AFI #66: Raiders of the Lost Ark

It was June 1981 and I had just gotten out of school for the summer. Ninth grade was behind me and I was moving to a new school for high school following the summer. I was looking forward to more than two months of riding my bike, going to the beach and just hanging out. Of course, I was also looking forward to summer blockbuster movies. That summer was stellar for films, especially for a 14-year-old. Clash of the Titans. Superman II. Cannonball Run. Stripes. For Your Eyes Only. Escape From New York. Arthur. Heavy Metal. An American Werewolf in London. Even Zorro the Gay Blade! I saw them all and more…but summer 1981 will always be about one film — Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It was the dawn of the summer blockbuster. The year before Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back took in $290,271,960 in the U.S. In 1982 E.T. raked in $435,110,554. In 1983 Return of the Jedi brought in $309,205,079. Prior to 1980 only Jaws ($260,000,000) and Star Wars ($460,998,007) had ever taken in those kinds of numbers. Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas had changed the game forever. You may have a favorite from these great summer blockbusters, but mine was, and still is, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones was the perfect hero for a young teenager. He was smart, capable of amazing physical feats, had a wicked sense of humor and of course the ladies loved him. Not only that, he was fighting the Nazis! This film made Harrison Ford the biggest movie star in the world. Sure, he was Han Solo, but he was just a supporting character in that. In Raiders of the Lost Ark he was the leading man and action hero.

What I love so much about the film is that it’s non-stop action from the moment it begins. The first scene where he tries to steal the idol from the natives is one of the most memorable action sequences ever filmed and the scene with the boulder rolling after him has become iconic. Indiana Jones made archaeology exciting, which let’s be honest is not an easy thing to do. Another iconic scene is when Indy is chasing the ark and is jumping back and forth between the Nazi trucks trying to steal the truck from the driver. When he loses his grip off the front of the truck but slides under and hangs on by his whip it’s pure Hollywood. And of course, the final scene with the ark getting lost in the rows and rows of boxes in that giant government warehouse…spot on political commentary. My favorite scene is when he comes face to face in Cairo with the huge guy with giant Arabian swords and instead of fighting him a just reaches down for his gun and shoots the guy. LOL.

For me Raiders of the Lost Ark is the ultimate adventure film, and while many have tried to imitate it none have captured the greatness of this Hollywood classic. It’s just as cool and exciting today as it was in 1981 and the proof is that my son and I watched it recently and he loves it too. I suspect sometime 20 years or so from now his kids will love it as well.

Next: The African Queen

AFI #97: Blade Runner

I’ve probably seen Blade Runner three or four times since it came out in 1982, and it’s always been one of my favorites. It works on so many levels, from its message about the advances of science to it dark dystopian vision of Los Angeles. Frankly it’s just a really cool film.

Watching it again today I was struck by how the science fiction of the film stood up over time. It’s strange that when Ridley Scott made the film he envisioned it taking place way off in the future — 2019. Now that we’re pretty darn close to 2019 it’s interesting to note a few details that aren’t so far off. For one, Los Angeles looks more like Beijing than LA. Surely Scott couldn’t have predicted the domination of China in the world, but he did see that LA (and maybe all of America) was to become culturally diverse to the point that a new mixed language of the streets would develop. Creepy given that anglos are now a minority in LA. Also, Scott didn’t invent crazy new weapons or too many high tech devices (some cars hover and fly, but not all of them). Mostly Scott created a futuristic mood more than a high tech future.

But the film is great because the plot is so intriguing. Harrison Ford’s replicant cop would be home in the 1940s, but rather than chasing down gangsters he chases down runaway androids. And in a world where we now have amazing artificial limbs and we’re growing organs in a lab, it’s not so far-fetched to think that we could soon develop androids that are so human-like that it would be hard to tell the difference without high tech tools. Ford’s character uses his street savvy and investigative skills to track down replicants — he’s more Sam Spade than Han Solo.

The runaway replicants are simply doing what comes natural — looking for a way to extend their life beyond the 4 years they are set to expire. If you give an android emotions, it’s not surprising they’d develop the most important human emotion of all, the will to survive. Rutger Hauer’s replicant is like Prometheus, using his superior strength to survive. But in the end, he breaks down emotionally as his death draws near. He is the “villain” in the film but you end up feeling sorry for him because he has to die. Darryl Hannah’s character is similar in her childlike fascination with the toys in Sebastian’s apartment. It’s hard to blame them for their actions.

Blade Runner was one of Scott’s first films, following just a few years after Alien. In the years that followed he has made some of the best movies in the industry, from G.I. Jane and Gladiator to Black Hawk Down and American Gangster. Blade Runner is a really good film, but frankly I think Black Hawk Down and Gladiator are both superior but neither made the AFI list. By the way, in case you are interested I watched the theatrical cut of Blade Runner rather than the director’s cut because that’s what was available on Netflix. I know some people prefer the director’s cut, but I like the Harrison Ford voice over and I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

Next Up: #96 Do The Right Thing (a Spike Lee Joint!)