I would put “Raiders of the Lost Ark” up against any action/adventure film made since its 1981 release and feel confident that it would be able to hold its own. C’mon, this thing is a classic. Some consider it the best the genre has ever had; others simply look at it as the cornerstone to a terrific series that has somehow grown its popularity over time rather than decreased it. Divvy up the accolades any way you like, but you’re going to come back to the same conclusion about this superb George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford winner.
I remember when we were little kids, my brother would always want to watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” over both “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” It took me a few years to understand why, but I eventually got the picture. And now, with Paramount releasing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for the first time on Blu-ray as an individual release, I get the message louder and clearer than ever before.
Even though I knew “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was at least as good as, but probably better than, everyone said, I didn’t know that it was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won four (Art Direction, Film Editing, Visual Effects and Sound). I also didn’t know it has been included in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry since 1999. Given how good “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is from beginning to end, however, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at these findings.
Jones (Ford) begins the film hunting for a golden idol in South America. Despite retrieving it successfully, he is confronted by Belloq (Paul Freeman), a French rival archeologist who is frequently seeking the same ancient treasures. Jones escapes after Belloq steals the idol from him, and upon returning to the United States, meets up with Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), a museum curator who frequently buys artifacts for his museum. Brody has been approached by US Army intelligence officers who have learned Hitler is pursuing the Ark of the Covenant, and they want Jones to find it first.
Jones makes his way to Nepal and connects with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), a former lover who possesses a medallion he needs to help find the ark. After some persuasion, she joins him en route to Cairo where they connect with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a longtime Jones comrade who can help to locate the ark’s location. Although they do discover it, the Nazis and Belloq successfully steal it. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” concludes as Jones watches the Nazis test the ark’s power, with deadly results.
You’ll find layer after layer of good stuff as you watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and in quite a few instances, something new will appear if you are checking out the film another time after not having watched it recently. I would, of course, discourage anyone from trying to watch something like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in chopped up, er, um, uh, edited for television mode. You’re likely to miss important moments in the film’s 115 minute run time, like the scenes where Jones banters with Brody about getting his hands on the ark prior to the Nazis, or the lengthy, entertaining chase where Jones, armed with little more than his trusty whip, manages to hijack the Nazi truck carrying the ark and kill off most of the bad guys protecting its passage. The careful balance Spielberg achieves during “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is really one of its best elements, as you have everything from action to drama to romance to suspense to humor to, well, you name it. It all works, and it makes the process look easy.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is probably one of the best cast films in the 20th century. Ford is in charge, and he wants you to know it. Coming off a few “Star Wars” films, his unique star power was at or near its peak when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” hit American theaters. Allen offsets him well, providing sharp resistance in her own manner that pushes him to be better with her rather than for her. Elliott and Rhys-Davies are likable supporting characters who are quite colorful and dynamic. Freeman makes a good bad guy, so hell bent on getting what he wants that he’ll do anything. Unsurprisingly, this is really Ford’s film at the end of the day, and that will be evident more and more each time you see “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Would you be shocked to learn that John Williams was the man behind the music here? His score paces the film’s emotional scenes with excellent rigor, guiding our ears scene by scene as this international adventure rolls its way across the world. The music ties all I’ve praised “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for together in a unique way that many titles have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to replicate.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of reviews connected to this title have been written, so I don’t feel the need to keep going and beat the dead horse about how special a film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” happens to be. I can, however, say that it’s among the films I never thought I would have the chance to review. My thanks to Paramount for the opportunity, and to the filmmakers several decades ago who invested in this special title. It has somehow gotten better with age.
Visually, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” blazed a few new trails with its art direction, set details and special effects. This version comes to us in a 1.85:1 1080p High Definition video transfer that presents the film as sharply as I’ve seen in. Some film grain does appear now and again, but keep in mind we’re talking about a film that is over 30 years old. The desert scenes are visually powerful, with the heat and discomfort such conditions surely impart being communicated especially directly. Coloration wise, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is excellent; brights shine, darks dominate but don’t overwhelm. This is a sharp, vivid film to endure.
I watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with the English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack enabled, and I heard every word, every gunshot, every explosion and every snake slither very thoroughly. The film’s music, which I mentioned earlier, comes through without fail, as do the spoken words that add to the film’s funny and well timed screenplay. Additional audio options are French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1s, as well as Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0s. Subtitle choices are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
A pretty skimpy offering here, save for the digital copy. We’re given the teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer and the re-issue trailer, all in HD. Really? Is that it? Lame.
A Final Word:
I plan to carve out some special space for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It is that good, and it probably always will be. Most other adventure films don’t touch this one with a ten foot pole.