Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

raiders of the lost ark

“I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”

The Scoop: 1981 PG, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, and Ronald Lacey

Tagline: The Return of the Great Adventure.

Summary Capsule: Gruff archaeologist tracks down a tub full of sand

Justin’s rating: Have fedora, will travel

Justin’s review: When Raiders of the Lost Ark was initially released, it had nothing great going for it. Sure, a bit of star and director power is nice, but superficially it looked like a generic serial action/adventure taken straight from the Dark Ages of Filmmaking. Yet nobody accounted for Indiana Jones himself (this being the only Indy movie without his name on it suggests that it was not thought of as a franchise from the start). Our hero, Dr. Indiana Jones, single-handedly made this movie. Well, him and an exciting story and a steady dousing of humor and horror… but we’ll just focus on Indy for a second.

Going back to watch this after countless viewings as I grew up, I now consider this Harrison Ford’s finest hour. Indy and Han Solo have a lot in common, but I give Indy the edge due to some great entrances and a few more zingers. Indiana Jones is the working class of hero; he’s ingenious and witty, has a never-say-die attitude, and most importantly, he’s not afraid to rob the dead for a few minutes of fame and glory. Tomb Raider, take note: this buries you and your parasitical siblings all over again.

Indy wasn’t the refined hero of the later ’80s on; he had faults and weaknesses a-plenty, but that hat just never came off. Scared of snakes, constantly bested by his archeological nemesis, afraid of relationships, and sometimes survived due only to plum luck, Indy’s appeal lies in his unbridled enthusiasm. He LOVES to be in the thick of the action, even when he’s swearing up a storm and taking his frustrations out on the SS. Many scenes from Raiders are inseparable to the legend of Indiana Jones: Indy rubbing his chin before removing a gold idol, Indy using that bullwhip the first time on an armed man, Indy foregoing a duel to just shoot a bad guy armed with a sword.

On a race against the Germans, archeology professor cum adventurer Indiana Jones travels to the far corners of the 1940s world in search of the Ark that holds the biblical Ten Commandments. It’s power is legendary, and meanie Hitler wants it to aid in his conquest. Once they get their hands on it, everyone finds out that history has a way of coming alive that’s not exactly the History Channel way.

As they said about the computer game Wolfenstein 3D, what better bad guys could you possibly have than the Nazis? Raider‘s Nazis aren’t exactly the joyless Schindler’s List goosesteppers, but they have a serious edge when need be. The leader of the Nazi dudes is an uber-creepy torturer, and I definitely wouldn’t feel too comfortable with him holding a red-hot poker a few inches from my face either. It’s therapeutic to see a hero of our generation get metaphorical revenge for past evils. Plus, we don’t feel in the least bit sorry when a Nazi bites it:

Mother: Son, stop watching that! That man’s face just melted!
Danny: But Mom, he was a Nazi!
Mother: Oh. Okay then! And get your little sister to watch too.

Speaking of which, this was one of those movies that you could sneak past your parents on the PG rating and get a heap full of violence and gore for your efforts. From a Spanish guy being trice impaled on a booby trap to a big bad burning up and THEN being shot, Indy was all about the fist. Even though it’s just implied with a spray of blood, just imagining what Mr. Propeller Guy went through still sends shivers through my system. And let us say a short prayer for the dude whose head melts in an orgy of red and white paint. That’ll scar you as a kid, yessir, but probably for the better. Chicks dig (emotional) scars.

Sooo many great things to say about Raiders, but I would be sorely remiss (and miss my sores) if I didn’t mention the soundtrack. The John Williams score is one of the most memorable of moviedom, and I still get the grins when I heard Indy’s theme for the first time in this movie. It’s not just the music, however; pay attention to the sounds as well! Foley artists had a field day with this movie, and it’s hard to explain how well the sounds just make everything better. Such as the screams of the dead skeletons when Marion stumbles on them, or the slimy noises that the snakes make going through the wall, the whistles of blow darts, and even the sound of branding flesh.

It is one test of a true classic to ask yourself, if this film had never been made and was released as is today, would it still be considered as good? I can’t see how Raiders of the Lost Ark would not be completely embraced by our culture. It’s action, it’s horror, it’s humor, it’s high adventure — and it’s all of these things done extremely well. Indy lives! He’s just very old now!

“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”


  • What always stumped me was, why would ANYone name an action-adventure hero after the most flat and boring state of our union? He should’ve been like, New Jersey Jones, or Delaware Jones, or even North Dakota Jones (yes, we know Indiana Jones’ name comes from the name of George Lucas’s dog, so don’t be a nerd and tell us that).
  • Script originally included a long fight between a swordsman and Indiana with his whip. Actor Harrison Ford was suffering diarrhea at the time, and asked if the scene could be shortened. Spielberg said the only way he could shorten it was if Indy pulled out his gun and just shot the guy. The entire crew laughed and that’s how it was filmed.
  • Shawn M. wrote in: “In 1936 Nepal was a closed country, no foreigners were able to enter its borders. Therefore, there’s no way that Indy could have simply flown right into and out of Kathmandu as shown in the map sequence.”
  • Lots of interesting camera shots, including wall shadows and through flames
  • The monkey doing the Seig Hail salute
  • Indy hit in the face by the swastika
  • Indy not actually doing anything to help them remove the door to the well of souls
  • We have many questions of how Indy played castaway on the Nazi sub – did it not submerge? How did he get off it before it docked at the German base?
  • The scene where Indy threatens to blow up the Ark with a bazooka as it is being carried through a canyon was filmed in the same canyon in Tunisia used in Star Wars when R2-D2 was zapped and stolen by Jawas.
  • In filming the Well of Souls sequence, the producers scoured every pet shop in London and the South of England for every snake they could lay their hands on. Hence there are snakes that are identifiable from many different geographical areas. However, once all the snakes were on set, it became clear that there were not nearly enough of them, so Spielberg had several hoses cut into lengths, and these were used as well. Looking closely, you can tell which are the real snakes and which are not.
  • Begins with a shot of a peak in the jungle which is reminiscent of the Paramount Pictures logo.
  • Jock’s airplane at the beginning has the registration number “OB-CPO”, referring to Obi-wan and C-3PO from Star Wars.
  • The hieroglyphics in the Well of Souls include engravings of R2-D2 and C-3PO
  • The submarine model was reused from Das Boot
  • The crate in which the Ark is placed at the end of the movie has the number 9906753.
  • The musical theme for the Ark of the Covenant is heard several times throughout the film. Each time, it either trails off, segues into a different theme, or modulates into a different key. Only at the climax of the film is the entire theme heard and resolved in its original key.
  • During the firefight in Marion’s Bar, Indy’s gun changes from a .38 revolver to a Colt .45, back to a .38, then back once again to a .45. This might be the reason that he is able to fire his gun 7 times without reloading, though it appears he might be carrying a second gun which he draws at the end.
  • Set in 1936, as seen on the Life magazine. Certain inconsistencies in the movie are because of this. For instance, Egypt was British-controlled in 1936 and the Germans would not have been able to mount a large military operation there as shown. When Indy threatens to blow up the ark, he is shown holding a Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon. The Panzerfaust was developed after WW2 started.

Groovy Quotes

Indy: [trapped in the Well of Souls] hahahahahasonofabitch….

Belloq: How odd that it should end this way for us after so many stimulating encounters. I almost regret it. Where shall I find a new adversary so close to my own level?
Indy: Try the local sewer.

Indy: Give me the whip!
Satipo: Throw me the idol. No time to argue. Throw me idol, I’ll throw you the whip.
Indy: [throws the idol] Give me the whip!
Satipo: Adiós, señor!

Brody: Marion’s the least of your worries right now, believe me, Indy.
Indy: What do you mean?
Brody: Well, I mean that for nearly three thousand years man has been searching for the lost ark. It’s not something to be taken lightly. No one knows its secrets. It’s like nothing you’ve ever gone after before.
Indy: [laughing] Oh, Marcus. What are you trying to do, scare me? You sound like my mother. We’ve known each other for a long time. I don’t believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus pocus. I’m going after a find of incredible historical significance, you’re talking about the boogie man. Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am. [throws his gun into his suitcase]

Indy: There’s a big snake in the plane, Jock!
Jock: Oh, that’s just my pet snake Reggie.
Indy: I hate snakes, Jock! I hate ’em!
Jock: C’mon, show a little backbone, will ya?

Marion: You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indy: It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

Indy: You want to talk to God? Let’s go see him together, I’ve got nothing better to do!

Belloq: You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.
Indy: Now you’re getting nasty.

Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indy: Give me your torch. [Sallah does, and Indy drops it in.] Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?
Sallah: Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.

Indy: Meet me at Omar’s. Be ready for me. I’m going after that truck.
Sallah: How?
Indy: I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.

Belloq: Dr. Jones. Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.

Belloq: So once again, Jones, what was briefly yours is now mine.

Belloq: What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits. You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.

Belloq: Next time, Indiana Jones, it will take more than children to save you.

Indy: Belloq!
Belloq: Good afternoon, Doctor Jones.
Indy: I oughta kill you right now.
Belloq: Not a very private place for a murder.

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One comment

  1. We have many questions of how Indy played castaway on the Nazi sub – did it not submerge? How did he get off it before it docked at the German base?

    The first question can be answered by noting that only nuclear subs (which obviously didn’t exist back then) spend most of their time submerged. WWII subs ran on diesel engines on the surface and used an electric motor while submerged. The batteries for the electric motor are of such limited duration that submerging is only done for combat.

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