RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

Steven Spielberg’s inspired entertainment is the beginning of a franchise, a swashbuckling, adrenaline-pumping action epic, a tribute to the Saturday morning serials of yore. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones, a professor of archaeology and part-time scavenger-hunter who goes searching for long-lost artifacts in hopes of donating them to a museum. The film opens in South America in 1937, with Indy being guided through mountain jungles and caves by the treacherous native Satipo (Alfred Molina). He is looking for a golden idol that looks somewhat akin to an Asian monkey, and when he finds it, he unleashes a domino effect the likes of which most action directors could only dream of creating; it’s an instant classic of its type. Back home, Indy is recruited by an organization to reclaim the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, a much sought-after Jewish treasure which once held the original Ten Commandments which God gave to Moses. Indy must track it down before a sleazy French rival called Belloq (Paul Freeman) and enlists his former lover and barmaid Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, plucky and tough) to his cause, along with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a much beloved and cheerful British sidekick. Will they beat the Nazis to the relic? Did you pay the price of admission? Steven Spielberg (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) was already a special effects wizard working his way up to this, yet uses somewhat old-fashioned special effects to suit his purpose. The screenplay is by Lawrence Kasdan (“Body Heat”), from a story constructed by George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and Philip Kaufman (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) in collaboration with an uncredited Spielberg; it’s just one damn thing on top of another. There are Nazis, occult superstitions, a cute monkey with shifting loyalties, arrow-slinging natives, a foot chase through a crowded desert marketplace, a somewhat ingenious response to a potential duel with a swordfighter, and that’s not even counting the opening sequence, which plays like some sort of ancient, Satanically-devised Rube Goldberg device. This film may wring you out, but it’s just plain fun!

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