Paramount // 1981 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 30th, 2013
Get ready to crack that whip!
Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) works by day as college professor but by night (or at least on his days off) he's a swashbuckling archeologist who travels the globe collecting priceless artifacts that belong in a museum. His newest adventure involves finding the Biblical Ark of the Covenant (which held the Ten Commandments). It is said that whoever possesses the Ark has an army that is unstoppable, and the only person between Adolph Hitler and total world domination is Dr. Jones! Teaming up with a long lost love, Marian (Karen Allen, Starman), Dr. Jones must contend with one of his oldest adversaries, Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman, Hot Fuzz), and a sinister Gestapo agent, Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey, Firefox). It's a race against evil as Dr. Jones pieces together the whereabouts of the Ark with the Nazis hot on his heels!
Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest adventure movies ever churned out by the Hollywood machine. It's a sensation machine constructed from familiar parts (including serials from the 1930s) but brushed off and made new again. Much has been written about Raiders of the Lost Ark at DVD Verdict, so instead of a rehash I'll bullet point three things that make the original Indiana Jones adventure great.
1) If the Indiana Jones franchise truly excels it's at offering up really great villains. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom featured the sinister Thugee leader Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) ripping out the hearts of innocent victims and poisoning our hero with a mind altering blood potion. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade included Julian Glover as the shifty Walter Donovan and Michael Byrne as the vicious Col. Ernest Vogel. Even the least of the series, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, sported a decent baddie in Cate Blanchett as the cold war villainous Irina Spalko. With the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg and Lucas offered up two exceptional nemeses for our hero: Paul Freeman's confidently evil Rene Belloq and Ronald Lacey as the creepy Arnold Toht. Both actors are excellent in their roles. Freeman makes Belloq both likable and despicable, and although the audience wants to see him receive his comeuppance, Freeman is able to give Belloq a hint of humanity (however tenuous). The scene where Karen Allen's Marion Ravenwood and Belloq get drunk is one of the film's true highlights. Equally great is Ronald Lacey's Toht, a giggling miscreant who comes off like Rick Moranis's evil twin. Toht is still considered one of the best villains in the series, and for good reason: he still has the power to scare the hell out of viewers.
2.) Most action movies have a couple of great scenes and a lot of filler. Raiders of the Lost Ark features a couple of filler scenes and a lot of great action beats. The movie seems almost wall-to-wall hugely exciting moments, from the giant boulder chase to the river plane escape to the monkey baskets to a fist fight near a running plane. This all comes before a finale that's both utterly thrilling and terrifying in the same breath: when the Ark of the Covenant is finally opened, the Nazi's fate is truly a horrifying wonder to behold. Somehow Spielberg is able to make the set pieces seem fresh and funny while still staying true to the seriousness of the plot (Moses would have been proud). Harrison Ford's deadly serious demeanor actually helps sell the sequences, no matter how outrageous they end up being. There have been movies that feature better special effects work and larger budgets, but hardly ever have those films been as tense and emotionally resonant as Raiders of the Lost Ark.
3.) Music composer John Williams has become synonymous with Steven Spielberg. In fact, except for a few exceptions (The Color Purple), Williams and Spielberg have been inseparable. Although Williams has created some truly iconic themes for Spielberg's films -- Jurassic Park, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan -- the one that is his true apex is the theme for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The theme is rousing and filled with swooping crescendos, breathing life into an aging archeologist. As a part of the movie's success as the visuals, the score for Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the things I personally think of first when the movie comes to mind. That's the sign of a great composer. Williams successfully created specific themes for each entry in the series (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is much darker while Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is more playful), but the most memorable is the rousing Raiders of the Lost Ark fanfare that is so closely associated with the movies.
This single disc Blu-ray of Raiders of the Lost Ark is just a stand alone copy of the one included in Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Blu-ray) released in 2012. The transfer is 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Just like the previous release, this picture looks excellent. Suffice it to say, fans of the series have never seen Dr. Jones and company look as dazzling and clear. The colors are rich and textured and the black levels inky and dark. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. This is a fantastic mix for a movie that's over 30 years old. There are some great surround sound effects and John Williams's score takes center stage during the climactic moments. Overall, both the video and audio are top notuch. Also included on this disc are Dolby 5.1 mixes in French, Portuguese, and Spanish, Dolby 2.0 mixes in Spanish and Portuguese, along with English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
Bonus features are slim -- a few theatrical/teaser/re-release trailers, and a digital copy.
In my mind -- along with millions of movie lovers -- Raiders of the Lost Ark is a near perfect film experience. The movie has transcended any of its flaws to become a well oiled sensation machine that nearly leaves the viewer breathless. Even with imperfect effects work (one of the small complaints most leveled at the film), Raiders of the Lost Ark works in a way that so many $250 million dollar movies don't. There's a reason why all these years later Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is so beloved; his movies the template for what makes an action/adventure movie excellent. I offer a tip of my fedora to Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and everyone else that've made Raiders of the Lost a true cinema classic.
A classic in every sense of the word.
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Digital Copy
* Official Site
* Facebook Page