Top 100 Movie Review: No. 039 – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Ranked 039 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017). Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast: Harrison Ford (Indiana ‘Indy’ Jones), Karen Allen (Marion), Paul Freeman (René Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Brody), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich)
Director:  Steven Spielberg
My rating: 8.0 / 10

In 1936, American archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) braves an ancient booby-trapped temple in Peru to retrieve a golden idol. After surviving various challenges, including traitorous guides, he is confronted by rival archaeologist René Belloq (Paul Freeman) and the indigenous people who only Belloq can communicate with. Surrounded and outnumbered, Jones is forced to surrender the idol to Belloq but manages to escape aboard a waiting seaplane where he finds a pet snake which is the one thing Indy is afraid of.

Later two Army Intelligence agents interview Jones and Museum boss Doctor Brody (Denholm Elliott) and inform them that the Nazis are working with his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood, whom Jones studied under at the University of Chicago. The Nazis know that Ravenwood is the leading expert on the ancient city of Tanis and that he might possesses the headpiece of an ancient Egyptian artefact known as “the Staff of Ra”. Indy deduces that the Nazis are searching for the Ark of the Covenant, believing it will make their armies invincibility. The agents authorise Jones to recover the Ark.

Indy then travels to Nepal to meet Ravenwood’s hard drinking daughter Marion (Karen Allen) who Indy had an affair with years ago.  Marion informs him that Ravenwood has died.  Marion has the headpiece but doesn’t want to give it straight away to Indy. Later a group of thugs arrive with their Nazi commander Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey), seeking the headpiece. A gunfight erupts, the bar is set ablaze and the headpiece lands in the flames. Toht severely burns his hand trying to retrieve it and flees the bar in agony. Jones and Marion escape with the headpiece, and Marion decides to accompany Jones as his partner.

They travel together to Cairo, Egypt, where they meet up with Indy’s friend and skilled digger Sallah (John Rhys-Davies).  He informs them that Belloq and the Nazis are digging for “the Well of Souls”, believed to lead to the Ark’s location, with a replica of the headpiece created from the scar on Toht’s hand. Jones and Marion are attacked by a group of Nazi soldiers, and Marion is seemingly killed in an explosion during the resulting chase.  Indy later meets Belloq and almost kills him despite being surrounded by Belloq’s men.  Indy is rescued by Sallah, and they realise that the Nazi headpiece is incomplete and that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place, as they only have part of the information regarding the Well’s location.

Indy and Sallah infiltrate the Nazi dig site. Indy finds Marion alive, bound and gagged in a tent; he does not set her free in fear of alerting the Nazis, but promises to come back for her later. Indy and Sallah use their staff to locate the Ark in the snake-infested Well of Souls. They fend off the snakes using fire and gasoline before reaching the stone coffin containing the Ark. Belloq, Toht, and Nazi officer Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler) arrive and seize the Ark from Jones, before imprisoning him and Marion in the crypt. 

After the two escape they try to incept the Ark at a local airstrip, where Indy gets into a fistfight with a mechanic and destroys the plane that was to transport the Ark to Berlin. The panicked Nazis load the Ark onto a truck, but Indy manages to catch up on horseback, hijacking the truck.  Indy makes arrangements to transport the Ark to London aboard tramp steamer Bantu Wind. In the cargo hold, an unseen force burns the Nazi symbols painted on the wooden crate containing the Ark.

The next day a Nazi U-boat intercepts the ship. Belloq, Toht, and Dietrich seize the Ark and Marion but cannot locate Jones, who stows away aboard the U-boat and travels with them to an island in the Aegean Sea. Once there, Belloq plans to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Hitler. Jones reveals himself and threatens to destroy the Ark with an anti-tank rocket, but Belloq calls his bluff and Jones surrenders.

The Nazis take Jones and Marion to an area where the Ark will be opened and tie them to a post to observe. Dressed as an Israelite Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark by invoking a Jewish prayer, and finds that the Ark is full of sand the likely remains of the Ten Commandments.

Indy warns Marion to keep her eyes shut as spirits exit the Ark.  The spirits eventually reveal themselves to be angels of death. Flames then form above the opened Ark and bolts of energy shoot through the gathered Nazi soldiers, killing them all. In the extreme heat, Dietrich is instantaneously mummified; all the flesh on Toht’s face melts off his skull; and Belloq’s head explodes. Flames then engulf and vaporize the remains of the doomed assembly, save for Jones and Marion, in a whirlwind of fire before the Ark seals itself shut. Jones and Marion open their eyes and find the area wiped clean along with their ropes burned off, and embrace.

Back in Washington, D.C., the Army Intelligence agents tell Jones and Marcus Brody and that the US government has already paid them a huge sum to secure the Ark. The Army Intelligence agents then tell them that the Ark is in a pre-secured and heavily guarded undisclosed location and will be studied and monitored by “top men”. It is then shown being sealed in a wooden crate and stored in a giant government warehouse among countless other Top Secret crates.

What’s to Like
The music, the action, the adventure, the fun. 

What’s not to Like

One of the greatest action adventure movies of all time, the theme music alone is enough to lift your spirits and get your fully engaged in this movie experience.  The stunt work is exceptional, the humour will have you laughing out loud at times.      

The movie flows at a breakneck speed that grabs your attention from the first frame, the movie hurtles you through a series of incredible adventures mixing history ie the lead up to World War 2 and the Nazi search for ancient artefacts, with Christian / Jewish myths.  Harrison Ford is at his best here and creates a great character that started a long franchise. 

While the movie goes for two hours it feels like no time has passed and the credits are rolling and all you want is for the adventure to continue.

Academy Awards

  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – winner
  • Best Sound – winner
  • Best Film Editing – winner
  • Best Effects, Visual Effects – winner
  • Special Achievement Award (Ben Burtt & Richard L. Anderson) – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Director (Steven Spielberg) – nominee
  • Best Cinematography (Douglas Slocombe) – nominee

Best Music, Original Score (John Williams) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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