Indiana Jones Turns 30!
This month marks the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest adventure films of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark. That means archaeologist and risk taker Professor Indiana Jones turns the big 3-0! Growing up, next to Star Wars, Indiana Jones was one of my favorite things. I watched all the films, I bought the toys, t-shirts, and a Halloween costumes, and I even collected his comic book published by Marvel Comics and got the Atari video game. Just like I collected everything Star Wars I completed everything Indiana Jones for the most part of the 1980’s. Indy brought us many great adventures through films and books and it all started with the 1981 film, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Probably the first time I heard about Raiders of the Lost Ark was a few months before it came out. I remember my mom telling me she saw an article in the Sunday paper in the entertainment section about Han Solo being in a new film. I wondered what it was and looked at the article. At first glance I thought it was just a film about Han Solo, since the article had a picture of Harrison Ford and it mentioned George Lucas, but after reading it I realized it was a whole new film called Raiders of the Lost Ark with Ford playing a different character named Indiana Jones. So, I was very excited to see Han Solo play somebody else in a completely different movie.
Raiders of the Lost Ark opened on June 12, 1981 and was a monster hit. Lucas who produced and wrote the film and Steven Spielberg who directed it were able to make another blockbuster and a classic film for all of time. I first saw Raiders during the summer of ’81, a few months after it was released. I was eight years old at the time. First impression of it blew me away. It became my favorite film next to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. This was also a very different film from the space epic Star Wars, since this film was not a science fiction or space fantasy film. Raiders was a straight up action-adventure film that took place in the late 1930’s about an archaeologist named Indiana Jones who seems more comfortable crawling through dark caves and risking his life instead of teaching in a classroom. Dr. Jones is asked to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis find it and use its powers for their own gain. Although the film was rated PG, it was very dark in some parts and there were plenty of scary scenes.
One of my favorite scenes in the film was the opening. I always thought it was neat how they took the logo to Paramount Pictures, which is a mountaintop, and dissolved to a real mountaintop in South America where the film starts off. It is also interesting how they introduce the character of Indiana Jones. They don’t show him at first and just show a group walking through the jungle led by a man in a leather jacket and a fedora, but we can’t see his face. A few moments later when one of the men in the group attempt to shoot Dr. Jones, Indy heads him off at the pass with his trusty whip and disarms the man causing him to flee. Then we finally see Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones come out of shadows and look toward the camera. This is one of the best openings to any film and it gets better.
Right after the opening Indy defies death again by entering a cave to retrieve a golden idol and he is almost killed by spiders, spikes shooting out of the wall, tiny spears coming from all sides of a room, a deadly pit, a gigantic boulder chasing him, and natives who chase him through the jungle after rival archaeologist, Belloq, played by Paul Freeman, steals the idol from him right after Indy escapes from the cave.
There are many great scenes throughout the film like when Indy travels to Nepal to get help from an old flame of Indy’s Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen and ends up fighting Nazi Major Toht, played by Ronald Lacey, and his goons in Marion’s bar. Other great scenes are when Indy goes to Cairo and him and his friend Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davis, find the Ark in an underground tomb called the Well of Souls and it is filled with thousands of snakes. Then there is the ending, where the Nazis take the Ark from Indy and open it up on a small island to see its true power. This is one of the best parts and endings to a film where the Nazis see the horror that the Ark brings to them.
After seeing the film I was hooked on Raiders and the world of Indiana Jones. I would see the film a few more times in theaters because I could not get enough of the movie. This is before the Home Video days, so if you wanted to see a film more than once you had to buy another ticket at the cinema. It is a good thing we had the good ol’ dollar theater back in the day. Raiders was just as big a hit as the Star Wars films and tons of merchandise were coming out for the film and I was all over it.
I had collected many different things from Indiana Jones from t-shirts, bubble gum cards, a Halloween costume, and books, which included a Choose Your Own Adventure one. Although the two things I collected the most were toys and comic books. Just like Star Wars, Kenner toys put out a line of Raiders of the Lost Ark action figures and play sets. Christmas ’81 was a good Christmas for me with not just Raiders toys, but also Empire Strikes Back ones since Kenner was still putting out new toys from that film as well. I had a handful of action figures like Indy, Sallah, Marion, Belloq, and Major Toht. I also got the Well of Souls play set, which came with a toy Ark and tons of small plastic snakes. I also got the Kenner Indiana Jones twelve-inch doll. Just like they did for Star Wars, Kenner released a great line on Indiana Jones toys.
Marvel Comics had published a three-part issue of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Being a collector of comics at that time I had to get all three issues. Marvel was really good with adapting hit adventure or sci-fi films of the day into comics. Marvel did not stop there with Indy. In January 1983, they gave him his own comic called The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. Just as Marvel did to Star Wars, they gave Dr. Jones brand new adventures to conquer. The Indiana Jones comic became a must have to get every month like Star Wars, Spider-Man and The Hulk. The Marvel comic lasted only a little over three years when it ended its run in March 1986, but other companies such as Dark Horse started making their own Indiana Jones comics in the years after.
Another item that I remember having was the Raiders of the Lost Ark video game for the Atari 2600. I got the game shortly after I got the Atari 2600 for Christmas of 1983. From what I remember the game was not that good and was very difficult to play for an Atari game. This is back when games were more simplified like Pac-Man, Frogger, or Donkey Kong. The Raiders game was also unique because it had an ending to it where you beat the game. This is very common now, but back then games would just go on and on and on. It would just get more difficult with every level. Another Atari game like Raiders was E.T., which came out around the same time and I believe I got E.T. the same day I got the Raiders video game. Eventually I did beat the game, which is getting the Ark. I remember it was very anticlimactic.
Some other great moments during Raiders of Lost Ark is the musical score by John Williams. Williams made another memorable score with the Raiders theme that has been featured in all Indiana Jones films. The Raiders score is just as memorable as Williams’ other film scores such as Superman, Jaws, and Star Wars.
Raiders also has some great lines in the film. Here are a few that are my favorite, like the scene when Indy and Sallah discover the Well of Souls and see that there are thousands of snakes down below. Indy who hates snakes says “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” Sallah replies, “Asps…very dangerous. You go first.” Another one is when Indy is talking to Marion and she says, “You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.” Indy replies, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” A few other great lines happen when Bellqo confronts Indy in a bar in Cario. Bellqo tells Indy, “Please, sit down before you fall down.” Then he tells Indy the Ark is way to talk to God. Indy just stares him down and says, “You want to talk to God? Let’s go see him together, I’ve got nothing better to do.” There are also tons of other great lines throughout the film, but those were some of my favorites and ones that have always stuck out.
I figured they would make a sequel to Raiders since the film did so well and they did. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was release on May 23, 1984. It was actual a prequel since Temple of Doom took place in 1935 and Raiders took place in 1936, but it was just another adventure with Indy and it didn’t really matter what year it took place. When I saw the film I thought it was great. This story had Indy starting off in Shanghai running for his life from the Chinese’s mafia to escape on a plane that crashes in India and Indy ends up helping a small village whose children have been kidnapped by a cult. Indy is also joined by Willie (Kate Capshaw), a singer he finds in Shanghai and his sidekick, a little kid named Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan).
The film was much darker than Raiders. Temple of Doom featured black magic and human sacrifice. It had scenes like this dinner at a palace where the menu was big black beetles, snake surprise (live eels was the surprise), eyeball soup, and monkey brains. Another scene had Indy and Short Round trapped in a room that the ceiling was closing in on them and Willie was on the other side trying to get them out, but the room she was in was filled with bugs. Then there is the memorable scene where a man gets his heart ripped out by the cult leader while he is still alive then he is thrown in a pit of fire. Due to scenes like that in a PG movie, prompted the MPAA to create a new rating, which was PG-13. I believe Temple of Doom was re-rated PG-13 when it was re-released.
Temple of Doom did pretty well at the box office, but many thought it was not as good as Raiders. I thought Raiders was the better film, but I really enjoyed Temple of Doom and thought it was an excellent film. I know that the opening of the film, which had Indy in a tuxedo at a nightclub instead of his leather jacket, fedora, and whip in a jungle somewhere, is what Lucas originally pictured for Dr. Jones. When he created the character he wanted him to look more like James Bond, but Spielberg wanted the Indiana Jones character to be more rough around the edges. So, they went with Spielberg’s vision of the character, but Lucas wanted one scene in Temple of Doom with Indy looking more like James Bond, so they opened the film like that, but after that he went back to the jacket, whip, and fedora.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade followed five years later in 1989. The film brought back some elements of Raiders like the Nazis being the main villains again and some characters from the first film like Sallah and Indy’s colleague, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott). The film also featured Sean Connery as Indy’s dad. I thought the film was good, but not as good as the first two films, but still enjoyed the movie. In the 90’s they started an Indiana Jones TV series called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. This featured tales of a young Indy at the age of eight and sixteen. Harrison Ford did not star in the series, but did star in one episode reprising his role as Dr. Jones. The series lasted from March 1992 to July 1993, but also had a number of TV-Movies from ’94 to ’96. In 2008, a forth Indiana Jones film was released called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The film took place in the late 1950’s and featured an old Indy battling Russians and looking for the Crystal Skull. The film was horrible and loaded with a poor story, stupid CGI and blue screens, and a phoned in performance from Ford. The film should have never been made or just made better with a different story.
So, thirty years ago one of the greatest movie characters was born and changed the face of action/adventure films. Indiana Jones has become an icon and gave Harrison Ford another legendary character to portray and once Raiders of the Lost Ark was released he did not have to worry about being just known for Han Solo in Star Wars. To me, Raiders will always be my favorite Indiana Jones film and it is also in my top ten favorite films of all time. Happy 30th birthday, Indiana Jones and best wishes to you.