My Favorite Movie – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Another person with something to prove at that time was Harrison Ford. Many thought that Han Solo would be the only role the actor could play. Force 10 From Navarone, The Frisco Kid, Heroes—none of these post-Star Wars movies had succeeded at the box office. Ford needed to show that he could play a character with some depth. The character of Indiana Jones was already rich and textured on the page, but Ford would bring those final ingredients that would create an indelible character for the ages. He brought humanity, vulnerability and humor. He made Indiana Jones a real person. When Indy gets hit it, it hurts. He makes mistakes. “I’m making this up as I go.” And, remember, at the end of his adventures he never ends up with the prize!
We don’t need any long expositional speeches about what happened in the past between Indy and Marion or between Indy and Belloq. We know all we need to know based on the smart and quick dialogue between those characters and the looks on the faces of the actors portraying them. The rest we can infer or guess. Movies move, and Raiders moves along with some of the most exciting action scenes put to film.
There is a great moment that illustrates how well Ford fit into the role of Indiana Jones. Indy and Sallah have just discovered and opened the Well of Souls—the resting place of the Lost Ark. Of course, our hero will now have to pass through the greatest challenge yet to retrieve this prize. The entire floor is covered with the only thing Indiana Jones truly fears—snakes. We were shown Indy’s fear of snakes in a humorous scene earlier in the movie, and now that set-up has its great pay-off. The pitch-perfect writing by Lawerence Kasdan and performances by Ford and John Rhys-Davies as Sallah come together in the following exchange:
Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?
Asps. Very dangerous. (beat) You go first.
Then there is a priceless look on Ford’s face. That look says everything about why Indiana Jones is so cool. There is humanity in that look. There is fear and exasperation in that look. Even in such an incredible situation—two men staring down into a secret storage room under the Egyptian desert that may hold the actual tablets of stone onto which God inscribed the Ten Commandments—the filmmakers and actors have boiled it down to something relatable and human and funny. That is not an easy thing to do.
Believe me, I could go on and on about this movie. You will find tons of things in Raiders that are equal to the two moments I describe above. The 10-year-old boy who left the movie theater in 1981 was different than the one that went in. Seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark started me down the road that has led me to where I am now. I became obsessed with movies because of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I went to film school because of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I am now a professional documentary editor because of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
As an aside, when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out in 2008, everybody I knew wanted my opinion. (I do not keep my reverence for Indiana Jones, and for movies in general, hidden.) Of that movie I say this: it has flaws and I can understand why some people didn’t like it. However, I loved hanging out with my old friend Indiana Jones again for a couple of hours. I had missed him.