Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (3 Stars)

This was the second film shown at the 2013 Outdoor Film Festival at Brindley Place in Birmingham. I'm old enough to remember all the hype when this film was made in 1981. At the time Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were the two directors whose films made more money than anyone else's. Putting them together in one film was a surefire way to make money. Sentimental stories talk about the two men meeting, making friends over dinner and saying they admired each other's work so much that they wanted to work together. I doubt the stories are true, at least not in this form. The way I see it is that the bosses of the film studios looked at the year's income in 1977 (the year of "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), then rang Spielberg and Lucas and told them "You two must work together".

Spielberg and Lucas were both directors, but at the time Lucas was the only one with experience as a producer, so it was an obvious decision for George Lucas to be the producer and Steven Spielberg the director of their joint effort. My feelings at the time were mixed. I greatly admired Spielberg's films, but judging by "Star Wars" I didn't like Lucas's style. To be honest, I was rather baffled by the success of "Star Wars" (which was later renamed "Star Wars Episode IV"). To me it seemed to be a blam blam shoot 'em up film, driven by action scenes with a flimsy story stringing them together. Cowboys and Indians in space. Spielberg, on the other hand, made films based on strong stories, with action added only where appropriate. Spielberg made films for the brain, Lucas made films for the gut.

In theory, combining the two financial and artistic powerhouses of 1970's cinema could work. With some trepidation I bought my film ticket. And I was disappointed. To me it seemed like a George Lucas film, I could see very little Spielberg influence in it. I've never read any "behind the scenes" info on the film, but it seems like George Lucas did more than just produce the film, he seems to be the real director. I can't imagine their teamwork being amicable. I have images of the two disagreeing on something, then Spielberg throwing up his arms in frustration and saying, "I really don't care, let's do it your way, I just want to get the film over and done". I stress, this is just my feeling from watching the film, it's not based on anything I've seen or read about it.

Of course, I was in the minority. The film was one of the biggest successes of all time, up to 1981. Not just financially, the film was nominated for nine Oscars, of which it won four. Watching the film again today, I just don't understand it. The plot is like something from a comedy film, and yet it's all played very seriously. In the film Adolf Hitler is sending expeditions to find the Biblical "ark of the covenant", which he thinks will make his armies invincible. This is absolutely ridiculous. Hitler would never have used a Jewish artifact as a means to victory.

Getting to the festival itself, the organisers seem to have learnt something from the mistakes they made yesterday. Maybe they even read my blog. They didn't have more beanbags, but there were helpers handing out deck chairs. They were still using the same loudspeakers, but the volume was louder today. They still have a way to go to put things right. Let's see how tomorrow's film works out.

The photo above shows Mike McAuley of the Birmingham Film Club proudly sitting on a beanbag that he won for himself at the risk of life and limb. Since I respect him as one of the club's organisers I didn't fight him for it.


  1. As I passionately spoke up in another Meetup group to the one we know each other from, I don't regard the Indy movies as ones to really grade on plot and real world logic. We care for Indy, we see his persona at college and his more rough and ready one when he is out adventuring. He has to use his wits as much as his brains and brawn. He has a strong ex who can almost manage without him, but acts as a great foil. With some well played villains and heavies in the mix too, I can never be let down by revisiting this splendid film. Hard to decide if this or Empire Strikes Back is the better brainchild of George Lucas, back when he wasn't just all ego.

    1. I partly agree with you, as far as the film plots not being water tight, but I stick by my criticism of Hitler using the Biblical ark. It's the exact opposite of what Hitler would have done in real life.

  2. Well he took the Jews' property, land and assets away from there for pure material gain, so I personally see no reason he wouldn't try and defy their faith by harnessing an artefact. He was God in his own mind anyway, some would definitely say.

    1. Maybe I could imagine Hitler taking the Ark if he didn't consider it to be something Jewish, but merely an object of power that had fallen into the Jews' hands. Much like the gold and artwork that he stole from them. That isn't the way the Jews see the artefact though. For them it was the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of their religion. It contained the original stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments were written, and it was also claimed that God himself was inside the Ark. I find it difficult to understand what "God" was, both from religious and atheist points of view.

      From a religious point of view, how could an omnipotent God be carried in a container? Why was it ordained that everyone who looked into the Ark should die? Then there's the story of Uzzah who God struck down because because he touched the Ark to steady it when the oxen stumbled. Wasn't it a good thing that he did. Was God so spiteful?

      From an atheist point of view -- at least an atheist who credits the stories with some historical veracity -- what were the Jews carrying? Was it some sort of powerful stone that was deadly to the touch? That might have been what Hitler believed, in the context of the film.

      Whole books have been written by Jewish and Christian authors about the Ark. It's a strange, mystical subject. I don't claim to have read them. I don't see the relevance for my own life, and I don't even see the relevance for Christian authors. Maybe a Jewish scholar might have some reason to write about it. Someone needs to give me a two-page summary of what he thinks the Ark was. I could read that much.

    2. Ok, I understand your viewpoint properly now. I still think this film has dated incredibly well and is one of those films everyone should see.
      Would be good to have a new extension to the franchise with indy's grandson. I don't think shia LaBeouf is really any good for these action films (was ok in disturbing).

    3. To be honest, I don't think Shia LaBeouf is much good in anything. Or maybe I'm being unfair to him. I need to see him in more films.

  3. *Disturbia. (But really just playing himself). Good film that i recommend for a review.


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