‘Indiana Jones’ perfects the art of the adventure

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Blocky letters fade in and out as the camera pans through a dense South American landscape, revealing a caravan of three with eyes flickering with desperation — all except one. Our titular character clad in shades of brown topped with an iconic fedora and whip stands calm.

He wasn’t just cool; he was cooler than the fastest kid in a second-grade class; cooler than James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” —  he was Indiana Jones.

I was hooked right off the bat, my eyes glued to the screen for the complete hour and 55 minute runtime. That’s a long time, especially for a five year-old. 

“Indiana Jones: Raiders of The Lost Ark,” a 1981 film by Steven Spielberg, is the perfect adventure movie — the best in all of time.

So, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Dylan, have you lost your mind? You’re forgetting about “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” the 2012 epic starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, John Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens!”

Don’t fret, worried readers, that is number two on the list.

“Raiders of The Lost Ark” was the first released of four Indiana Jones films, but chronologically, the second film. The plot centers around the ark of the covenant and Indiana Jones trying to get it before the Nazis can because “it belongs in a museum.”

This movie has the second-best opening scene of all time, the first being my favorite film, Inglourious Basterds, which may sound subpar, but on a list of 623 films that I have seen in the last five or so years, that’s pretty good. In this scene alone, there are at least three notably iconic moments that have been repeatedly referenced in all forms of media: the classic sandbag switch, followed by Indiana Jones grabbing his hat at the last second and the most infamous of these story beats, when Indiana Jones runs from a massive boulder. As a child, this has always marveled me and still does to this day. 

The movie is not presented as a joke but as a thrilling adventure. Seriousness cloaks the movie in a shadow of realism. This allows for large stunts to seem real.

 However, there are many fantastical elements that keep the movie fun and lighthearted. For example, the boulder chase is obviously unrealistic, yet still amusing. 

As I watched this movie again and again as a child, I formed a deep connection with Indiana Jones.

At the climactic finish of the film, Indiana Jones must close his eyes, something the Nazis can’t seem to figure out, to escape death from the ark of the covenant. Every time I got to this scene, instead of actually watching what happened, I would always close my eyes like I was also part of the adventure, opening them when the music stopped, indicating the scene had concluded. Sure, it’s not unusual for a kid to get too involved when watching a movie, but I really felt like I knew this character and had to get involved.

To top it all off, John Williams composed the score, creating a musical masterpiece that you could listen to for hours on repeat — well at least I could. The main theme was always a favorite of mine, setting the mood for the entire movie in just a few good measures. No travel transition comes even remotely close to the plane animation in this movie, especially when set to the main theme.

The film also does a fantastic job making its villains easy to hate, and by hate, it’s in a good way. Casting the Nazis as the bad guys is a perfect choice due to their ability to lack any backstory yet still be blatantly terrible. Also, this movie makes them seem reasonably scary — especially at 5 years old — casting dark shadows on all their faces. This film takes place in 1936, making the choice of Nazis even better due to their state of power. They still are obviously formidable but aren’t yet the enemy in the second world war. This helps ground the film because even Indiana Jones can’t fight all of the Nazi’s at the height of World War II.

If you haven’t seen this absolutely outstanding, stand-out-of-your-chair-and-clap-when-it-ends, masterclass in the art of cinema, then you need to immediately. I still watch this movie with the exact same amount of joy that I did over a decade ago and will continue for many years to come.

— By Dylan Margolis

Originally published in the Feb. 2 edition of the Octagon.

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