Director: Steven Spielberg
Production: Lucasfilm Productions; color, 35mm, Panavision; running time: 115 minutes. Released summer 1981 by Paramount Pictures. Filmed 1980 in France, Tunisia, and Hawaii, and in Elstree Studios, England. Cost: about $20 million.
Producer: Frank Marshall; executive producers: George Lucas and Howard Kazanjian; screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan; story: George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; photography: Douglas Slocombe; editor: Michael Kahn; sound effects supervisor: Richard L. Anderson; sound effects editors: Steve H. Flick and Mark Mangini; production designer: Norman Reynolds; art director: Leslie Dilley; music: John Williams; special effects supervisor: Richard Edlund; costume designer: Deborah Nadoolman; stunt co-ordinator: Glenn Randall.
Cast: Harrison Ford ( Indiana Jones ); Karen Allen ( Marion Ravenswood ); Paul Freeman ( Belloq ); John Rhys-Davies ( Sallah ); Wolf Kahler ( Dietrich ); Ronald Lacey ( Toht ); Denholm Elliot ( Marcus Brody ).
Awards: Oscars for Sound, Visual Effects, Art Direction, and Editing, 1981.
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* * *
Raiders of the Lost Ark is historically important because it marks the first collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the two most financially successful of American filmmakers. Released in the summer of 1981, the film garnered some of the best critical accolades in either man's career; it also continued their phenomenal success: it is now one of the top ten money-makers of all time.
An homage to old movie serials in much the same way as are George Lucas's Star Wars films, Raiders is also derivative of westerns, horror films, war films and James Bond films. In fact, Lucas reportedly mentioned his Raiders story to Spielberg in 1977 after Spielberg said that he had always wanted to make a James Bond film. Raiders even opens with an initial adventure scene unrelated to the main story of the film, a device used in the James Bond films.
Relying on Spielberg's TV experience and extensive "storyboarding," the elaborate action film was shot in 73 days in France, Tunisia, Hawaii, and the famed Elstree Studios in England, which Lucas also used for his Star Wars films. Special effects for the film were made at Industrial Light and Magic, Lucasfilms' own facility in northern California. Spielberg used English cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, who worked on his Close Encounters , and editor Michael Kahn, who edited Close Encounters and 1941 . Spielberg also brought screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to Lucas's attention.
The primary distinction of Raiders , in addition to its constant high level of thrills and chills, is the vivid portrayal of its hero, Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford. As Spielberg himself has said, Ford in this film is a combination of Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Don Juan and Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre . A vulnerable but heroic figure, Ford's Indiana Jones also has a shadowy side. Indiana's search for the Ark which contains the original Ten Commandments becomes a dark obsession, a passion that causes him twice to abandon the film's heroine, Marion Ravenswood, played by Karen Allen.
Around this larger than life hero, Lucas and Spielberg weave a tale of intrigue and adventure, full of Nazi villains, a nasty but engaging Frenchman who is Indy's rival and shadowy double, and numerous references to Biblical and Egyptian mythology. There is an atmosphere of evil and mysterious power, and a demonic transformation of many of the film's settings and props. Thus, the ancient city of Tanis in Raiders has become deserted wasteland, an Egyptian temple becomes the prison full of snakes for Indy and Marion, and the mysterious Ark of the Covenant brings fiery destruction to the Nazis.
In the end, the Ark eludes Indy's grasp and is tucked away in an immense warehouse, a scene reminiscent of the last shot in Citizen Kane . Through the course of the film, Indy discovers that he is both free and bound—although he loses the Ark, he does get Marion. In this respect the film seems to be saying, True love or friendship is its own reward.