Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Also known as: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (after the release of sequels)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina, Pat Roach

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.” – Dr. René Belloq

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films ever made. It was kind of cool seeing it on the big screen for the first time, which leaves Temple of Doom as the only Indy film I haven’t seen in the theater now. Indiana Jones is also my favorite film series of all-time. Yes, I even loved that Crystal Skull one that everyone feels the need to bitch about.

While Temple of Doom is my personal favorite (and an unpopular opinion), I can admit that Raiders is actually a better film. Everything about it is just right.

The casting was perfect and I can’t imagine how the film would have turned out had George Lucas had his first pick, Tom Selleck. Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s role and unlike James Bond, no one would probably ever accept someone else as the character. Granted, several actors played a young Indy but both River Phoenix and Sean Patrick Flanery did a fine job as the character outside of his normal form. Harrison Ford will always be the adult Indiana Jones but I am sure that Disney will somehow milk the franchise into oblivion at some point and then forever.

The chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen is wonderful and out of all the Indy ladies, she was the only one to eventually come back and marry America’s favorite adventurer. Rightfully so, by the way, as the relationship between Indy and Marion is, by far, the greatest romance in the series and a natural fit for both characters and both actors. While Karen Allen has been in several great films, she will always be Marion to me and probably to everyone.

Paul Freeman is perfection as Indy’s adventuring archaeologist nemesis René Belloq. It is unfortunate that Belloq dies, as he would have been a great villain to carry on in the series. In fact, there was a planned origin story for Belloq in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the 90s TV series, but the show was cancelled before those stories were filmed.

Ronald Lacey was another villain and possibly the most frightening in the entire series as the reptilian-like Toht. He was a Gestapo interrogator dressed in black and always ready to torture Marion in vicious ways. Luckily, she is spared from anything that the evil Toht had planned.

Raiders also introduces us to John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah and Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody, two characters that would return and get more screen time in The Last Crusade.

This is the perfect adventure film. While it is obviously inspired by the serials of old, it brings that formula into the modern era and reinvigorates what was a dead genre, at the time. This, alongside the original Star Wars trilogy, tapped into the great storytelling style of those seemingly ancient serials. It would have been cool to see what other films from the old school serial style that Lucas and Spielberg could have done in addition to Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Maybe something along the lines of a superhero series like the Phantom or the Shadow could have worked well before their not-so-great 90s versions came out.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is what going to the movies is all about. At least in the summer blockbuster sense. They don’t make movies like this anymore and even though this was a massive film in 1981, it is much smaller than the grandiose CGI spectacles of today. The practical special effects keep the film grounded in reality and make it feel much more authentic and genuine than say, the Transformers film series, the Marvel stuff, a Zack Snyder flick or a Roland Emmerich “destroy the world” type of picture. The most recent version of The Mummy, which is close in subject matter, pales in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A lot of the film’s magic isn’t just the work of Spielberg, Lucas and the wonderful cast, a lot of credit goes to the score that was composed by the movie music maestro John Williams. Say what you will but movies today just don’t have soundtracks and iconic themes like those composed by Williams. Can anyone even remember the theme from Iron Man? At least Wonder Woman had a pretty unique theme that stands out but it is just one film in a sea of modern movie making mediocrity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a motion picture that did everything right. It should always be held up, above the vast majority of tent pole movies, as an example of what films like this should be. It shouldn’t be copied but it should be cherished and looked at for inspiration. Everyone from my generation knows it but as new generations are born and as movies are becoming nonsensical extinction level event CGI festivals, the greats like Raiders aren’t as appealing to younger generations that want bigger, louder, faster, more, more, more!

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Release Date: August 15th, 1984
Directed by: W.D. Richter
Written by: Earl Mac Rauch
Music by: Michael Boddicker
Cast: Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Lewis Smith, Rosalind Cash, Robert Ito, Pepe Serna, Ronald Lacey, Matt Clark, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Jonathan Banks, Dan Hedaya, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson

Sherwood Productions, 20th Century Fox, MGM Home Entertainment, 102 Minutes

adventures_of_buckaroo_banzaiReview:

There was a time when I absolutely loved this motion picture. That time was when I was six years-old and had discovered Buckaroo Banzai at the video store. It was cool, hip, full of aliens and weird sci-fi shit and it was full of 1980s cliches and tropes. And although I am pretty much a sucker for nostalgia, the movie just doesn’t bring me back to that awesome place like other films from the era do. It hasn’t aged well and even though it has some charm, it’s kind of just stupid and mostly boring.

Watching this now, at 38 years-old, was fairly disappointing. I expected to feel pleased and to really enjoy this picture like I do when I revisit Spielberg or Dante films. Hell, I recently watched The Wraith and Maximum Overdrive and still loved them despite their flaws. Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is just incredibly dated and the stuff that made it cool were done much better in other films. In fact, it isn’t a fresh set of ideas, it is an amalgamation of many things and frankly, it’s a mess because of it.

I can see now, why this film wasn’t a success even though the studio thought it was going to be a huge hit. The film, in its end credits, even mentions the name of the sequel that never came to be. It was supposed to kick off a franchise but that didn’t happen.

It is not for lack of talent though. This film stars Peter Weller and he’s backed up by Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Ellen Barkin, Clancy Brown, Pepe Serna, Jonathan Banks, Vincent Schiavelli, Ronald Lacey and a slew of others. This was also before most of those names hit it big. The casting director must have had an amazing eye for talent. Had this been released a few years later, with the same cast, Disney may have eventually bought the franchise in an effort to produce a third trilogy and endless spinoffs.

I’m not going to say that Buckaroo Banzai isn’t a fun movie, it is. It has some charm, it is fairly witty but it isn’t a classic and certainly isn’t a must see, unless you are trying to view the entire filmography of one of its many stars.

In my mind, this was a much better movie than what I watched. Memory is tricky like that. Besides, I don’t think I’ve watched this since it was on TV late at night in my teen years.

Film Review: Red Sonja (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Clive Exton, George MacDonald Fraser
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Brigitte Nielsen, Sandahl Bergman, Paul Smith, Ronald Lacey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ernie Reyes Jr., Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Company, MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 89 Minutes

red_sonjaReview:

Arnold Schwarzenegger once referred to this film as the worst of his career. He’s wrong. In fact, I can name many of his films that are worse than this picture and if you don’t think that Jingle All the Way isn’t a complete abomination, than you have no taste.

Is this as good as Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian? Well, no. It is, however, better than the lackluster Conan the Destroyer.

Red Sonja introduced the world to the talent of Brigitte Nielsen. Now that isn’t too exciting but she had a very short run of appearances in mid-80s action films. She went on to be featured in Rocky IV, Beverly Hills Cop II and the often panned Cobra. I like friggin’ love Cobra.

This film also featured little martial arts bad ass Ernie Reyes Jr. who is most famous for playing Keno in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, as well as starring in Surf Ninjas and having smaller roles in Rush Hour 2, The Rundown and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Ronald Lacey, who most famously played the evil Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, shows up to play the evil queen’s top henchman. The evil queen is played by Sandahl Bergman, who was Conan’s love interest in Conan the Barbarian.

The cast was good enough, the film was straightforward and most importantly, it was action-packed. This film follows the well-established sword and sorcery genre pretty solidly. It felt like an extension of the Conan world and its mythos, which was already well-known at the time this came out.

Red Sonja is often times trashed. I don’t see why though. People don’t watch these movies for acting prowess or to be pristine works of art. Films like these are made to be fun escapism and this one does a great job of that. It runs short at around 90 minutes and that is the perfect amount of time to jump in, like a few characters and enjoy the sweet battles and even sweeter decapitations. Yes, this film has some sweet decapitations.

The effects are decent for the mid-80s and the sets are pretty well-made. Also, they somehow got the legendary Ennio Morricone to score this picture. There really isn’t a lot to dislike about Red Sonja unless you go into it expecting The Return of the King.

Is this movie a great fantasy epic? Not really. What it is though, is a shit load of fun. And it has sweet decapitations. And Arnold.