blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Don Siegel had an anecdote about the length of titles. He showed them to his boss, who kept asking for them to be longer, then showed them to the boss again, telling him each time he’d made the changes. In fact, he had not–his boss was simply familiar with the titles and couldn’t gauge the experience fresh after the first viewing.

The last time I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, I gave it three and a half. A first for the Stop Button, a post about a previously viewed film. Before starting the film, I figured I’d only write it up again if the star rating changed. Much to my surprise–as Raiders goes through many two and a half (and maybe even two) star lulls at times–I realized, this viewing, definitely a four star one. The last time, I think, I hadn’t seen the film in quite a long time and was waiting for scenes and sequences, my memory of the film interfering with my viewing of the film itself.

It’s still a problematic four. The ending, where the film needs a boost, works only because of the John Williams score. There’s the end music, closing the story, then the bump to the iconic theme music. Maybe it’s as simple as I didn’t watch it long enough last time, to let the music envelope me. Because, more than any other Williams score (Raiders being at the high point of his career, both in terms of quality and cinematic importance), this one carries a lot of weight for the film. It does a lot of the heavy lifting.

It doesn’t do all the heavy lifting–Harrison Ford, from the first grin, has most of it. That grin, as he’s falling into the pit in the opening sequence, establishes the character. Everything else–from his interactions with Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, even Karen Allen–is just gravy. Spielberg’s direction is good, but–as the ending (compared to Close Encounters) illustrates–is far from extraordinary.

The supporting cast–particularly Allen, Rhys-Davies and Paul Freeman (even if his French accent is a little iffy)–are all great. There’s not a weak performance in the film and a lot of the smaller ones are singular (I’m thinking of Don Fellows).

The problems are plot ones. There are lulls due to the (requisite) epical storytelling, but it goes further. Even when the events aren’t perturbing the plot, some of Spielberg’s action sequences get a little long. Others, like the truck sequence, are perfect.

I was trying to guess how many times I’ve seen Raiders. I’m thinking it’s got to be around fifteen. Maybe the last viewing, I tried to find something new in it. I don’t think there is (except some in jokes, I’m sure) and, instead of examining it, I should have just been enjoying it.

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