Let me be clear, every film in the original Indiana Jones trilogy is excellent. Raiders, though, is for the purist. The pacing of Temple of Doom sometimes drags, and The Last Crusade occasionally slips into self-referential comedy, but Raiders is the action-film par excellence. From the first shot – Indy climbing a Peruvian ridge with two lackeys – we know we’re in for an adventure, and the script doesn’t disappoint. We are immediately shown the heroism of our protagonist (as he defies ancient booby-traps), and our desire for him to succeed never wavers. This is helped, no doubt, by the fact that we will never feel empathy for his enemies (Nazis and a supercilious Frenchman), but we are so thoroughly behind him also because of his character (brave, intelligent, attractive, honest).
The supporting cast make this job easier and more enjoyable. The archetypes – bumbling colleague; foolhardy local; beautiful heroine; despicable Gestapo agent – are rounded in both script and performance. Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, being the finest example. When she gets drunk as the guest of Indy’s nemesis Belloq, it is a continuation of her exercising of power in traditionally masculine settings.
So we have a very conventional story-type (hero saves the world), which appeals to our fundamental desire to see good triumphing over evil, presented differently (the hero is an archaeologist). What Spielberg and Lucas excel in, though, is giving us top quality action scenes. We have the desert chase, the bar fight, the aborted getaway, a seemingly impossible escape, and death by plane propeller. More than a list of excellent set-pieces, these are moments of jeopardy, excitement, and disbelief. We do not know how Indy will come out of these situations, but our collective will, and his intrinsic nature, mean he just makes it. It makes for a great movie.
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