparently, assessing any student work. I am somewhat in awe of this.

I will say this, though: his work does look far more exhausting than marking end-of-semester exams has ever been. Given a choice, I’d probably rather mark than engage in an extended chase sequence with Nazis.

8. Unlike most teachers presented on television and in the movies, Indy seems to have a vague understanding of time management. Most of the teachers you see on television seem to be halfway through a lesson every time the bell rings, which has always seemed like poor practice to me.

9. In his lesson, Indy has to pause halfway through writing the word “neolithic” to make sure he’s spelling it right. I’m so relieved that I’m not the only person that that happens to.

10. I’ve always enjoyed the moral ambiguity of what Indiana does. While I’m in sympathy with the idea that cultural artifacts should be in museums when the alternative is placing them in the hands of private collectors, there’s a neo-colonialist aspect to raiding the tombs of the world to increase the collections of American museums. It’s an ambiguity that perhaps rests more in the eyes of the viewer than in the mind of the move maker, but I enjoy it nontheless.

Of course, in the Indiana Jones movies, the collector is Adolf Hitler, which does tend to ameliorate much of that ambiguity.

11. I’m not in favour of Indy’s homicidal approach to the problem of snakes, but I do have a certain sneaking sympathy with it, as long as they’re prop snakes—I’m not keen on snakes myself.

(I’m less keen on spiders, though, which is why—while sorry for my brother—I’m quite relieved that his enormous pet funnel web has gone to a happier place. I was always a little concerned that she’d get out of her tank and I’d find her in my bed one Christmas. I mean, really—does this look like the sort of thing that one should keep as a pet?)

12. This movie gave me one of my most valuable life lessons to date: never engage in fisticuffs anywhere near a spinning propeller.

(The other valuable one is “never kiss a monkey with a cold sore,” which is good advice regardless of who has the cold sore, you or the monkey. Oddly, though, people give me very strange looks when I impart this advice.)

13. The gunfight scenes in this movie, though, always remind me of an exchange from Red Dwarf:

LISTER: Why do we never meet anyone nice?
CAT: Why do we never meet anyone who can shoot straight?

14. Because the only Germans in the film are Nazis, and therefore unsympathetic, I like the subtle dig at legendary German engineering in the way that bits of the Mercedes Benz truck keep falling off while Indy’s trying desperately not to end up underneath it.

15. I realise that Marian’s a rough-and-ready kind of woman, but that’s a lovely satin frock she’s wearing on board ship, and she should know that blood doesn’t come out of satin. Let Indy tend his own wounds.

16. Even though Indy has a far more aggressive approach to his discipline than any archaeologist I’ve ever met, he does have at heart a love and reverence for the objects that he pursues and studies. He manages to be both scholar and action hero, which is a rare combination.

17. The final scene with the opening of the Ark of the Covenant clearly inspired Mike Mignola’s construction of Hellboy’s origin story.

18. Although the special effects don’t seem so cutting edge these days, I still find the melting Nazi one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.

19. I would desperately like to know what’s in all those tens of thousands of crates in the warehouse where the U. S. government store the Ark. Are they all religious and occult artifacts? Because that would be awesome.

Have I missed anything?

Share your thoughts [4]

1

Catriona wrote at May 5, 06:45 AM

Yeah, I’ve met a king brown. And a red-bellied black snake. And I’ve never forgotten the time Nick e-mailed me a disturbingly close-up picture of a snake to ask, “Do you know what kind this is?”—we had to phone him urgently to say, “It’s a taipan. And it’s really pissed off—I’d take any other photos from much further back.”

But they’re still not as scary as spiders. Thank goodness my brother decided to buy a scorpion instead of that bird-eating spider he had his eye on—especially since the scorpion subsequently escaped.

2

Tim wrote at May 5, 11:28 AM

Okay, Catriona, this is a tough one, but you know I can’t resist this sort of challenge. ;)

Some bad things about Raiders:

The Nazi-melting sequence is a bit gruesome for children to watch — at least, it was when it first screened.

On the other hand, the Nazi-melting sequence now looks almost laughable.

Belloq isn’t on screen enough for a supposed main villain.

The action veers from cartoony to unpleasantly graphic.

My biggest complaint would be that Indy’s actions don’t really achieve anything. If he hadn’t got involved, the Nazis would have retrieved the Ark, taken it to Berlin, opened it and been smitten with the wrath of God. (Indeed, if Hitler was there for the smiting, maybe World War II wouldn’t have happened.) The climax is, well, a deus ex machina.

Actually, I think the real worst thing about it is that it set the bar too high for the sequels (and just about any adventure movie since) to measure up. :)

3

Catriona wrote at May 5, 12:02 PM

Well, I can’t argue with your last point.

I do agree with the first point; the Nazi-melting bit is laughably bad now, but when I say it’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen, I think I’m channeling how disturbing I found it as a child. Then again, considering some of the things that the kids I taught used to watch, I’m not sure they’d find Raiders all that disturbing.

I’m actually quite pleased that Belloq isn’t on screen more often than he is; he’s both a cartoony villain and a cartoony Frenchman, which is a bad combination. I would like to see more of his motivations, though. Indy genuinely loves the artifacts that he pursues, and Belloq seems to, as well, given his speech in the market.

(I think he’s wrong on that, mind—rubbishy trinkets don’t increase in value that significantly, even after thousands of years. They are certainly culturally valuable—to the historian rather than the collector—and more valuable than they were when they were created, but the most valuable antiques, it seems to me, are the ones that were carefully crafted and valuable in the first place—the difference between a 200-year-old farmhouse table and a Chippendale chair. But that’s beside the point.)

But if Belloq is genuinely passionate about the artifacts, why is he working for the Nazis? That doesn’t smack of a desire to preserve the past to me; it suggests he’s working for the money.

4

heretic wrote at May 14, 01:45 AM

Argh. Another open email comment – can you kill that off?

I’ll requote it… :)
—-
I’m pretty sure you’re only the second person I’ve ever known who uses the word “ameliorate”. The other was a very very old-school senior partner in an engineering firm.

…and screw snakes, they can die on sight. Ever met a king brown? I will live and let live just as soon as king browns catch on to that idea.

Comment Form

All comments are moderated and moderation includes a non-spoiler policy based on Australian television scheduling.

Textile help (Advice on using Textile to format your comments)
(if you do not want your details filled in when you return)

Categories

Blogroll

Monthly Archive

2012
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
2011
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
August
October
November
December
2010
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
October
December
2009
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2008
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December