I should have watched something here-and-now last night (Bo Burnham Inside, Hacks, The Sons of Sam) but like a jackass I streamed the 4K version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I’d heard looks extra sharp and luscious. Well, it looks good, sure, but calm down. I loved Raiders when it first popped in June of ’81, which led to my seeing it too many times. But now? Again? For the ninth or tenth time?
Ten minutes into last night’s viewing I was muttering four things: (1) “I really can’t watch this any more…I’m sick of it,” (2) “All of the jokes and bits and tricks that seemed so cool 40 years ago have been over-mined and over-imitated, and have lost their pizazz,” (3) “The idea was to make thrill comedy out of the conventions of old Saturday matinee serials, but so much of the action choreography seems silly now…Harrison Ford chased through the jungle by 15 or 20 natives with bows-and-arrows and poison dart blowguns, and he doesn’t get tagged once, even when he’s swimming towards the plane?…slender Karen Allen drinking an overweight Tibetan guy under the table?…the cute little monkey who alerts the Nazis to Allen’s hiding place inside a large woven basket (bad!) is the same critter who pretends to moan and cry when Ford is moping over her apparent death…the film is jam-packed with little irritations like this”, and (4) “Allen’s constant shrieking of ‘Indiiieeee!’ is enough to drive you nuts.”
The only bit that still works (it actually made me laugh out loud, and I’m a total LQTM type) is when Ford casually pulls out a pistol and shoots the scary North African guy with a huge sword. And this film would be almost nothing without John Williams‘ rousing, haunting, at times even spooky score…seriously, none of the big moments would work without the music.
My favorite Raiders film remains Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade…it’s funnier and spritzier that the original.
Quick — name some Spielberg films that have aged really well. Answer: There aren’t that many. Schindler’s List, of course. Minority Report, E.T. Saving Private Ryan except for the awful bookends, Duel, and two portions from Close Encounters — the silent opening-credits followed by the crash-crescendo of the Sonoran desert plus the air-traffic controller sequence. For the most part early Spielberg flicks are sugary soft drinks. Very soothing and satisfying if you’re hot and thirsty, but most of them don’t linger. They’re not really intended to. He has a great cinematic eye and a fine sense of strategic choreography, but he’s not what anyone would call a deep, moody, meditative filmmaker.