Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes? — Indiana Jones
On the beaches of Hawaii in the summer of 1977, George Lucas and "director for hire" Steven Spielberg decided to make an adventure movie that hearkened back to the old, cheaply made adventure serials of the 1930s. George Lucas had a story idea for an adventurous archaeologist named Indiana Jones, and Raiders of the Lost Ark was born.
Indiana Jones has become an iconic figure in film history, right up there with Luke Skywalker, E.T., the shark from Jaws and Rick Blaine from Casablanca. Perhaps the genius was in making him both an adventurer and a scientist — a stud and a thinker — a winning combination. By being equal parts wits and brawn, Indy broke the mold of the traditional action hero. While John Wayne spent countless films tromping the west and being the strong hero, bookish intelligence was never his thing. Indiana Jones' obvious intelligence gave the character an extra dimension and believability. By making Indy the prominent archaeologist, Dr. Jones, Lucas made the audience believe that Indy was smart enough to get out of any situation.
The tremendous success of the Indiana Jones films is due in no small measure to Harrison Ford's underplayed performance as Indiana Jones. Ford doesn't force anything; he lets the action come to him. In the way the old time stars like Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart often seemed like they were playing parts that were simply an extension of themselves, Ford seems comfortable in Indy's skin, as though he was always meant to wear Indiana Jones' leather jacket and handle his bullwhip. With history in the rear view mirror, it's hard to hard to believe Tom Selleck was originally offered the role. Thankfully, he was tied up with a little show called Magnum P.I.
The tagline of the movie poster said it all: "The Return of the Great Adventure." Raiders of the Lost Ark had action, romance, and comedy wrapped up in a tidy package. In a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman with a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Indiana Jones is a mysterious, driven, fly by the seat of your pants kind of guy. Indiana Jones is approached by the United States government about retrieving one of the greatest treasures in history, the Ark of the Covenant. The government is afraid that the Nazis, who are feverishly searching for it themselves, will find the treasure before the United States can recover it.
Jones sets out on a mission to borrow an amulet, important in the discovery of the Ark from his ex-lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). As it turns out, the Nazis are looking for the amulet as well, and Indy arrives just in time. Marion and Indiana are forced to work together if they are to gave any hope of recovering the Ark.
Jones and Ravenwood make their way through frozen Tibetan wastelands, South American jungles, and Egyptian deserts in a race to find the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. Indy seems confident about everything; he avoids large boulders, and fights Nazis, and seems to escape at every turn. One thing that seems to make Indy both human and endearing is his irrational fear of snakes. Here's a guy who spends his days getting bruised and battered, but it's the snakes that drive him to distraction!
The supporting cast of Raiders of the Lost Ark is first rate. John Rhys-Davies' ever-faithful Sallah, Ronald Lacey's silky agent Toht, and Paul Freeman's villainous Belloc are all very central to making the story work. Karen Allen is simply terrific as Marion Ravemwood. She more than holds her own with Harrison Ford; I dare say see steals a scene or two. Feisty and resilient, Allen's performance is reminiscent of the tough ladies of thirties cinema, where the film is set.
With an original score by John Williams, Raiders of the Lost Ark joins a myriad of other Williams scores as one of the most recognizable in cinema history. Williams' ability to deftly capture the mood of each scene with his mesmerizing score only adds to the perfection of the viewing experience.
Understandably, Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Music, Original Score. Though Raiders only took home Oscars in the set, effects, and sound categories, the film did mark "the return of the great adventure."
The Raiders of the Lost Ark – Special Edition DVD is presented in widescreen format enhanced for 16:9 televisions. The picture is crystal clear with no distortions or pixilation. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital: English 5.1 Surround, French 2.0 Surround and Spanish 2.0 Surround. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
For a special edition, Raiders of the Lost Ark's special features are disappointing. Most surprising, there is no commentary. Not from Spielberg, Lucas or even the set designer. Isn't that a DVD staple? Instead we get a short talking head piece titled, "New Introduction by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas." This one is kind of a quasi-"making of" documentary where the two men and others involved in making the film discuss how the whole project came about.
"The Indy Trilogy: A Crystal Clear Appreciation" brings back Spielberg, Lucas, and assorted actors from all four Indy films to discuss what they enjoy about them. "The Mystery of the Melting Face" is an interesting piece about how the special effects department melted Toht's face.
The DVD also includes "Snakes Alive! The Well of Souls Storyboards," photo galleries and a LEGO "Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures Game" demo.