Raiders of the Lost Ark is my all time favourite celluloid experience, bar none. There’s no other movie like it. Any collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had a high chance of providing something special, and although none of the sequels lived up to the magic of this first crack of the whip, Raiders was a shining nugget of movie gold. There are certainly other movies that have connected with me more on an emotional or intellectual level, but no film quite gives me the pure chills, the goosebumps, that I get from Raiders of the Lost Ark. No other movie so effortlessly reminds me why I love cinema quite like this one. And no scene is a better example of why than the opening scene.
South America, 1936. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his companion Satipo (Alfred Molina) have located a remote, hidden temple. We’ve already had a taste of what kind of character this guy in the hat is after he’s seen off an armed traitor in his group, using just a bullwhip. Classy.
The two men enter the temple…
Why I Love It
What an opening scene for a movie. What a way for a character to introduce himself. What a piece of pure, unpretentious, fluid cinema. There are few directors so adept at making the ridiculous seem plausible like Steven Spielberg, which is what made him the perfect choice to make Raiders of the Lost Ark. The idea was to bring back the old Saturday morning adventure serials, with their cliff-hanger endings and preposterous scrapes. In this, they succeeded and then some. The opening scene immediately drops us into Indiana’s life at its most exciting, almost as if we have just caught the end of last week’s episode.
The Icky Factor
Spielberg understands that as well as ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, audiences also enjoy the odd ‘yuk!’ The Indiana Jones movies are crawling (literally) with moments such as these. Having already given us an army of tarantulas, we are then treated to the nasty fate of Dr Jones’ predecessor, Forrestal. He even makes squelchy noises as his decomposing head turns Indiana’s way. Yes!
Walking the Traps
A bunch of faces which shoot poison darts? No problem. Just don’t tread on the darker, diamond shaped stones. This should seem like a breeze when you think about it, but thanks to Spielberg’s slow tracking shot along the wall of faces, and John William’s steadily building score, it seems more like the worst ever drink driving test.
The Intimate Zoom
Having reached the Golden Idol, Indy stops for a moment. With Williams’ music reaching a crescendo, Spielberg takes time for a slow zoom onto the Archaeologist and his prize. For Indiana Jones at that moment, there is nothing in the world but he and the Idol. It’s the perfect little moment of character illustration. Then, we pull out again and it’s back to business. Gives me a shiver every time.
Ford Falls Over
The boulder rolling down toward Jones has long since become an iconic image, but what I love about this part is the fact that, having done 10 takes of Harrison Ford outrunning the huge fibreglass ball, Spielberg kept the one take where Ford fell over. It gives the scene a little sprinkle of authenticity, and I’m sure the panic on Ford’s face is genuine.
There is a continuity error at the beginning of the scene. As Indiana Jones and Satipo enter the temple, they pass through a huge cobweb. When Jones leans downwards to walk through the web, there are spiders clearly visible on his back. Cut to a shot from behind the pair, and we can see that Indy’s back is now clear. Then Satipo notices spiders on Indy’s back! Magic South American disappearing tarantulas or Continuity Editor’s day off?
It doesn’t matter, of course. One small continuity error can’t stop this being my favourite scene from my favourite movie. Long may it give me goosebumps and bring a cheesy smile to my face!