Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Updated on February 1, 2018
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Review written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.

Background

In 1981, Steven Spielberg released Raiders of the Lost Ark as the first film in the Indiana Jones series. Starring Harrison Ford, Paul Freeman, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliott, Wolf Kahler, Alfred Molina, George Harris, Anthony Higgins, Vic Tablian, Don Fellows, and William Hootkins, the film grossed $389.9 million at the box office.

Synopsis

In the years before World War II, Nazi Germany is searching for The Ark of the Covenant. Word of this gets to Dr. Indiana Jones who is sent to recover the Ark due to his relation to people with clues as to its whereabouts.

Review

Spielberg’s follow up to a critical failure, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fantastic and enjoyable film. A story of heroes and villains, damsels who can hold their own yet still need some rescuing, exotic locales and sinister plots, the film takes its audience on an engaging adventure. It follows Indiana Jones as he sets out to find the Ark of the Covenant, needing to retrieve the means to do so through an old flame who winds up going with him. Together, the duo run into all sorts of trouble, mainly with Nazi forces. Further, within the film are many tense moments, able to keep viewers hanging on and interested in what is going to happen next.

A fascinating aspect to the film is it manages to combine the style of old 1940s serials with the continuation of a 1980s action movie. The whole film is paced well and flows with barely any flaw, yet at the same time, moving on from some scenes feels as if they are the breaks in the serials shown at old movie houses. These breaks evoke the feeling of wanting to come back next week to see how Indiana Jones’ adventure continues. One of the more notable times this occurs is the first, after Jones has his briefing on the Ark. The map showing him heading to Nepal feels as if it were picking up where it left off the week before.

The film’s characterization hearkens back to those serials, too. Though he’s generally a good guy, Jones can be somewhat cynical and has no compunction against killing or fighting dirty, shown when he shoots a man with a large sword rather than fighting him. Still, his biggest strength is not giving up as he can be shot, punched in the open wound, smashed through a windshield and thrown out of a truck only to slide under it, come out the other end and deliver a counterattack. René Belloq is a good foil to Jones, his introduction showing he’s willing to let someone else do the adventuring while he waits to hold them up when the danger is over. Similarly, whereas Jones does what he does to further the cause of archaeology and science, Belloq only cares about money and glory, going so far as to work with the Nazis to obtain them.

In addition to the above, the film has good effects as well, established in the beginning with the traps Jones must get through. They all appear realistic and able to kill him. Moreover, the giant boulder looks, moves and sounds like a gigantic rock. The effects at the end aren’t bad either, mixing the practical with the CGI. Not only are the melting faces and Dietrich’s exploding head memorable, but the changing face when it all turns south is haunting.

5 stars for Raiders of the Lost Ark

Awards/Recognitions

bold indicates reception of award/recognition

Academy Awards

  • Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Best Sound
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Special Achievement Award (for sound effects editing.)
  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Music, Original Score

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA – Saturn Awards

  • Best DVD Collection (For “The Adventures of Indiana Jones DVD Collection.”)
  • Best Fantasy Film
  • Best Actor (Harrison Ford)
  • Best Actress (Karen Allen)
    Best Director
  • Best Writing
  • Best Music
  • Best Special Effects
  • Best Supporting Actor (Paul Freeman)
  • Best Costumes

American Cinema Editors, USA – Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Feature Film

American Movie Awards – Marquee Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Best Screenplay

BAFTA Awards

  • Best Production Design/Art Direction
  • Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Editing
  • Best Film
  • Best Sound
  • Best Supporting Artist

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards

  • Best Director

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

  • Favorite Film Franchise

César Awards, France

  • Best Foreign Film

Directors Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

DVD Exclusive Awards

  • Best Overall DVD, Classic Movie (Including All Extra Features) (The Adventures of Indiana Jones – The Complete DVD Movie Collection)
  • Best Behind-the-Scenes Program (New for DVD) (For “Indiana Jones: Making the Trilogy”)

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Director – Motion Picture

Golden Schmoes Awards

  • Best DVD of the Year (‘Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures’)

Grammy Awards

  • Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special

Guinness World Record Awards

  • Highest box-office gross for a screenwriter

Hugo Awards

  • Best Dramatic Presentation

Jupiter Awards

  • Best International Actor (Harrison Ford)
  • Best International Film

Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film

Kinema Junpo Awards

  • Readers’ Choice Award – Best Foreign Language Film

Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA – Golden Reel Awards

  • Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects
  • Best Sound Editing – Dialogue

National Board of Review, USA Awards

  • Top Ten Films

National Film Preservation Board, USA

  • National Film Registry

Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame – Motion Picture

People’s Choice Awards, USA

  • Favorite Motion Picture

Satellite Awards

  • Best Overall DVD (For “The Adventures of Indiana Jones” set)
  • Best DVD Extras (For “The Adventures of Indiana Jones” set)
  • Best Classic DVD Release (For “The Adventures of Indiana Jones” set)

Telgatto, Italy Awards

  • Best Film

Writers Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen

Young Artist Awards

  • Best Motion Picture – Family Enjoyment

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