Duck And Cover: Hero Complex Asks Whether “Raiders of the Lost Ark” Is Overrated.

Oh boy … here’s one that’ll get the fanboys a-rioting.

With the 30th anniversary of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” upon us, the folks at Hero Complex tackle a thorny question: Is the warmly remembered film of our youth actually hopelessly overrated? Is it one of those things (like “The Superfriends“) that is more often praised than rewatched? Or does Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones really deserve his place among the great pulp heroes of the film pantheon (let’s face it — he’ll never be another Han Solo).

Here’s the nut graf:

“Until recently, I hadn’t seen “Raiders” all the way through since I was in college. Back then, the more brutal combat sequences (the fistfight, with wrenches and implied beheadings, underneath the Nazi plane; the protracted truck chase and vicious pummelings) seemed to go on an awfully long time. Second time through, they still do. The picture’s spirit strikes me as a little harsh for maximum enjoyment. This is why my favorite bit is the quickest, and cheapest, and funniest: Indy, faced with the Cairo street thug with the enormous sword, wearily pulling out his pistol and shooting the adversary dead. Heartless, perfectly timed, a sight gag that works.”

Here’s that scene, for those of you who have forgotten:

Writer Michael Phillips offers some other critical appraisals that might surprise you as well. For instance, here’s the late Pauline Kael (who also just got a reappraisal in the pages of the New York Times not long ago):

“The opening sequence, set in South America, with Indy Jones entering a forbidden temple and fending off traps, snares, poisoned darts, tarantulas, stone doors with metal teeth, and the biggest damn boulder you’ve ever seen, is so thrill-packed you don’t have time to breathe — or to enjoy yourself much, either .… Seeing ‘Raiders’ is like being put through a Cuisinart — something has been done to us, but not to our benefit.”

Which isn’t to say that everyone is a Grinch when it comes to this movie. Also in the L.A. Times, here’s part of writer Damon Lindelof’s protracted mash note:

“I could go on for pages about just the little things. Like the sound you make when Indy punches someone in the face. Or that Marion’s superpower is drinking. And don’t even get me started on the coat hanger. Where did that Nazi even get that thing? Did he special-order it? “I need somezing that vill terrify people when I take it out, but then give them a false zense of relief when I reveal it is simply somezing on vich to hang my coat.” Seriously. The best. But I know you’ve probably heard it all before and therefore, I’ll stick to the big stuff. First and foremost…

I love you because Indiana Jones is a nerd. Granted, a highly capable nerd who knows how to ride horses and fight real good, but still, at his core, Indy is an academic who’s motivated purely by his desire to find and retrieve really cool stuff so he can put it in a museum where other nerds can appreciate it. Also, he wears glasses and gets nervous when hot female students write the words “Love You” on their eyelids. Do you have any idea how much commitment is involved in writing “Love You” on your eyelids? It’s really hard! Not that I’ve ever done it.”

For me, the strength of “Raiders” has always been in the characters: Indiana Jones was the first tough smart guy I ever saw in the movies. Let’s take a moment to remember that his day job was as an archaeologist at a small Midwestern college.

There are few things nerdier than that. But put a fedora on his head and give him a bullwhip and that nerd could kick serious ass. I wouldn’t encounter someone both that cool and smart at the multiplex again until 1987’s “Real Genius.” Make no mistake, for a bookish, history-loving kid with only middling athletic skills, it was a huge inspiration.

And unlike any other of his leading ladies, Karen Allen brought a special mix of brains and beauty to the character of Marion. Here was a girl who could fight and drink and kiss with the best of them. What guy wouldn’t want to hang out with a girl like that? She was the only three-dimensional leading actress of the three movies. (Yes, three. I’m pretending that the fourth Indy movie doesn’t exist. Because, really, it shouldn’t).

The film was also a gateway drug for me to the great Republic serials on which it was based. At age 11, I had only the vaguest idea that these low-budget films existed. Like all great art, “Raiders” prompted me to go learn about what had inspired it. If you’re a true junkie, you always go tunneling back through history to find the source material.

And, finally, though it was addressed in a pulpy, History Channel reenactment kind of way, the first Raiders movie forced viewers to tackle questions of faith in a way that few films had before or have since.

As they chased after a golden box, both viewers and the characters were asked: What does it mean to believe? What does it mean to have faith (if you don’t have it, the answer apparently, is that you get your face melted off in the final sequence)? It takes a certain amount of belief to go chasing after quasi-mythic objects that exist only at the fringes of history and in our own imagination. If pressed, the viewer is asked, would you put that much faith on the line?

And have I mentioned that the movie was also a hell of a lot of fun to watch? And that it still is? There’s no more compelling argument for a movie’s continued relevance than that.

Read the full story here.

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