“ I never say Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, just the Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Cover story by Wally Hirst
FANTILIGY (THE ART, THE FILM OF THE FANTASTIC)
Fantiligy issue 7: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Much has been said about the brilliance of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but what is less discussed is the part the characterisation of Indiana Jones plays in its mastery. I remember being an 8 year old kid, still high from the overwhelming body take over experience of the Empire Strikes Back. We would play it in the streets and parks and backyards and everybody wanted to be Darth Vader or Han Solo. We knew the actor who played Han Solo was Harrison Ford so when the Topps playing cards for his next film the Raiders of the Lost Ark appeared in front of the cashier of the local shop we could see that his next role was going up a notch. He had a “cowboy hat” and a moustache and with his whip hanging around one shoulder told us this was going to be an adventure and that Harrison Ford was not necessarily going to be a nice guy. I bought the cards and in the pack I had was the Character surrounded by snakes and haunted looking caves and Nazis. I asked my parents what the word Raiders meant and was told it was a synonym for robbers. I was in for this.
This film delivered on all fronts. We had never seen stunts like this or something so fast paced and an adventure film that looked so real. These weren’t the stereotypical Nazis you saw in Hogan’s Heroes but a real threat. The World at War series was on TV, so for someone of my age, consciousness of uniforms, equipment and vehicles was surfacing and Raiders brought this to life in colour. Cairo may have had echoes of Casablanca, but it also looked like a place you could get dysentery, Cholera or be struck down by the harsh heat. Then there was the music - familiarity that had been set up with the Star Wars and Superman the movie franchise but this time every time the London Philharmonic hit the high notes you could feel the pain, see the blood. Raiders was an experience where you were the stuntman – you had the cut lip, the grazed palms, the cut shoulder, the punched stomach.
The other Indiana Jones films had this to some degree, but what made Raiders such a standout is the “hero” himself. I did not leave the cinema thinking Indiana Jones was a good guy. He was definitely not a villain, but he was a raider - looking out for himself and I had no issue whatsoever with this. I would be lying to you if I said my friends and I embraced the Short Round character in the next film. In our world, we weren’t cool with adults who treated children with patience. To us, this belittled the character somewhat. Our favourite image of Han Solo was the one with his hand over C3PO’s mouth in ESB. This is how he rolled. He does not befriend kids or give the Shankara Stone back at the end of the movie – He fights for himself, dates his female students and shoots a swordsman in the market place. Raiders taught us duality - that in life there was going to be grey areas. I would also be lying to you if I said I liked the idea of Indy’s dad tagging along for the ride in the Last Crusade. When we saw that there was going to be a kid in Harrison Ford’s next movie Witness, we bailed out.
Of course the two films in the franchise that followed Raiders are far superior to 90% of the other movies that were around this time or came afterwards and I have given these movies many a repeated viewing, but Raiders of the Lost Ark was a very special film and that is because in parts to the elements I mentioned. I don’t know how much kids have changed, but the kids I grew up loved our heroes to have menace and be in part at least, in fear of the lead - this was our rock and roll - our punk music. I never say Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, just the Raiders of the Lost Ark.