Everyone has those movies that they wish they could have seen in the theater when it was originally released. Movies that come to mind for me include: Lawrence of Arabia (Really any David Lean film), Star Wars, Once Upon a Time in the West and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now I do have an excuse for missing out on these movies; I wasn’t born yet.
But the power, passion and innovation of cinema allows younger generations the ability to appreciate these spectacles in a way they were meant to be seen. While the home experience is becoming more and more appealing (Nice comfortable furniture, surround sound, 50″ flat screen, high definition picture, and gas money still in pocket), there’s nothing quite like going to the cinema and seeing a film on a giant screen with complete strangers. It’s one of the few experiences where a group of people collectively stay quiet to enjoy something. And the experience is even better when the film lives up to expectations.
Another film I wish I had been able to see when it was released was Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Luckily, in conjunction with the entire Indiana Jones series being released on Blu-ray next week, Paramount and director Steven Spielberg worked with IMAX to reformat the first film in the series into a 70mm version for IMAX screens. After seeing the film not only in IMAX, but on the big screen for the first time, I can say that it was worth the wait.
For those of you who have been hiding under a giant rolling boulder and haven’t seen it; Raiders follows Indiana Jones, professor of archeology and female-student heartthrob by day, adventurer and explorer by night. As the film opens, Indy is already in the middle of searching for his latest treasure. As has become a trademark of the franchise, Indy is introduced in silhouette.
This is where you first appreciate the IMAX conversion. Where the original 35mm print always looked a little muddy and grainy, the conversion presented definition and sharpness in the shadows. Indy and his fedora have never looked better and this sharp presentation remains for the rest of the film.
The film opens with an exhilarating set piece that works because it not only sets up Indy as the gallant, charming hero, but it lays out the stakes. Yes he is seasoned in a world full of adventure and wonderment, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in danger every waking moment. As he captures his latest archaic object, his moment of relief quickly changes to fear as the removal of the object triggers a booby trap in the form of a giant, rolling boulder.
This is your first introduction to the refined audio for the IMAX conversion. As the boulder moves, chasing Indy through the cave, you feel the boulder in your stomach, the way you do when thunder erupts during a storm, and you feel like you’re standing right next to it. Later action sequences involve foot chases, car chases and hand-to-hand combat and they all sound immaculate.
Of course I can’t talk about sound without mentioning John Williams’ iconic score for Indiana Jones. The sweeping and stirring music fits perfectly with every moment of the film and despite its grandeur, it never feels intrusive to the audience. An iconic character needs iconic music and Williams delivers.
After a run-in with the natives (It feels like this happens to him a lot), Indy returns home to resume his teaching duties. But his moment of relaxation is short-lived as two government agents reveal to him that the Nazi’s believe they’ve discovered the long-lost resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, the golden casket used by the ancient Hebrews to hold the Ten Commandments. What the Nazis intend to do with it is no doubt sinister (They are Nazis after all), so Indy must find it first with the help of an old flame.
There isn’t much to the plot, but there doesn’t need to be in a great summer movie. With breathtaking action sequences that get better and better, Raiders relies on those set pieces as well as exotic locations such as the Jungles of South America and the deserts of Egypt to move the film along.
It’s also pretty violent. Every time I see it I’m taken aback by how much blood and gore is in the PG film. Of course at the time of its release, the PG-13 rating wasn’t created yet. It wasn’t until it’s even more violent and darker sequel, The Temple of Doom was released, that the MPAA decided to create a rating in between the family-friendly PG and the adult-themed R rating.
There’s also room for some well-timed humor. Ford is as charming in this as he was in Star Wars. But instead of simply doing a retread of that character’s immature, smart-ass nature, he plays Indy as an understated, stubborn character who can still say lines like “I’m making this stuff up as I go along.” Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood is also given room to play a strong female character, while also balancing sexiness and humor. Her introduction to the film is especially funny and something you don’t often see from female characters.
The film does have a couple of noticeable moments of blurriness at the beginning and there are touches of graininess here and there, but the film is 31 years old so a few minor defects is understandable.
If you’ve never had a chance to see this classic I highly recommend checking it out. The IMAX Experience is a one-week event so you still have Wednesday and Thursday to experience Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen at Valley River Center. After seeing it you can take it off the bucket list like I have.