Raiders of the Lost Ark

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★★★★

On a jungle expedition, a group of adventurers hike towards a hidden cave. Their leader is Indiana Jones, a tough archaeologist who is skilled with a bull whip. When one of his followers try to betray him, he swats the man’s gun away with one strike.

Then he continues into the cave where he faces many forms of death. There are traps, pits, spiders, daggers, and a rolling giant boulder. Luckily, he survives and nearly recovers a precious artifact. But this is not the ultimate test. In fact, it is only an introduction for what happens next.

At home, where he is a history professor, Indiana is offered a shocking assignment by two army officers. They would like him to recover the Ark of the Covenant (a container for Moses Ten Commandments).  Based on classified information, Nazi soldiers are already digging for it in Egypt and have plans to use its power for their war cause. Thus begins a journey, beginning in Tibet where Indiana partners up with Marian, an old flame. Together they go to Egypt to find the Ark and they end in an Island where the Arks power is revealed.

The film, captured with beautiful cinematography (by Douglas Slocombe) at exotic locations, is about close calls. Physical encounters are not only exciting but also clever. The movies opening cave sequence exhibits the range of ingenuity, timing, and stunt work. It’s a series of surprises. And when Indiana jones gains control over a truck carrying the ark, it’s an elaborate sequence that involves fights, quick thinking, horseback riding, and a lot of falling men.  

What helps the film is a slight dose of humor. Fight scenes have a comic quality added in the way charatcres are struck or when they’re figuring out problems. And even in less kinetic moments are humorous references. For instance, when a commander brings out what one suspects to be a torture device, it is only to be folded into a coat hanger.  Or when Indiana is in a pit yelling out for a rope from his companion and instead receives a string of Nazi flags from the antagonists.

Indiana is played by Harrison Ford as robust, bruised, and heroic. Karen Allen as Marion is the same except more pugnacious. They have friends like the Egyptian Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and a rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman) who have screen presence.  But together these characters fall into terrifying scenarios that unfold in real locations. Written by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, and directed by Steven Spielberg, Raiders is an action adventure with masterful execution and clever surprises.

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