Good afternoon, Doctor Jones – and Tor.com! Please join the Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia for a movie whose awesomeness neither the years nor the mileage can bury in the sand: 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark! With special guest appearance by Nephew Remy!
Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.
And now, the post!
LIZ: So, Remy, do you know who Indiana Jones is?
NEPHEW REMY: Uh-huh.
LIZ: Who is he?
REMY: He’s a ‘splorer.
LIZ: An explorer, that’s pretty close. What does he explore?
REMY: Big danger things.
ME: …seems legit.
There’s something to be said for the succinctness of a seven-year-old. Also for their level of pop culture awareness, since Remy had certainly not been allowed to watch any of the movies before this. But the character of Indiana Jones has been an indelible feature of our pop culture landscape since I was younger than Remy is now, so all things considered it might have been stranger if Remy hadn’t heard of him.
Liz and I (Kate was not able to join us for this one) were both surprised to realize that Raiders of the Lost Ark had come out allll the way back in 1981, but on reflection it made sense, as neither of us ever saw it in theaters, only on TV much later. Liz distinctly remembers watching it at home with our dad, who would cover her eyes for the “bad parts”, and she was looking forward to doing the same with Remy. Liz thought she could shield Remy’s eyes during the infamous face-melting scene at the end, and maybe during the whole “Marion falls into a million skeletons in the snake-infested tomb and screams the place down”, but other than that she figured he’d be okay.
Thing is, though, we kind of forgot that a “PG” rating (which is what Raiders has) in 1981 is a very different animal from a “PG” in modern day parlance. Somehow we had managed to forget that Raiders of the Lost Ark, whatever else it might be, is also hella, hella violent. It’s not necessarily a thing I would have even noticed if there had only been adults in the room, but sitting next to a kid, I most definitely was aware.
(Is this moment still one of the best moments on film, ever, though? Yes, yes it is.)
And it’s not that Remy hasn’t been exposed to fictional violence before – he’s seen the entire Star Wars oeuvre multiple times, after all – but this was on a whole different level. I used to think the convention where movies snagged a lower rating by having a ton of violence but not actually showing any blood or gore was an absurd distinction, but watching Raiders with Remy proved that, silly as it may be from a logical standpoint, it really does make a difference on a… well, on a visceral level, pun probably intended.
Basically, by modern standards it is kind of insane that this movie, and even more its sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, have PG ratings. Or even at the time, as Temple of Doom was in fact a catalyst for the invention of the PG-13 rating three years later. I guess it’s not practical to retroactively apply a PG-13 to every pre-1984 movie that deserved it, but wow would it have been a lot less misleading for a mom and aunt as brain-farty re: violence levels of beloved childhood movies as we turned out to be.
(Liz argues that we may not have remembered the violence being that intense because it may not have been that intense for us, as we saw it on TV, in an era when the TV censors were a lot more heavy-handed than they generally are these days. But I don’t know, because I think there’s a sharply limited amount of violence you can remove from this movie and still have it make any kind of sense. And I definitely remember the face-melting thing vividly, which surely should have been censored if anything was going to be, soooo yeah. In any case, it didn’t seem to bother Remy all that much, any more than it had when we watched it back in the day at basically the same age. Which may be problematic in and of itself, but, well.)
Which brings us to another surprising realization, which was how long it had been since either Liz or I had actually seen Raiders. I had been laboring under the impression that I had seen all of the Indy movies quite recently, but I now realize that the only one of the trilogy I had watched within the last decade or so was the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Probably because that one was my favorite.
(Yes, I’m aware that there is a fourth movie. Technically. But that’s a rant for another day.)
Last Crusade is probably still my favorite, for reasons which I will detail if we end up doing that one, but Raiders is unquestionably the most seminal film of the trilogy. Not just because it was the first, but because it was made just as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and all their cadre were reaching the dizziest heights of their entirely successful quest to change the way movies were made in Hollywood forever. It’s sort of glorious to watch just on that level alone, but it’s also just a darn good movie. Which may seem like an obvious thing to say, but it’s way too true to not remark upon.
There are plenty of reasons Raiders of the Lost Ark occupies a slot on so many Best Films lists, and it’s not just on account of its impressive pedigree. It pulls you right in from the moment it starts and doesn’t let you go until the end. Everything from the humor to the action to the music to… everything, just works. Even the special effects still work, weirdly; even though the most outré of them (faaaaaace melting!) looks completely fake now (and honestly, looked fake even at the time), it’s still completely effective in evoking the response it was intended to. (At least in those of us who were allowed to see it; Liz and I both simultaneously clapped our hands over Remy’s eyes for that bit. He thought this was hilarious, just as Liz thought it was hilarious (but awesome) when our dad did the same for her. It’s the CIRCLE of LIIIIIIIFE)
Anyway, my point is, Raiders of the Lost Ark is awesome. Duh. It’s so awesome, even my criticisms of the movie are more admiring than they aren’t.
REMY: Did she just get captured AGAIN?
Such a lovely boy. Yes, nephew after my own heart, Marion Ravenwood does indeed spend most of this movie being a damsel in distress (or maybe a damsel in dis dress, because seriously, what was it with guys in this movie wanting to give her ridiculously impractical frocks every five minutes).
That said, as damsels go Marion is definitely one of the least annoying examples out there, with more character and agency than most of her ilk are allowed. I have a lot of appreciation for a gal who can drink giant burly barflies and villainous French archaeologists alike under the table, no problem. I also have a lot of appreciation for the lovely Karen Allen, who has now made her third appearance in the MRGN, and who, from reading between the lines of various behind the scenes interviews and such on this movie, was largely responsible for making Marion as assertive and interesting a character as she was. You go, Karen Allen.
LIZ: The movie didn’t pass the Bechdel Test, though.
ME: Well, there were no other freaking female characters in the movie, so how could it – oh my God, wait, it did.
Yeah, so it turns out that the only other female speaking role in the entire film was Sallah’s (nameless) wife, who has exactly two lines – which are to Marion. About the monkey.
LIZ: Holy crap.
Right?? So, Raiders of the Lost Ark does in fact technically pass the Bechdel Test – in a way which is a stellar example of why a Bechdel Test pass is not necessarily a sufficient measure of whether a movie has adequate female representation or not. (Not that it was ever meant to be that, but some people will insist on deliberately misinterpreting it that way, so it’s worth pointing out.)
Also awesome: John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, whose picture is what you’ll see if you look up “jovial” in the dictionary, and Denholm Elliott as Dr. Marcus Brody. The latter of whom, admittedly, does not have all that much to do in Raiders, but just seeing him reminded me of how much fun he was in Last Crusade, and that was good enough for me.
Besides Karen Allen, other MRGN alums are all over this cast. Pat Roach also makes his third appearance as “Giant Sherpa”, which is the most hilarious credit I’ve seen in a while, and Ron Lacey (who was also in Red Sonja, if you recall), performs his most famous (or infamous) role as, apparently, Gestapo agent Major Arnold Ernst Toht. Which is a name I had to look up for this article, because I’m pretty sure that I never knew what it was before this. He didn’t need a name to be memorable af.
And lest we forget: Harrison Ford.
LIZ: God, I forgot how effin’ dreamy he was back in the day.
Seriously. If you were wondering whether or not you were attracted to dudes in the 1980s, Harrison Ford was pretty much the definitive litmus test. Yep. Yeeeeep.
…sorry, what was I saying? Oh, right. (Also, LOL. Still hilarious.)
Anyway, there’s obviously a million more things I could say about Raiders of the Lost Ark – about yet another iconic John Williams score, about its origins as an homage to the film serials of the 1930s and 40s, about Spielberg and Co’s by-then already ridiculously polished mad filmmaking skillz, about its historic place in modern cinema, but that’s all stuff that has been covered extensively and at length in a million other places, so instead I will just say that Raiders of the Lost Ark is still a great, great film, one which, if you haven’t seen it recently, you really ought to sit down one evening and treat yourself to a revisit.
And as is only proper, I shall let Nephew Remy have the last word.
REMY: I don’t want to be an archay-lollogist because I don’t want to get into those big dangers and maybe all the doctors have already discovered all that stuff. I was an archay-lollogist before and it was pretty dangerous and I got scratched by a zombie, we were looking for a mysterious crystal because it changed colors when you see it and blew up the lost city. We almost died, but there was a big hole and we jumped into it and we almost got out but there were zombies, but we used my special secret plants to kill the zombies and won.
LIZ: …But did you like the movie?
REMY: Of course!
Darn right, kid.
And now, the MRGN Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness!
And there you have it. Come and tell me all about your memories of Indiana Jones and what he meant to you! Tell us what bit was your favorite/you are appalled I did not mention/I am completely wrong about! And see you next time!