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Raiders of the Lost Ark Retro Review: Achtung, Baby

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BY June 4, 2020
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Back when I was a feral wolf-child in Alabama, I had a somewhat sheltered upbringing. I grew up in a home with Anaïs Nin books–read: erotica–in the living room, but my parents didn’t really allow us to watch anything with violence. So I’ve missed out on several cultural touchstones. Basically any major action and/or adventure film is a big blank space in my cultural memory. So as we’re going to be housebound for…an unknown period of time, I’m going to remedy that. And with that said, I’m kicking off my retro reviews with a review of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

What I Know About Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark review image via Lucasfilm/Paramount

Despite the fact that I’ve never seen one Indiana Jones movie, I’m not completely ignorant of some of the details. As I mentioned in my Terminator: Dark Fate review, I’ve picked up pieces by virtue of being alive and extremely online. I mean, my first celebrity crush was River Phoenix, who played a young Indy. Also, I’ve been to Disney World multiple times, where I’ve seen the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. So that means I’ve seen the boulder stunt, among other things. And between references in TV and movies and my (too) long time on Tumblr, I’ve picked up other aspects.

So basically, I know that Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones, an adventurer (?), and he fights Nazis (after the war?) whose faces melt, but before that, he’s like, “Where does he get those wonderful snakes?” You know, that famous quote. Also, there’s a lady. I assume. There usually is.

What Raiders of the Lost Ark Is Actually About

Raiders of the Lost Ark review image via Lucasfilm/Paramount

First, it’s the 30s. And it turns out that Indiana Jones is actually an archaeologist who has regular run-ins with a rival archaeologist, René Belloq (Paul Freeman). Sure, checks out. When Indy’s not dodging rolling boulders and other things archaeologists do constantly, he teaches at Not!Yale, where all the coeds are maximum horned up for him.

And that’s where he is when some Army Intelligence men approach him one day with an urgent mission. It seems as if the Nazis are looking for an artifact that Indy’s old mentor had. They need that artifact, sourced from Tanis, to find an even more powerful artifact–the Ark of the Covenant. So Army Intelligence wants Jones to go make that not happen.

Obviously, I was hooked right away, as this movie is, as we used to say, very relevant to my interests. To wit, I have a degree in Nazis and a long history with Tanis. So I hopped on my movie bike* and fired up the ol’ Victrola.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: A Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark image via Lucasfilm/Paramount

Although technically I wasn’t allowed to watch certain things, unsurprisingly, I sometimes got around that. As I mentioned in my Count Crowley review, for example, I loved a creature feature. So while I didn’t see the big blockbusters, I saw many of the kind of films that inspired the vibe of Raiders of the Lost Ark–the kind of movies they’d show on TV on Saturday afternoons.

So that’s what I was reminded of when I watched this movie–that Saturday action movie vibe. For instance, there are cliffhangers on top of cliffhangers, with Indiana Jones in a new predicament every few minutes. What I’m saying is, it’s a lot of fun. So I allowed myself to get drawn into the film and its tense moments, even though I knew he would obviously survive–there are sequels, after all. I’m about to watch every one of them. (Except for uh, Indy 5, I guess.)

So yes, having waited so long did diminish some of the suspense for me. But while I’m not riddled with regret for having only seen it now, I did enjoy it. If I had some criticisms, though, then the first would be the attention to detail (or lack of it, rather). There are scenes when folks speak, but their mouths don’t move, for instance. It’s small, but it’s glaring. And in addition, it is very much a product of its time, as well as a product of its inspirations. By that, I mean there are some elements that today feel problematisch. (I’m talking about the Orientalism, I say through clenched teeth. Also, are those guys really Asian?)

But as a century-old monster, I’m kind of used to that in old and oldish movies. I’m not saying it’s good–don’t cancel me–just that it’s unsurprising. But it’s still something we should notice. And acknowledge.

And it’s still a good movie! Besides Ford’s iconic role, there is, of course, Karen Allen’s Marion. She gets into as much trouble as Indy, but is spirited enough to stand her ground and fight her corner. Also, she’s got that fresh-faced 70s look that’s like, at least 60% of my fashion inspiration. (Yes, I know this movie’s from the early 80s, but the 70s still lingered for a while.) I adore her. And I hope she sticks around. But don’t spoil me, because I’m about to find out.

***

Stay tuned for more retro reviews, and as always, shout your thoughts at us from your quarantine bunkers.

*In this fraught times, with no theaters open, I bought an exercise bike, so I can feel better about becoming one with my television.

featured image via Lucasfilm/Paramount

MoviesIndiana JonesmoviesRaiders of the Lost Ark

Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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