As the two most successful directors in Hollywood in the late 1970s, Lucas and Spielberg could do whatever they wanted.
And what they wanted was to express the shared love of movie serials they both loved as kids and teenagers, the same aesthetic with which Lucas bought ”Star Wars” to the screen.
Think of the old 50s and 60s Saturday afternoon movie serials and several institutions come up in the mind; exotic space aliens roaring through space in rocket ships, dark-suited spies moving through the shadows of noirish cities and adventurers crisscrossing the world in the pursuit of ancient treasures, danger always one step behind them.
The latter informed on the mythology that became Indiana Jones, a seemingly mild mannered archaeology professor who isn’t above using fists, his signature whip or a gun to secure the world’s most valuable and historically significant treasures.
The opening coda is the mission statement of the entire franchise – a beautiful and remote but dangerous location, a valuable idol, and a path to reach it that’s dotted with booby traps that have lain in wait for millennia. Indy’s untrustworthy guides and helpers are dispatched one by one in grisly circumstances and the chin-scratching, head-cocked calculation of the bag of sand weighing as much as the trinket is instantly recognisable to millions of movie fans worldwide.
The trivia is as much movie lore as the story – star Ford, suffering dysentery like much of the crew after the food on the north African shoot, suggested pulling his gun and shooting the swordsman in desperation to get away from the set early, a scene that got the film’s biggest laugh. Any film geek will also nod knowingly at mention of the most famous fly in movies, the one that appears to crawl into Bellocq’s (Freeman) mouth mid-shoot. And location nerds will gleefully tell you the valley where Indy threatens to blow up the ark with a bazooka is the same Tunisia location one where the Jawas nabbed R2-D2.
But it’s a combination of Vic Armstrong’s stunt work, another iconic John Williams score, more Academy-worthy sound work by Ben Burtt, the James Bond-like globetrotting nature of the production, Spielberg’s spirit of unrealistic fun and the endlessly likeable leading man (who was nearly Tom Selleck among many others) that makes it so timeless. Lucas and Spielberg are thought of as the overlords of the franchise, but it’s not often realised that Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay while Lucas and Phillip Kaufman merely have story credits.
If you don’t already know, the title is the plot. When government agents learn of a Nazi plot to retrieve the Biblical Ark of the Covenant – which still holds whatever’s left of the ten commandments – for its military applications, they turn to the professor to beat them to it. He reconnects with old flame Marion (Allen) who’s in possession of a trinket that reveals the location of the titular treasure, and they travel to the site of the Nazi dig where they alone have the exact co-ordinates.
But sifting through the snake-infested Well of Souls to dig up the Ark is only the beginning as Indy’s nemesis Bellocq – leading the Nazi search – takes the Ark from under their noses and the race is on to get it back and secure it for good.
As much fun as you’ll have at the movies, together with ”Star Wars” it marked the beginning of the modern moviemaking era and signified that movies could be a good time again, after the dark, mistrustful paranoia of much of the 70s.
Presented in that gorgeous, immerse IMAX format for a limited time.