But along with my love of movies, I'm also fascinated by the process of making movies. I am simply enamoured with all those behind-the-scenes documentaries and audio commentaries and so on. Hence, I was thoroughly enthralled by my visit today to the Museum of Moving Image here in New York. There are fine exhibits explaining all the different departments involved in putting a film together, from writing to editing and everything in between. Plus, scattered throughout the museum are piles of movie memorabilia, including a miniature from Blade Runner, Robin Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire costume, a cast of Al Pacino's face, a shooting script from Citizen Kane and the Chewbacca head that Peter Mayhew wore, amongst many other things. As you can imagine, I was like a kid in a toy store. It really reminded me of the magic of movies.
Last night, I watched one of the few action blockbusters to be nominated for Best Picture, this one from 1981...
Raiders of the Lost Ark
(story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman)
Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott
5 wins, including Best Visual Effects
It almost seems irrelevant to add to the millions of words that have been written about Indiana Jones. The phenomenon began with Raiders of the Lost Ark and it is this first instalment that is generally favoured by critics and fans alike. Consequently, it has achieved such renown that it is far more important than anything I could ever write. Then again, I'm not narcissistic enough to believe that any of my humble reviews ever outshine the objects of their opinions, but in this case, considering the film's blockbuster status, my review may not even shine at all.
Not that you need to be reminded of its story, but in the interests of consistency, here's a quick recap. It's 1936 and archaeologist Indiana Jones (Ford) is sent by US Army Intelligence to procure the much sought after Ark of the Covenant. His ex-lover Marion Ravenwood (Allen) is in possession of an artifact that holds the key to the Ark's location but rival French archaeologist René Belloq (Freeman) and a bunch of Nazis will stop at nothing to find the Ark first.
There is simply no doubt that Raiders of the Lost Ark is pure escapism. With a rugged leading man, a feisty love interest, a trusty sidekick and a scheming foreign villain, you know you're in action/adventure territory. No more than five or ten minutes go by in between action scenes and there is enough adventure and romance to satisfy even the most die-hard fan of the genre.
The bulk of the film's entertainment is, of course, embodied in the character of Indiana Jones - a rugged adventurer with the perfect balance of determination and sarcasm. He is just so darn lovable, mostly because he is anything but invincible. In fact, he spends a vast majority of the film in situations where he has no control. At every turn, he seems to bungle along with little clue as to what he's doing, yet somehow he heroically finds his way out of every sticky situation with a delightful sense of humour ... And the audience cheers.
The remarkable John Williams delivers another stirringly memorable score capturing the heroism of the story. I couldn't help but notice, however, the uncanny similarity to elements of his even more memorable score for Star Wars. Granted, every composer has his own distinct style, and perhaps none is more distinct than John Williams, but there were phrases in this orchestration that almost seemed like note for note reproductions.
So rare is it that an action film is recognised by the Academy in the Best Picture category that I am hesitant to discuss the film's flaws. While Raiders is entertaining and adrenalin-pumping, there is little in the way of an emotional journey for the main character. He doesn't really learn anything or grow as a human being. Nor is he positively involved in the film's conclusion which is slightly unsatisfying. His attempts to recapture the Ark from Belloq initially fail and then, when the bad guys are all supernaturally disintegrated (which includes the truly spectacular melting face effect), Indy gains the Ark by default. Even then, when he delivers it to the Army guys, he doesn't even get the satisfaction of seeing it displayed in a museum as he desired. Everything just happens around him without his input ... apart from the fight scenes, of course. He's good at that.
Harrison Ford adopts his role with great confidence, bringing out Indy's exasperated wit marvellously. Karen Allen as the spunky Marion is either annoying or brilliant, I can't decide which. Also worth noting are Paul Freeman, who supplies a dry strength to the sinister Belloq, and John Rhys-Davies, whose jolly Sallah is a nice counterpoint to his irascible Gimli in a more recent blockbuster franchise. And that's a young Alfred Molina making his film debut alongside Indy in the opening Peruvian jungle adventure.