Thursday, August 4, 2011
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
It’s been thirty years since the release of Stephen Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is an almost unanimously beloved film by audiences and critics alike. However, there are exceptions…
I’m on the phone with noted New York film critic Simon Johnson, who was one of the few critics who disliked this movie at its release.
Me: First of all, thank you for joining me. So has time changed or at least tempered your view of Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Simon Johnson: Is it overly succinct to just say that “No, it hasn’t.”
Me: You still haven’t come around, I see. So let’s rehash what your problem with it is.
Simon Johnson: I believe my original article said “Unlike Lucas’s Star Wars, which at least scrapped the corpses of some decent representations of celluloid past, Raiders of the Lost Ark unearths the remains of a long discarded adventure genre and revives it as a hulking, feral pastiche that should have remained underground and forgotten.”
Me: You further stated that Raiders of the Lost Ark was the beginning of the end. Do you still believe that?
Simon Johnson: If you want to be technical, it could more accurately be described as the end of the end. Jaws threw the body in the coffin. Star Wars slammed the lid. Raiders of the Lost Ark nailed it shut.
Me: Would you embellish please.
Simon Johnson: Right. Let’s explore today’s film of choice, shall we? Spielberg-Lucas or, really I just call them Lucasberg. I can’t tell the difference really. Lucasberg loved the old Republic serials of the 30’s. But I’m sure even they would admit that they were poorly made. So what we have here is a reproduction of a copy that wasn’t all that good in the first place.
Me: But don’t you think Spielberg just used those as a blueprint and made it into something uniquely his own?
Simon Johnson: That seems to be the common view. And the common view is misguided.
Me: But what about all those iconic scenes like Indiana being chased by a giant boulder?
Simon Johnson: If that thrills you, I suggest you go to Disney World and see the Indiana Jones stunt show. I prefer to see a movie.
Me: So this is the first time you’ve seen it in thirty years. Please restate some of the specifics of your criticisms.
Simon Johnson: There’s too many to name, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t want to take up too much of your time or mine either, for that matter. Let’s take the villains, the Nazis. I saw more depth from Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes. Cardboard cutouts are indeed easy to kill. What else? The introduction of the snakes. He doesn’t like snakes. And later we have the inevitable snake scene. A little foreshadowing is good. An overabundance can be fatal.
It's also interesting that the DVD release has renamed it Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Is that so the audience won’t get it confused with Pee Wee Herman and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?
What else? Oh, I like the way they plaster a map on the screen every time they change countries. Not condescending to our audience are we?
Oh, the exposition scene at the school where they go on about why they are searching for the ark in the first place. Not only is it confusing, it’s so slow, I began to nod off with its tediousness! I know you need to get the ark. Get on with it! It made me actually miss the mindless action.
Me: What about the music?
Simon Johnson: Yes, let’s not have anything of consequence happen in this movie without cranking up the theme song. Certainly the images and the character development aren’t enough to allow me to know how to think, so I can see the need for the John Williams clash of symbols every few minutes to tell me when something of significance is happening.
Me: Well, what about the scene where the guy in Cairo spins his weapon only to be disposed of with one shot by Indiana? That always gets a big laugh.
Simon Johnson: Glad you brought that scene up. Indicative of American arrogance, I’m afraid. It’s that type of behavior that has allowed the spread of Colonialism to go practically unchallenged for hundreds of years. But what the heck! Those Nepalese or Egyptians are just a bunch of towel heads who can’t do anything but jump, shout, laugh or shoot a rifle repeatedly in the air while chanting, right? Calling them one-dimensional is an insult to other one-dimensional characters.
Oh, and what about the choice of the naming the main character after an American state? Practically screams out. “I’m an American. I can do whatever I want!” It has more arrogance than a Jane Austen novel!
Me: Jane Austen?
Simon Johnson: If you aren’t sure what I’m referring to, I think you need to read some Edward Said and get back to me on that issue.
Me: Ok. Lets’ see…What about Karen Allen? You’ve got to like Karen Allen.
Simon Johnson: I do. She’s the film’s true hidden treasure. And what did they do with this valuable commodity when they made the next film?
Me: They dumped her.
Simon Johnson: They dumped her.
Me: Yes, I think I actually agree with you on that point. I do have one more question for you. It’s a general one. Why don’t film critics ever change their mind? I see things all the time I feel differently about over time or change my opinion because of my mood or maybe I just see something in second viewings that I didn’t see the first time.
Simon Johnson: I guess that is the chasm that separates someone like me from someone like you. A work of art is what it is. Andrew Sarris changed his mind once. We almost had to kick him out of the club.
Me: Thank you for joining me.
Simon Johnson: A pleasure, I’m sure. Since next year is the anniversary of Porky’s, I’m sure you’ll be dialing me up again.
Me: That was Simon Johnson, acerbic, opinionated and controversial as always.