Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas - once, two fine directors before they "sold out" to the masses - teamed up to create this outstanding adventure movie which brings back the classic days of the cliffhanging serials, with an intrepid hero, exotic locations, and lots of escapes from deadly traps and villains. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is a film blessed with brilliant action sequences - some of the best ever put to film in my opinion - and plenty of jokes and comic relief (a little too much, actually) to make it fun to watch. Add in a great cast of fresh and veteran performers, one of the most memorable theme tunes ever and a plot which takes in locations including Brazil and Egypt and concerns the mystical Ark of the Covenant, and what you have is a genuinely pleasing blockbuster of a movie.
I remember watching all three films in the trilogy and loving them as a kid, as well as being terrified and having nightmares in some instances (and who's to blame me, with all those POLTERGEIST-style rotting corpses dropping on Karen Allen in that dank tomb?). The adrenaline flows during the fluid, excellently-choreographed action scenes, which, like in John Woo's films, are almost balletic in approach. I'm talking about the classic opening shots (which beats the entire TOMB RAIDER movie hands down, and probably inspired the original game) of Indy stealing a jungle idol and getting chased by a huge rolling boulder; the exceptional fist-fight between Indy and scary-looking Pat Roach by a rotating plane, and a fine set-piece involving Indy boarding a moving truck. There are lots of other bits in there too, but those are my favourite moments.
Harrison Ford stars in his most famous and best role and has Indy's character spot on. He's dependable, charismatic, handsome, heroic, brave and, best of all, very human: a character even the most cowardly of viewers can identify with. The strong supporting cast is also very good, with Paul Freeman memorably slimy as Belloq; Karen Allen as the slightly annoying female lead/love interest Marion (nothing compared to the irritating blonde in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM though); Ronald Lacey as the supremely villainous trench coated Nazi Toht, John Rhys-Davies as cuddly aide Sallah, and minor parts for Alfred Molina, Denholm Elliot and others.
Seen today, as an adult, what I most admire is Spielberg's refusal to pander to a young audience. Yes, the film is violent, with bloody deaths and people being brutally shot and injured. There's also refreshingly little sentimentality here - just constant breathtaking thrills and spills. Incidentally, the film was apparently a big hit in Italy, where directors were quick to rip it off for a whole sub genre of their own (HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA, anyone?). Even whole individual scenes were lifted for the likes of TEASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS, with a boulder-rolling escape for the hero, and LIGHT BLAST, with its memorably gooey melt-deaths copying the fantastic ones in this film. I still remember when I caught this on daytime telly a few years back and was disgusted to find that the shots of Freeman, Lacey and co. melting had been cruelly excised - surely top-quality special effects should be celebrated, not hidden away to avoid scaring youngsters. I was scared, and I'm still glad of it!