RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
1980 saw Spielberg and Lucas—friends and successes independently of each other—finally decide to pool their talents. With mega hits Jaws and Star Wars under their belts, you might think that any studio in the world would have butchered their own mother to get at what these two combined could offer. But it wasn’t so. The duo had an ambitious adventure film in mind; one that paid steep homage to the serialized cliff-hangers of the Thirties and Forties. It was audacious in both its scope and in the budget the duo proposed it could be accomplished for. Most studios passed, believing it impossible. If one thing history has proven again and again with these two is that they eat impossible for breakfast.
Conceived in Lucas’s mind before he wrote Star Wars and proposed to Spielberg on a beach in Hawaii, Raiders of the Lost Ark would follow the adventures of Indiana Smith, an archaeologist who travelled the world hunting precious artefacts and finding himself out of his depth. Spielberg, who was keen to do a Bond picture at the time (bet they’re wishing that had come off!), was taken instantly with the premise and agreed on the spot to do it: with one change: Indiana Smith became Indiana Jones.
It is a well-known fact these days that Tom Selleck won the role, and was forced by the pick-up of a little TV show called Magnum, PI to back out at the eleventh hour (due to production delays, fate would have it that he could have shot both the movie and the TV show, but it wasn’t to be). Spielberg returned to his first choice, Lucas’s lucky charm Harrison Ford, despite Lucas’s reluctance to keep using the actor for ‘every project’.
Raiders saw Jones in a race against the Nazis to find the Ark of the Covenant. The template for all the following films was set here: Indy appears in the thick of conflict and leads us at breakneck speed through a never ending series of misadventures toward the ultimate goal—the McGuffin, as Hitchcock once coined it.
This, for a young audience in the Eighties, was a whole new pacing of film; something that has continued to this day. Unlike a lot of movies these days, Raiders’ razor sharp screenplay by Spielberg/Lucas oft-collaborator Lawrence Kasdan squeezes as much character development and story in as it does set pieces.
You are invested in Indy’s quest from the outset. He is the perfect relatable hero—one of the best ever conceived—because of his failings, his humanity, his ego. Indy is a guy that looks like he’s going to fail at every corner, but by the skin of his teeth holds on and endures over great odds. Supporting characters are equally well drawn and the economy in which they connect is another testament to Kasdan’s work, along with long time Spielberg editor Michael Khan.
The film’s look, a rough and ready nod to the cliff-hangers of old, was shot through the lenses of Douglas Slocombe, a DP Spielberg would use for the entire original trilogy. Raiders’ photography above the other two looks the most like the classics it honours, only with a broad colour palette that takes the best of older techniques and pumps it up another notch. This is something modern films continually fail to do when they simply copy without adding something of their own to the mix. For the fourth instalment, Slocombe’s eye was missed, but more on that in the fourth article.
Another magical element—something that is almost guaranteed with this man—is the score. John Williams, who was already one of the most cherished and celebrated film composers in the world for his Spielberg/Lucas collaborations, once again delivered a theme that is as instantly recognized in the most isolated locales of the world as it is in Hollywood. Added to which, Raiders delivers one of the most cohesive and evocative scores ever created; from Marion’s theme to the Ark, the score perfectly immerses you in Indy’s world.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those rare gifts; an absolutely perfect creation where everything came out better than anyone could anticipate. The leading man embodied the hero pitch perfect and became an icon, the editing, the sound, the supporting cast, those classic moments that happened by accident—they all came together to create a treasure that Indiana Jones himself would try to collect; and while this film spawned a beloved franchise, I think it stands alone in its perfection. Raiders is an undisputed masterpiece in adventure filmmaking.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Finally presented by Paramount in glorious HD, it must be noted that the films all look great, with the original three enjoying a brand new gloss to their film stock. This is definitely worth the upgrade from the DVD releases a few years back. Each film is presented in 1080p high definition with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that honors the source sound with bombastic tones.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Unfortunately, there are a few minor quips with the Raiders of the Lost Ark restoration. The saturation levels are completely over baked. This is most notable during the opening scenes. And it’s widely inconsistent. While it looks noticeably better than it has on any previous home video format, it’s definitely not the revelatory experience I wanted (especially after the Jaws restoration). That said, the warm, film-like look of Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography is still pretty dazzling and clean.
They blew it, folks. There is nary a commentary on any of these discs. Definitive? Hell, no. Prepare to shell out more dough in the near future.
This franchise means a lot to audiences everywhere. For over 31 years, the character of Indiana Jones has been a part of our popular culture. There’s no way this set – a long time coming – could satisfy everyone. Aside from some pretty awful packaging with each disc housed snugly inside a pocket within the book pages, leaving them vulnerable to scratching and fingerprints, the set is a nice beginning to what will probably be re-released next year in single packaging (with director’s commentary). The binding is tight and the packaging is sturdier than most. It’s cool, but I am always a bit wearisome of having to slide a disc into its sleeve. While the four discs don’t contain any supplemental material, there is a bonus disc that houses everything you ever need know about the making of these films.
The seven hours of supplemental material almost makes you forget the lack of commentary. Although, very little of it is new. If you’ve owned the DVD set, you know most of the featurettes already. There’s really no point in rehashing those. The new supplemental material takes the cake. There is a documentary of new bonus features for Raiders, mined and rescued from Spielberg’s archive. There are a lot of new behind the scenes footage, on-set footage and alternate takes; all previously unseen. The two individual featurettes, titled “From Jungle to Desert” and “From Adventure to Legend” are interesting in their depth of information and their display of the on-set giddiness that was a part of making this character so charming. Everyone is happy and excited and I miss those days. The Bonus features are presented in standard and high definition (as indicated below) in English with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
- On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
- From Jungle to Desert
- From Adventure to Legend
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary previously unavailable)
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD)
- Behind the Scenes ?The Stunts of Indiana Jones
- The Sound of Indiana Jones
- The Music of Indiana Jones
- The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
- Raiders: The Melting Face!
- Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-ups)
- Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (with optional pop-ups)
- Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute
- Indy’s Friends and Enemies
- Iconic Props (HD)
- The Effects of Indy (HD)
- Adventures in Post Production (HD)