Every ’80s Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan

Story by: George Lucas

Action, adventure, excitement, betrayal, Nazis, and a most famous whip. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s ode to serial adventures solidified Han Solo as a bonafide movie star while continuing the magical run of these two filmmakers during the early part of their careers. 

Raiders hit the sweet spot pretty consistently with a loving touch of heroism and humor. It’s also a perfect example of how George Lucas works best, he is an idea man who can dream up incredible worlds and the iconic characters to fill them, but he needs to surround himself with talented people who can execute his visions. During this time he was still doing that, and this might be the best example of it.

Story: 8.2

Heroes and villains on a globetrotting adventure to find the MacGuffin and save the world. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a pretty tight picture. They didn’t waste any time with scenes that didn’t drive the plot in serials, and Spielberg and the gang do the same here. This is a full steam ahead adventure.

Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones, an adventuring archeologist who is just as fast with his wit as he is with his whip. He’s hired by the Army to recover the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can get their hands on it and become invincible. In order to do so, Indy has got to go through snakes (figuratively and literally), some twisted Nazi commanders, a jilted ex-lover, and some less than friendly locals in Cairo. 

If you’re looking for a fun adventure film, you really won’t find much better than Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Acting: 8.8

Raiders works because Harrison Ford and Karen Allen are absolutely incredible together. Ford oozes charisma. When he wants to be in a movie, he is magnetic. And at this point in his career, he wasn’t bored with it yet… so he was pretty great.

If Ford was great, Karen Allen was even better. Her turn as his ex, Marion Ravenwood, was amazing.  She’s a total badass who wasn’t going to sit around and wait for someone to save her. She’ll drink you under the table and then stab you with a butter knife. 

What was that weird bit about them getting together when she was still young about? That was a little creepy, right.

Anyway, the entire cast was pretty dynamite, including a nice little bit at the beginning by Alfred Molina.

Production Value: 10

If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to a Steven Spielberg film it is high production value. This movie looks great. The sets are fantastic, especially the opening adventure in Peru. The special effects, especially for 1981, still hold up. 

This is a blockbuster movie, and it looks every bit the part.

Costumes: 8.7

Can a film feel too much like a film? Perhaps it’s because Raiders was conceived as a love letter to the ’30s and ’40s rather than a depiction of those times is the reason why it seems more like a recreation of a Hollywood production rather than a totally convincing period piece. 

Indy’s costume is iconic, but I feel like the world-building got a little lazy with the background characters and everyone looked like they were wearing one of eight burlap sacks. The main cast looks stylish as hell, but the rest felt a little generic. The fact that Indy is an all-time classic Halloween costume earns this one some extra points.

Music: 10

This is another iconic John Williams score that you find yourself randomly humming thirty years later. There are moments in this film where the music drifts into Star Wars territory and then over to Jaws for a beat before circling past the Poltergeist range, but that’s what happens when you make a million amazing scores. 

Is John Williams the best composer in film history? What do you think? Bernard Herrmann and John Barry composed some of my favorite scores. Morricone and Nicolai could certainly find their way into the conversation. And I’m sure Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman would like a word before all the votes are cast. But if you polled 1000 film fans and asked them to list their 5 favorite film scores, John Williams would almost certainly have at least one on every person’s list.

Bonus: +1

The opening sequence with the bag of sand and the boulder is about as perfect a start to any story as you can get.

Total: 46.7

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