So with the new year comes a new season of In the House films screening over at George St cinemas. Last season was a barrel of fun with Jason ‘Jabba’ Davis and David ‘Quinny’ Quinn MCing through the bulk of the season. This season was kicked off with a bang with a screening of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Having seen this film many times in my misspent youth (curse you legislation forcing me to enjoy the benefits of an education!), I looked forward to seeing it up on the big screen.
As is customary with In the House, Quinny and Jabba started off the screening with some trivia about the film and its production. In this case, the point of discussion was around the disastrous bouts of cholera which the cast and crew experienced while filming on location in Tunisia. Although the experience would have been hellish on the individuals affected (which was pretty much everyone), it did lead to one of the funniest anti-climaxes in action movie history. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m referring to, and it was fun to hear the story behind it.
After a quick raffle with t-shirt prizes, the hosts wrapped up and the screening was set to begin.
The story of the film basically follows the standard pulp action narratives of old action serials. Indianna Jones (Harrison Ford) is a rogueish but idealistic archaeologist who travels the world recovering ancient artefacts so they can be housed in museums for the benefit of all. While planning his next adventure, he is informed by army intelligence that a Nazi archaeological dig in Egypt has come close to uncovering the location of the lost ‘Ark of the Covenant’. He is tasked with finding the ark before the Nazis do and to prevent a powerful artefact from antiquity falling into the wrong hands. The stage is set for a rollicking adventure flick that follows our protagonist around the globe as they fight a group which most people can agree were resoundingly representative of (if not composed of) evil.
Ford does an excellent performance in the lead role and it’s easy to see how roles such as this cemented his position as one of Hollywood’s leading men. He portrays Jones as a more than a brawny hero who handles confrontations with his fists. The hero plays instead survives scrapes with the villains through cunning and intelligence as well as strength (alongside a healthy dose of wit and charm). Speaking of villains, Paul Freeman as Rene Belloq, provides an interesting mirror to Indianna as an archaeologist whose ideals are more mercenary in nature. Freeman plays the character as someone who isn’t as grizzled as Jones but is immensely more cunning and significantly more smug (attributes which are good in a villain). I enjoy the fact that Belloq ends up using the inquisitive and academic ideals of Jones against him at one point in the story to further reinforce the characters of both men.
Along the way Jones picks up a sidekick in Marian Ravenwood (Karen Allen), the plucky young daughter of a deceased colleague, and later an Egyptian excavator by the name of Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Marian is largely your stock standard damsel-in-distress type but at various points transcends this role to actually help Indianna out in a fight. Allen plays the role perfectly as a wilful and assertive woman who you can feel holds her own… it’s a shame that the story doesn’t let her do that too much as she ends up being held hostage for a significant amount of her screen time. Sallah is a more eccentric character with his dialogue going everywhere from simple exposition over the situation in Cairo to singing lyrics from the HMS Pinafore. Rhys-Davies does a good turn in this role with his deep baritone and charm creating a character which is almost impossible to not like.
There is one elephant in the room which I should mention, which is that the film does to a significant extent fetishize the non-Western cultures it depicts. Granted, it does so to evoke the aesthetic of the old adventure serials which inspired it but and for me; I’m able to understand that they’re recreating the representation of these cultures through that specific stylistic lens rather than one of ethnographic authenticity. That being said, if you believe this would be a sticking point for your enjoyment of the film, then it might be good to sit this one out. Furthermore, to avoid the problematic aspect of a Welsh actor play an Arabic character (Sallah); just do what I did and assume he’s a British expat living in Egypt… it isn’t going to fix the problem of minority representation in Hollywood but it might, at the least, allow you enjoy this movie.
Spielberg brings his not inconsiderable talent to the fore with lots of beautifully constructed imagery. In particular I noticed how much Spielberg played with lights and silhouettes throughout to create quite striking shots. This is no small part due to the costume design of Indianna being particularly well designed with the hat and whip becoming iconic in their own right. As a film geek, these are points which I salivate over and help to elevate this film above the class of a brainless action adventure romp.
The visual effects for the climax of the film are also quite noteworthy. Although they may not have aged quite so well in the age of CGI, they’re still enough to disgust and scare the pants off of the unwary. Although I consider most of the film to be fairly tame in terms of violence and gore, the ending certainly goes all out. If you’re someone who is easily upset, feel free to cover your eyes and ears when strange lights start filling the screen.
The orchestral soundtrack, composed by John Williams, is considered a classic and rightly so. There are few among us who would not recognise “The Raiders March” theme as inexorably tied to Indianna Jones. Even people who haven’t seen the film will recognise the tune and will probably be able to tell you where it comes from.
The overall sound design is also appropriately camp with plenty of over-the-top sound effects to reinforce the film’s pulp aesthetic. The punches are all received with the noise of leather being struck and pistol shots are punctuated by the recorded sounds of rifles (seriously). The film’s action is larger than life and it’s to the film’s credit that the sound effects follow suit.
Overall, this is a great adventure flick with a lot of passion and talent behind its creation. The story isn’t particularly complex, but works as a vehicle to build the film’s mythos and keep us invested in the action. The visuals are expertly crafted with Spielberg showing his mastery of the cinematic form through iconic shots and interesting. The sound design is, for lack of a better word, iconic and has cemented its place in the annals of film history. It’s a fun film to watch and I would definitely recommend it to most people… even if, ultimately, the protagonists didn’t actually have much of an effect upon the narrative’s resolution (think about it).
For other films which In The House is screening, feel free to check out their schedule here.
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