Before there were Terminators or superheroes like Wolverine and Iron Man or even pirates like Jack Sparrow lighting up the silver screen, there was a college professor by the name of Henry Jones Jr. or should I say, the dare-devil archeologist, Indiana Jones. He wore a dirty hat and jacket. He carried a long whip, and a revolver on his hip. With these items and clothes, Indiana would become one of the most unforgettable and celebrated heroes in film history. But, before there was a hero, there was a story.
The story of Raiders of the Lost Ark came from the same mind that brought us the Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas. He wanted to recreate movie serials of the 1930s and ’40s. His first attempt at creating Raiders was called, The Adventures of Indiana Smith. He was close, but still no cigar. Lucas needed a screenwriter and a director to help him put this story on film. Luckily, George was already good friends with Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg was finishing Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lucas was working on the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. At the time, Spielberg was interested in doing a James Bond film. Suddenly, Lucas approached Spielberg with a “better” idea. Spielberg took to the story of this danger-seeking college professor right away. Luckily, Lucas was already working with Lawrence Kasdan on the Empire screenplay and decided to collaborate with him again.
Lawrence Kasdan and Steven Spielberg worked on several drafts, one of which made Indiana look like the Bogart character of Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Inevitably, these dark concepts were thrown out. But, if you watch closely enough, you can see some of that darkness in the character of Indiana Jones.
Unfortunately, most of the major studios couldn’t see the magic in the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film was rejected many times. Odd due to the fact that it was coming from two major names in Hollywood, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Studios thought the tale was too over-the-top and would be too expensive. Finally, Paramount agreed to finance the tale of the adventure-loving archeologist.
With Kasdan’s talented words, Harrison Ford delivered some of his best lines ever in Empire. So, I’m grateful that Kasdan was brought on board to give Ford even better lines and a story all his own with Raiders.
The funny truth is that Harrison Ford wasn’t the only option for the role of Indiana Jones. Did you know that Tim Matheson, Peter Coyote and even Magnum PI star, Tom Selleck was thought of to play the lead role? But, with the help of certain producers and finally, Steven Spielberg, the right man was cast for the part.
Indiana Jones first shows his face on screen after whipping a gun away from a would-be assassin in the jungles of South America. The atmosphere is set. This character looks dark and feels dark. The surroundings look and feel like it should. What is Indiana Jones doing in this jungle with two seedy characters? What is he seeking? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
The payoff for all of the waiting and suspense turned out to be one of the greatest adventure sequences put on film. If you’re a fan, you know what scene I’m talking about. The rest of the film is just as enthralling and exciting. With the brilliance of John Williams once again, Steven Spielberg showed that he could entertain and thrill us and give us quite a lot of chills. But, there’s more to the greatness of Raiders than meet the eyes and ears.
The tale of the Lost Ark of the Covenant for example teases us with Biblical references, possibly making Indiana Jones out to be a servant of God. His task is to keep the evil Nazis from getting their hands on what could be used as a terrible and devastating weapon. If you know the ending of the film as well as I do, you should know what kind of danger I’m talking about.
There’s also great history between the characters of Indiana Jones and the leading lady, Marion Ravenwood as played by National Lampoon’s Animal House’s own, Karen Allen. The first time they meet each other in the film, Marion gives Indiana a good, hard punch to the face. In this scene, set in Napal, beautiful captured on film by cinematographer, Douglas Slocombe, Marion lets Indiana know how wrong he was to leave her at such a such a young age. She was “a child” at 16-17 years old and Indiana was presumably in his mid-20s. At the same time, Jones is looking for a medallion, which just so happens to be the key to discovering the Ark. Nazis show up, looking for the same thing. Once again, Spielberg and company give us great action in the midst of some pretty realistic atmosphere.
The great scenes and action set-pieces don’t stop there. There’s well over an hour more to go. And the film really hasn’t even gotten started yet.
Released on June 12, 1981, there is great mystery, suspense, chills and thrills, and a well-written love story between two actors with real chemistry to be had in Raiders of the Lost Ark. While it may be one of the highest grossing films ever made, Raiders was certainly the highest grossing film of 1981. It received nine Oscar nods, including Best Picture. And, Raiders won the Academy Award for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. These are just some of the reasons Raiders remains one of the greatest movies from 1980s.