Three decades later, adventure still has one name and it is Indiana Jones. Trust him to deliver thrills and spills, rough-edged romance and a hefty right cross that have lost none of their appeal over the years.
In a cinematic world where revisionist history and CG fakery erodes audiences’ confidence in a film experience we can believe, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK proved it still has the original goods at age 30 and counting.
Monday night’s special 30th Anniversary screening of Steven Spielberg‘s action classic, which redefined the genre and boosted fedora sales for a generation, shows no sign of wear or age beyond its delightful period setting. John Williams‘ iconic, heroic score still quickens the heart and adrenaline flow from beginning to end. The film also looks better than ever in an all-new digital transfer anticipating its eventual Blu-ray release — which the director says will come “soon” but no street date is set. Also unresolved is whether the first three INDY films will arrive on Blu-ray separately or in a trilogy box set [take that, KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL].
Good news for purists: this is the same film many of us first enjoyed in theaters in 1981. The Nazis’ machine guns were not morphed into walkie talkies, nor does Jabba the Hutt make a CG cameo as Hermann Goering. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Indeed, Spielberg says that RAIDERS is the one film of his own he can watch from start to end as an audience member and not a director wincing at flaws or missed movie opportunities. He has a right to be proud about this accomplishment in particular as RAIDERS remains such a solid storytelling adventure regardless of the current date, and will for many years to come.
Apparently the same goes for ‘surprise’ guest Harrison Ford, who still gets fans on their feet and females whooping after 30 years. It’s impossible to picture anyone else (including first casting choice Tom Selleck) wearing that fedora and flinging that whip, but both Ford and Spielberg regaled us with the twist of fate tale which transformed Han Solo to Indy against all odds. Equally hard to fathom now is the fact that RAIDERS was anything but a sure bet for 1981 box office success, especially after Spielberg’s bloated bomb 1941 preceding it. Far from a failure, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK launched both director and star into new heights of popularity.
To be fair and accurate, there are some tiny enhancements which may be detectable only to the most fanatic moviegoer’s eye: either through the film transfer tweaking or with a deft touch of pixel fixing, the faint reflection of the cobra seen on the glass separating the snake from Ford is now gone; and the remnant of a blue-screen pole supporting one of the Ark’s flying spirits has likewise been eliminated. FilmEdge has no complaints about such minor CG tweaks which simply erase the production limitations of the original film for its own benefit in the HD era, and do not attempt to alter the story or its overall enjoyment in any way. The topic of George Lucas’ ever-tinkered-with STAR WARS Saga arriving on Blu-ray this Friday did not escape the panel’s or audiences’ attention by comparison.
Confronting the topic, Spielberg admitted that his one venture into such digital revisionism was a mistake he regrets: his taming of certain elements in E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, from the removal of guns to the redubbing of certain bits of saucy dialogue, remain a cautionary tale for the director. He said that his attempt to mollify a small group of the film’s critics robbed his audience of the original E.T. film experience they loved and supported at box offices around the globe in 1982. Following up on the point, Spielberg polled the audience who overwhelmingly supported an eventual Blu-ray release of E.T.s original ’82 cut alone, not including his 2002 CG-altered edition. The call on which version to release on Blu may not rest entirely in Spielberg’s hands, but don’t be surprised if his Special Edition doesn’t make it to high-def discs next year.
Back to the star of the evening RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which packs plenty of punch in both hair-raising action, witty dialogue and sumptuous character work by Ford’s castmates Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies and Paul Freeman. Lawrence Kasdan‘s cracker jack script retains all its thrills and surprises despite repeat viewings because this globe-hopping roller coaster ride never loses its dramatic grip from one amazing action sequence to the next. RAIDERS still plays remarkably fast too, as its lean, muscular 115-minute run time propels you ever forward in its relic-digging hunt for the Ark of the Covenant.
In the Q&A hosted by the LA Times Hero Complex reporter Geoff Boucher, one fan remarked that Spielberg and Ford’s first collaboration may well be the perfect film, and it’s tough to argue against the point in terms of RAIDERS redefining, expanding and stamping its legacy on the genre for the 20th and 21st centuries. As Indy says, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK proved tonight it has plenty of gas in the tank and remains entertaining as ever.
Talk continues about a fifth film installment in the INDIANA JONES series — even as a reference to the fourth film humorously drew one hoot of support from an attending fan — and Ford later said he’d welcome the opportunity but declared “I’m not going to Mars!” Spielberg agreed not to join his star on that misadventure, so perhaps another Indy film might prove a little more down to earth than its 2008 predecessor.
If director and actor can unearth a solid story with as much dramatic firepower as action highlights, no doubt audiences will line up once again to join Jones on one more daring journey into theaters. Still, it may be impossible to top the original which earns a grateful tip of the hat after 30 years.