Hello. I recently took an "intro to film" class. One of the assignments was to write a film review, applying what we learned in the class. I chose "Raiders":
A scholarly review of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'
Aug. 16, 2018
Secularism, religion, mystery, feminism and polished camera work are hallmarks of the 1981 action-adventure film "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Two of the most influential filmmakers at the time George Lucas of "Star Wars," and director Steven Spielberg of "Jaws" teamed up to create "Raiders." Their plan was to create a solid B-movie homage to the serial adventure shows that Lucas loved in his youth, such as Universal Pictures' "Don Winslow of the U.S. Navy" and "Zorro Rides Again."
Raiders, being of a "classical" genre cycle, builds upon those earlier, primitive cycle action serials.
The film is best described as being of the classic style and fictional type. Raiders avoids the extremes of realism and formalism. Classical continuity editing is used and all events take place in chronological order. There are no flashbacks nor use of the avant-garde.
Lucas began researching ideas for what would become Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1973. He based the character of Indiana Jones on earlier characters like Humphrey Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs from the 1948 film "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Raiders also shares much in common with the 1954 film "Secret of the Incas."
Prior to Raiders, Spielberg went over budget and over-schedule with his film "1941." Raiders, for Spielberg, was an opportunity for him to prove he could finish a film on time and under budget.
Spielberg paid homage to "Citizen Kane" in Raiders, as the title font in Raiders is similar to the credits font used in Citizen Kane. (Spielberg paid $50,000 for the Rosebud sled prop at auction. He keeps it in his office.)
Principal photography began in 1980 and the film was released in June 1981. Raiders cost $22 million to create, and by October 1981 it had grossed more than $135 million.
A contrasty, smoothly shot film
Douglas Slocombe was director of photography for Raiders. Slocombe lit many of the scenes in Raiders with hard light and high contrast, similar in style to one of his earlier films, "Guns at Batasi."
Raiders, which was shot in 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio, appears to have been photographed primarily with wide angle and normal lenses, and, occasionally, telephotos.
One of the most obvious uses of a telephoto lens is when Indy and a group of men are silhouetted against the sun as they shovel sand from atop an ancient Egyptian structure.
Zoom lenses are rarely used in the film. However, the opening few seconds of the film makes subtle use of zoom, to match the size of Paramount Studios' mountain logo to an actual mountain at a Hawaii location.
The filmmakers make use of all manner of angles, including high-angle, eye-level, and bird's eye. A large portion of the film perhaps one-third is shot from a moderately low angle, causing the characters to appear larger-than-life.
At the start of Raiders, Indy's back is turned to the audience. He is kept a mystery. The audience instead will focus on the other two characters, the "third world local sleazos," to use Lucas' description of them, of Satipo and Barranca. The two are shown in full-frontal and quarter-turn position. They serve as surrogate characters and the audience connects with them, at first, more than they connect with Indy. We see what Satipo and Barranca see. We feel what they feel.
All of this is done intentionally to allow for greater impact when Indy's face is revealed after he whips a pistol out of Barranca's hand; it instills a sense of awe for the Indy character into the audience "This is a man to be reckoned with."
This scene also includes one of the best examples of deep-focus photography in the film: a wide angle lens and small aperture are used to keep both a battered map in the foreground along with Satipo, in the background, in sharp focus.
The prologue, by the way, mirrors what will happen when Indy tries to find the Ark. In Peru, Indy recovered the idol, only to have Rene Belloq (who represents Indy's shadow self) take it from him. Then when Indy finds the Ark, Belloq again takes the prize from Indy, creating drama.
The prologue scene is shot with left-to-right movement until Indy recovers the golden idol. At this point, movement reverses direction and Indy's luck takes a turn for the worse. In another scene at the dig site, (49:45 mark in the iTunes version) Belloq and his Nazi friends walk to the left. The shot is immediately followed by a nearly identical shot of Indy and Sallah at the site, but moving to the right.
One especially novel shot (40:47) makes use of rack focus. During the basket chase scene, Indy frantically searches for Marion. The camera, in a wide angle long shot, shows Indy running toward the camera. The focus is quickly racked forward as Indy rushes within mere inches of the lens. Indy stops briefly, his eyes filling the frame in extreme close-up, before the camera dollies rearward to a second long shot.
Later, Indy is trapped inside the Well of the Souls, with Nazis gloating from the entrance high above. The filmmakers used a birds-eye angle along with frame-within-a-frame to depict Indy's entrapment. The hero is made to appear small, weak and hemmed-in from all sides.
The reverse of this shot shows Indy's point of view. It is a low-angle shot, making the villains appear tall and powerful.
The lighting in Raiders tends toward low-key and high-contrast. Deep blacks are common. Indoor or studio scenes often make use of hard light with three-point lighting. One example of this type of lighting is when men with army intelligence speak at Indy's university (16:15).
Outdoor shots use the sun as a key light, and lighting appears to be largely ambient. However, behind the scenes footage shows grips holding large mirrors to reflect sunlight as fill light.
One shot that is certainly only lit by ambient light is when Indy, Marion and Sallah speak in a tent at the dig site (1:21:21). In the shot, the trio are silhouetted strongly against the bright background and no attempt was made to add fill.
Golden sun-like tones of yellows and oranges dominate the film, and a recurring motif in the film is sun iconography. A golden sun artifact appears in the Peru temple. Marion's gold medallion is in the shape of the sun. Indy's head lines up with the sun as the Ark's location is revealed in the map room. Inside this room is a painting of a falcon with a sun disc, representing the Egyptian sun god Ra. Indy is shown silhouetted against the sun when digging into the Well of the Souls (58:30). When Indy and Marion escape the Well of the Souls, they see the sun shining from a gap in the stones.
The color blue, in contrast to the warm tones, is also used frequently. Blue is the color of a shaft of light for a trap at the Peru temple. An ominous, boiling blue sky dominates the upper portion of the frame as the entrance to the Well of the Souls is uncovered (58:50). Blue light is used as "lightning." The color blue also dominates the night time scene where Indy and Marion board the docked ship, Bantu Wind.
Slocombe's camera work is smooth and stable and he clearly made use of the tripod, dolly and crane. The mise én scene and blocking is carefully arranged in the shots. However, camera shake was deliberately used during the beginning of the movie when Indy carefully walks across a booby-trapped floor in the Peruvian temple (7:03, and again at 7:11). The camera wobbles slightly to make the audience feel as if they could lose their balance and trigger the release of a poisonous dart.
The truck chase scene later in the film also has a lot of camera shake, although this shake is probably natural and unavoidable due to the bumpy road. The shakiness is beneficial: it adds energy and excitement to the scene.
Fast motion is used during a shot when Indy holds onto his bullwhip while being dragged behind a truck. Presumably the truck was driven too slowly when this shot was made, and so it was sped-up in post, or shot at a slower frame rate. The effect is slightly comic as the motion appears unrealistic. Alternately, slow motion is used to dramatize the flying wing when it explodes.
Dissolves are used during the travel montage scenes, and a fade-to-black ends the film.
The film makes use of several special effects shots made using an optical printer. One such effect was to create an ominous sky as Indy and his crew dig into the Well of the Souls. Another effects shot is when ghostly apparitions fly out of the Ark at the end of the film. Most of the film, however, relies on practical stunts.
The film makes frequent use of placing foreground elements in the frame, such as the candle in the scene where Marion contemplates the medallion in her Nepal bar; a leather-bound book in the foreground as the Army intelligence agents speak in the midground; a spiderweb in the foreground framing Indy and Satipo as they enter the Peru temple; money changing hands in the foreground as Marion holds a shot glass.
The film also uses a dolly or tracking shot to follow a subject, and then revealing another element into the frame at the end of the movement. One example of this is at the Tanis dig site, where the camera tracks a group of marching soldiers in the background, and Indy, peering through a surveyor scope, comes into frame from the left as the camera movement ends.
The film frequently makes use of location shooting, such as the WWII submarine base in La Rochelle, France. Hawaii served as the Peruvian jungle exterior shots, however, a studio set was used for the interiors of the Peru temple and the Well of the Souls.
Territorial space in the film varies widely, from the intimate space when Indy and Marion share a bed inside a ship's cabin, to the public space when Indy, holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, stands about 50 meters from Belloq.
The Nazis are homogenous, all white males, although they have no problem exploiting the Arabs as low-paid labor.
"They hire only strong backs and they pay pennies for them," Sallah says. "It is as if the pharaohs have returned." It is foreshadowing of far worse things to come from the Nazis.
Indy and his gang are heterogenous, consisting of both men and women, caucasians, Arabs, and blacks, people of various faiths, as well as religious skeptics.
The groups of people who comprise the protagonists and antagonists both collaborate as teams to help their own sides, but the two groups compete with one another.
Marion Ravenwood, a proactive heroine
Raiders has feminist leanings. Marion is an independent woman. She's not meek and submissive but instead does things her own way. She is in charge of her life. She drinks other men under the table, punches Indy in the jaw and displays nerves of steel when, alone in her bar and surrounded by villains, she defiantly blows cigarette smoke in the face of a Nazi.
The film departs from its generally feminist outlook as a Nazi moves a hot poker toward Marion's eyes. She becomes a damsel in distress and Indy bursts in to save her. A more feminist film would have Marion save herself without help from a man.
In the ensuing fiery bar fight, Marion is proactive: she bashes a henchman on the head with a log, and handles a pistol behind the bar, which she uses to kill one of the henchmen, saving Indy's life.
During the Cairo market fight scene, Marion bashes assailants with a metal can, and later beans an attacker on the head with a frying pan. Trapped in a tent with Belloq, she uses her wits and intelligence to plan an escape. When she finds herself trapped in a Nazi flying wing, Marion uses a machine gun to shoot a truckload of soldiers.
Marion is treated like a sex object in some ways, primarily through her clothing. She is dressed conservatively in a masculine shirt and pants in her Nepal bar. In Cairo, she wears more feminine shirt and pants. When Belloq attempts to seduce her, Marion's bare back is shown by the filmmakers as Belloq watches her undress in a mirror. She changes into an elegant white dress.
Aboard the Bantu Wind, she changes into a silk slip. Nazis raid the ship and Marion is brought aboveboard where the wind presses the slip against her. She appears vulnerable and "naked," surrounded by armed Germans.
In the Bantu Wind scene, a distinction between how Belloq and Indy view women is made, as Belloq says "If she fails to please me, you may do with her as you wish. I'll waste no more time with her." Belloq thinks of Marion as a possession.
Karen Allen, who played Marion, and Paul Freeman, who played Belloq – are character actors. By the time Raiders came out, Harrison Ford, who played Indy, was already a personality star due to his work in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Hundreds of extras are used.
Secularism, the unknown and relationships
Indy has two main arcs in the film: that of transitioning from a hard-nosed realist who dismisses deities like the Peruvian's fertility god and the Abrahamic god, to realizing that there is something powerful and mysterious that he cannot explain. The second arc is his transition from prioritizing possession of the Ark over his relationship with Marion, to putting Marion first.
Secularism and religion are a major theme in the movie. According to John Gary, the central theme of Raiders is "Must you kneel before God?" Gary's insight is close to the mark, but not a bulls-eye.
In the Peruvian temple, Indy has no respect for the golden idol the tribal people worship. He does not respect or bow before this god. Instead, he steals it.
Later, when speaking with Army intelligence, Indy says of the ark that Moses put the smashed tablets of the Ten Commandments in the ark, "if you believe in that sort of thing."
One of the army men points to an illustration of the Ark and asks what beams of light shooting out of the ark might be.
"Lightning … fire … power of god or something," Indy replies, casually.
Marcus Brody later tells Indy that he believes the Ark to be dangerous. Indy scoffs at the thought, stating, "I don't believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus-pocus."
Sallah, Indy's friend in Cairo, warns Indy the Ark "is something that man was not meant to disturb. Death has always surrounded it. It is not of this earth." (Does it have alien origins?)
Sallah and Indy visit a Sufi scholar who translates a golden inscription for them.
"This is a warning not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant," the scholar says. Indy impatiently brushes off the advice.
The omniscient point of view the movie uses allows the audience to learn – before Indy does – that the ark does indeed have power. In the hold of a cargo ship, the crated ark emanates an ominous hum and causes a nearby rat to convulse. As the hum continues, a Nazi logo stamped on the crate is mysteriously blackened.
At the end of the film, Indy witnesses the ark's power and the first arc of the Indy character is completed. Indy was skeptical the ark was anything more than a box made of wood and gold, and now realizes that there is something unexplained happening.
Indy does not necessarily come to believe that the ark's power is from the Abrahamic god, I would argue, This is evident in what Indy says in the other Indiana Jones films. In the prequel to Raiders – Temple of Doom – Indy sees first-hand the power of the Hindu Sankara stones and these are not associated with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths.
Again, in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy's son, Mutt, looks at a drawing of an alien-like creature with a greatly elongated skull. Indy says the drawing was of a god.
"God's head's not like that," Mutt protests.
"Depends on who your god is," Indy retorts.
Indy is a believer, but his belief is only that some mysterious things defy explanation. Indy has never seen a god. However, he has witnessed alien beings, along with interdimensional alien craft.
The audience most likely would come to understand that the power of the Ark was from the normal western concept of God. However, Lucas says in the Raider's story conference transcript that alien influence was the intent, and that the Ark is like a radio transmitter.
"Our idea was that there must actually be some kind of super high-powered radio from one of Erick Von Daniken's flying saucers," Lucas said. "The fact that it's electrical charges makes it vaguely believable … supposedly it's like a big trunk. It's like a car generator that you crank and it goes... When they opened it up you had that sense of some kind of kinetic generator which creates a tremendous amount of static electricity. There are all these religious trappings and interesting mysteries and occult stuff."
There are subtle allusions to this theory in the film, although it is unlikely any audience member would interpret the Ark in the way Lucas described it.
One of these allusions is when Indy meets with Army Intelligence. Major Eaton, one of the agents, refers to Indy as a "expert on the occult." Moments later, Eaton again references that word – occult. The word choice suggests the ark may be paranormal or supernatural.
When Belloq and Indy share a conversation at a Cairo bar. Belloq directly reference's Lucas' idea and tells Indy that the ark is a radio, a transmitter for speaking to god.
The second arc of Indy's shift of focus from prioritizing the Ark to prioritizing his relationship with Marion is made evident as the film progresses.
When Indy first meets Marion, it is made clear that the two shared a rocky relationship in the past.
Indy shows disrespect toward Marion by trying to swindle her medallion, the headpiece to the staff of Ra, from her.
"It's a worthless bronze medallion, Marion. You going to give it to me?" Indy asks.
Marion, too smart for Indy's attempted con job, refuses, and Indy ups his offer to $3,000.
The icy start to their resumed relationship quickly warms as the two flirt in Cairo.
The Nazis apprehend Marion and Indy is led to believe she was killed in a fiery truck explosion. (Typical of the genre, death is generally treated flippantly. Indy's mourning after Marion's "demise" is the only instance death being treated somewhat realistically.)
But later, Indy unexpectedly runs into Marion revealed to be alive and well tied up and gagged by the Nazis in a desert tent.
Indy begins to free her from her bounds, but then stops, realizing that the Nazis would search the area and reduce his chances of recovering the Ark. This scene shows Indy chose the Ark over Marion. It is Indy's refusal of the call.
Near the end of the film, Indy's relationship arc has changed and he tells Belloq that he'll let the Nazis take the ark if they release Marion. After this decision, Indy's inner conflict is resolved and he wins the outer conflict as the ark's fury is unleashed on the Nazis.
Indy: serving the pedagogical function of myth
Myths serve four functions, according to Joseph Campbell. The first is to open the world to the dimension of mystery. The Ark serves this function, as do the exotic tombs that Indy explores.
The second is the cosmological function; that is, how the universe came to be. The third is a sociological function; that is, validating and maintaining social rules and order. Raiders does not focus on these two functions.
The fourth is the pedagogical function; that is, how to live a human life under any circumstance. Raiders addresses this fourth issue.
Indy serves as a role model in this sense of a mythic image as he shows how one can live a life: be honorable, be open to adventure, be open to other cultures (such as Sallah and his family, although he rips off the Peruvians), do not be afraid, take action, respect education and learning. Although Indy is often violent, his actions are always in self defense. For example, Barranca pulls a gun on Indy and Indy whips the gun from his hands. Indy could have shot and killed Barranca, but instead let him go.
The final shot brings the title of the film full-circle. The ark was lost, Indy found it, and fate led it to vanish once again, this time into a maze of wooden crates in a government warehouse.