PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
In 1936, archaeologist Indiana Jones braves an ancient booby-trapped temple in Peru and retrieves a golden idol. He is confronted by rival archaeologist René Belloq and the indigenous Hovito people. Surrounded and outnumbered, Jones surrenders the idol to Belloq and escapes aboard a waiting floatplane.
Jones returns to his teaching position at Marshall College, where he is interviewed by two Army Intelligence agents. They inform him that the Nazis, who are obsessed with the occult, are searching for his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood. The Nazis know that Ravenwood is the leading expert on the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis in the Kingdom of Egypt, and that he possesses the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. Jones deduces that the Nazis are searching for the location of the Ark of the Covenant; the Nazis believe that if they acquire the Ark their armies will become invincible. The Staff of Ra is the key to finding the Well of Souls, a secret chamber in which the Ark is buried.
The agents authorize Jones to recover the Ark to prevent the Nazis from obtaining it. He travels to the Kingdom of Nepal and discovers that Abner has died, and the headpiece is in the possession of Ravenwood’s daughter Marion. Jones visits Marion at her tavern, where she reveals her bitter feelings toward him from a previous romantic affair. She rebuffs his offer to buy the headpiece, and Jones leaves. Shortly after, a group of thugs arrive with their Nazi commander, Arnold Toht. Toht threatens Marion to get the headpiece, but when Jones returns to the bar to fight the Nazis and save Marion, her bar is accidentally set on fire; and during the fight, the headpiece ends up in the fire. Toht severely burns his hand trying to take the hot headpiece, and flees the tavern screaming. Jones and Marion escape with the headpiece, and Marion decides to accompany Jones in his search for the Ark so he can repay his debt to her.
The pair travels to Cairo, where they meet up with Jones’s friend Sallah, a skilled excavator. Sallah informs them that Belloq and the Nazis are digging for the Well of Souls with a replica of the headpiece, created from the scar on Toht’s hand. They quickly realize the Nazi headpiece is incomplete and that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place. The Nazis kidnap Marion and it appears to Jones that she is killed in an exploding truck. After a confrontation with Belloq in a local bar, Jones and Sallah infiltrate the Nazi dig site and use their staff to correctly locate the Ark. Jones, Sallah, and a small group of diggers unearth the Well of Souls and Jones is forced to face his fear of snakes to acquire the Ark. Belloq and Nazi officer Colonel Dietrich arrive, seize the Ark from Jones, throwing Marion into the Well of Souls with him before sealing it back up. Jones and Marion escape to a local airstrip, where Jones has a fistfight with a Nazi mechanic before blowing up a flying wing. The panicked Nazis remove the Ark in a truck and set off for Cairo, but Jones catches them and retakes it. He makes arrangements to take the Ark to London aboard a tramp steamer.
The next day, a Nazi U-boat appears and intercepts the ship. Belloq 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 a panzerfaust, but Belloq calls the bluff and Jones surrenders rather than destroy such an important historical artifact. The Nazis take Jones and Marion to an area where the Ark will be opened and tie them to a post to observe. Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark, which appears to contain nothing but sand. Suddenly, angelic and beautiful, ghost-like beings emerge from the Ark and float around the assembly. Jones cautions Marion to keep her eyes tightly closed, and not to observe what happens next. Belloq and the others look on in astonishment as the apparitions are suddenly revealed to be angels of death. A vortex of flame forms above the opened Ark and energy surges out into the gathered Nazi soldiers, killing them all. As Belloq, Toht and Dietrich all scream in terror, the Ark turns its fury on them: Dietrich’s head shrivels up, Toht’s face is melted off his skull and Belloq’s head explodes. Flames then engulf the remains of the doomed assembly, save for Jones and Marion. The Ark’s lid is blasted high into the air before dropping back down onto the Ark and sealing it. Jones and Marion find their ropes burned off and embrace.
In Washington, D.C., the Army Intelligence agents inform Jones and Marcus Brody that the Ark is someplace safe and will be studied by “top men”. The Ark is shown being permanently stored in a giant government warehouse among countless similar crates.
Action films in the 80s were all about explosions, excitement, and machismo. Indiana Jones, while obviously a bit more cerebral than his counterparts, was no exception. In this day and age where we get a reboot or remake of everything that we hold near and dear to our hearts, I felt it was time to weigh in with my thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
What is this about?
When Dr. Indiana Jones — the tweed-suited professor who just happens to be a celebrated archaeologist and adventurer — is hired by the government to locate the legendary Ark of the Covenant, he finds himself up against the entire Nazi regime.
What did I like?
Everyman. Sometimes a hero just needs to be a someone just doing their job. In the case of Indiana Jones, that is especially true. Why do I say this? Well, as an archaeologist, he is tasked with obtaining historical artifacts and such. This is sure to come with some dangerous territory, make enemies, etc. As he is our protagonist, I don’t think he is just going to let people associated with him, be they tour guides, female companion, or what-have-you lose their life on his watch.
Action. I was sitting back and watching this film and I was really taken back watching the action. Harrison Ford in his prime whipping his whip around, jumping around these Nazi trucks, and more (yes, I know it was mostly his stunt double) was a real joy to behold. Action movies these days are all CG and explosions. This was some real stunt work that harkens back to the day of Errol Flynn.
Back in the day. It is no secret that I prefer WWII era settings. What is surprising is that, as many times as I have seen this film, I never really put it together that this was set in the 40s. I know, I know…kind of hard to imagine when the Nazis are the antagonists, the cars are not even close to being modern, and the style of dress gives it away. If you go strictly by the parts in the Middle East, though, it isn’t as obvious. At least, that is my half-hearted defense for why I didn’t notice it before.
What didn’t I like?
Off days. This has always bothered me. Indiana Jones is a professor of archaeology, meaning he has an obligation to teach classes of students. What happens to these classes when he’s off globetrotting? For instance, this trip to obtain the Ark of the Covenant was not a weekend excursion, obviously. I would say he was gone for at least a couple of weeks! Did his students just have assignments to do during that time? Was there a sub?
Wooden crate. The Ark is placed in a wooden crate and locked away at film’s end. Sounds like a good thing to do right? I would agree with you, except earlier in the film it was in a wooden crate and somehow managed to burn a hole through that, so who’s to say it won’t do the same this time around?
Snakes. We all have that one thing that scares the living bejesus out of us, be it flying, heights, rats, spiders, needles, or in Indiana Jones’ case, snakes. Wait, this is a guy that goes around to ancient abandoned temples and such, which are all surely loaded with snakes, and this is the thing he’s scared of? I’ve always found that to be perplexing or ironic. Big bad archaeologist scared of the thing that he is sure to run into everywhere he goes.
Final verdict on Raiders of the Lost Ark? This is one of the tent pole films of my childhood. I grew up in the 80s and films like this were my bread and butter. Every franchise has to start somewhere and when you look back at the Indiana Jones franchise (even though Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is universally reviled), it is real easy to see that this is a great starting place for bigger and better things that were sure to come. If you’re looking for a film that has action, humor, romance, and dash of 80s special effects, then I highly recommend this.
5 out of 5 stars