Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Raiders of the Lost Ark

George Lucas' dream was to create a modern version of the serials of the 1930's and 40's even though he'd basically already done that in 1977 with Star Wars. It was while trying to escape the madness that that very film created that Lucas and Steven Spielberg discussed the notion of directing a James Bond film. Lucas convinced Spielberg that he'd invented a movie hero that was better than Bond but just as adventurous. After the premise was explained Spielberg said he loved the idea: "Bond without the hardware". Lucas' original name for the character was Indiana Smith. Spielberg flexed his creative control right from conception and made him change it to Jones. Thank our stars. Spielberg also had some interesting ideas for the character himself. Mainly that he'd be a drunk like Bogart's character Fred Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This idea fell away as the script was developed by Lawrence Kasdan and after five drafts they had what we now know as Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I didn't grow up with the Indiana Jones movies like most of my friends. I'm not sure why. They just never made it into my house. So by the time I was introduced to them I honestly found them underwhelming. But the more I watch them the more I love the effects and silly nature of a lot of the combat. Looking at the films production there's some great stuff to be learned. All of the silliness in the movie was done entirely on purpose. Every major studio rejected Raiders thinking that it would be far too expensive to make as well as too over the top narratively. Paramount pictures finally stepped up to fund the project but layed down the law in the process telling Spielberg the film had to stay on budget and schedule. Spielberg pre-pro'd like never before, hiring four illustrators to storyboard every scene as much as possible. Spielberg also took it upon himself to shoot the film "quick and dirty" as was the style of the Saturday matinee serials he was emulating. All the effects were all done practically using puppets miniatures and in camera tricks to keep costs down. The time and money crunch definitely aided the success of the film. Spielberg himself even said "Had I had more time and money, it would have turned into a pretentious movie".

All the background info aside I like this film more and more every time I see it. It's nothing if not a blast. Especially in a world where films that should be fun end up taking themselves too seriously. Knowing Spielberg meant to make the film look over the top allowed me to turn my head at some of the campy effects the first few times I watched it. But now I embrace the film's presentation with open arms. It's interesting because I used to find the Indy films artless but it takes a serious filmmaker to make a movie thats so reminiscent of a bygone era of storytelling. It's funny how often the film comes off as an indie production with bare bones costuming and sets. It never hurts the movie but it's great to see a film that's so highly regarded have a few budget moments. Aspiring filmmakers need to take note of things like this in huge feature films. It's a glimmer of hope.

I really don't have anything negative to say about this film. Spielberg's technique is hidden behind emulation but if you make yourself familiar with old serials both narratively and visually, you can see how great a job Spielberg and his team did on Raiders. I'll take a just a second to recognize John Williams for creating yet another amazing musical theme. Where would great American films be without his musical touch?

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