Tag Archives: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones Remake

A god-damned Indiana Jones remake.

Face::Palm

On the other hand, at least this couldn’t possibly be as bad as that awful weird alternate reality fan-fic film that explored what would happen if an elderly Indiana Jones fought aliens.

On the third hand, one of my Iron Laws of Filmmaking is that every time you say, “Movies couldn’t possibly get any worse,” you are wrong.

At least this is still in the hypothetical phase, so we still yet may be saved from this abomination.

Spectacle and Sequel

This is some screenwriting/story theory geekery here, but I think that if you like movies you’ll probably be interested in this. It’s a theory I’ve developed about why some movies work and some don’t.

There are certain movies that I call Spectacle Movies, which throw out all the craft of storytelling and instead focus on the spectacle. Either with compelling visuals, thrilling action, hilarious comedy, or engaging song and dance. If the spectacle is spectacular enough, the movie can work despite having massive logic problems and flawed, cliched, or non-existent story and character development.

Examples include the original King Kong, Marx Brothers, Raiders of the Lost Ark, most musicals, and (though I wasn’t personally a fan of these) 2001 and Avatar. These aren’t stories. They’re showcases for tangentially connected bits.

Just to be clear, I’m not using Spectacle Movies as a pejorative. Two of my all-time favorite movies are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Singin’ in the Rain, which are both horribly crafted stories if you ignore all the ways the movies are awesome. Singin’ in the Rain literally has an entire sequence that consists of someone saying “I thought of a good song and dance number,” and then it cuts to his imagination for ten minutes. But it works, because it is a really good song and dance number.

But spectacle isn’t a binary thing. It’s a continuum. With the exception of straight drama, all movies have some element of spectacle. And the more spectacle a movie has, the more story and character problems it can get away with.* For a well-crafted story, adding spectacle will make a good movie better. (We all love Jurassic Park, but who would remember that movie if we never actually saw the dinosaurs?)

I would define spectacle as “Showing something amazing that the audience hasn’t seen before.” The more a movie can do that, the better it will be. This is true regardless of the quality of the underlying story.

Now lets talk about sequels, and why sequels so often leave the audience feeling empty.

Movies that get sequels are almost always movies that have a lot of spectacle to them, whether or not they also have good storytelling. There are two reasons for these. The first and most obvious reason is that spectacle movies do well at the box office, especially internationally, and financially successful movies attract sequels. But the more subtle reason is that in a well-crafted story, the end of the story is the end of the story. The problems are resolved. The character has completed an arc, and no longer has room to undergo a completely new arc.** Whereas spectacle movies end when the bad guys are defeated and the explosions stop. But you can always find new bad guys to generate new explosions.

But remember when I said that a key element of spectacle is showing something we’ve never seen before? That presents an inherent problem with sequels, because by default the sequels are showing us exactly what we’ve seen before.

So sequels tend to lose the spectacle aspect that made people like the original. Which means that as a baseline sequels are going to be much less compelling.***

There are two ways for a sequel to overcome this: It can either ramp up/change the spectacle, or it can improve the story.

Examples of movies that ramped up or changed the spectacle, so it was still showing us something we hadn’t seen before, are Aliens, Terminator 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Avengers.

Examples of movies that improved the story are Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, Toy Story 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Terminator 2, and The Empire Strikes Back. (T2 and Empire both ramped up the spectacle and improved the story.)

But most sequels just give us more of the same. More of the same doesn’t work for spectacle. And without a story to carry them, they’re left with nothing. Which is why most sequels are so bad. They may be commercially successful, and in fact usually are, which is why Hollywood keeps making them. People show up based on how much they liked the original.

But I judge the quality of movies based on how much the audience cares about them. By that measure most sequels fail. Which is why Transformers 4 had a hundred million dollar opening weekend but only 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. (And keep in mind the Rotten Tomatoes percentage is only from people who saw the movie. Meaning that among people who *thought* they would want to see a movie where a giant alien robot truck rides a gianter alien robot dragon while waving a huge sword, only 16% actually did enjoy it.)

* For example, the 2009 Star Trek was obviously much dumber than Looper. But Star Trek keeps you moving too fast with exciting action to think about how little sense it makes. Whereas Looper is slow and contemplative, which leaves you with time to contemplate all the story and logic problems.

** The only example I can think of of a successful sequel to a movie that didn’t rely on spectacle is The Godfather 2. And that only half-worked by focusing on flashbacks of a supporting character that didn’t have an arc in the first movie. In my opinion, the Michael half of Godfather 2 didn’t work and aside from one or two scenes was entirely forgettable.

*** One interesting point here is that perceived quality depends on the order you see a film. We all think Raiders of the Lost Ark is great and Temple of Doom is mediocre. But if we saw Temple of Doom first, would we think that was the great one? Or consider the 1964 movie A Shot in the Dark, which is a sequel to the 1963 The Pink Panther, and recycles all of the jokes from the original. If you watch The Pink Panther then Shot in the Dark, you’ll think Shot in the Dark is boring and pointless. But if you watch Shot in the Dark first, you’ll think Pink Panther is the boring and pointless one. (Or if you don’t like 1960s slapstick humor, you’ll think both are boring and pointless.)

Update to Movies We Still Care About – 1981

I updated the 1981 entry of Movies We Still Care About, to talk more about Raiders of the Lost Ark’s role in the development of the Fun Action Movie sub-genre, and to include Stripes in the Other Notable Movies section.

So if you read that entry when I initially posted it, you might want to revisit it.

Movies We Still Care About – 1981

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

(This post was edited on April 6 to discuss Raiders of the Lost Ark’s role in the development of the fun action movie sub-genre, and to include Stripes in the Other Notable Movies section.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark

Other Notable Movies

  • Superman II
  • Clash of the Titans
  • The Great Muppet Caper
  • The Evil Dead
  • Stripes

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Chariots of Fire (Winner)
  • Atlantic CIty
  • On Golden Pond
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Reds

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  2. On Golden Pond
  3. Superman II
  4. Arthur
  5. Stripes
  6. The Cannonball Run
  7. Chariots of Fire
  8. For Your Eyes Only
  9. The Four Seasons
  10. Time Bandits

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Evil Dead (98%)
  2. Das Boot (98%)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (95%)
  4. Diva (96%)
  5. An American Werewolf in London (91%)
  6. Blow Out (90%)

In the introductory post to this series, I mentioned that various factors can skew the Rotten Tomatoes rankings, and that seems to have happen here.  If you look at that Rotten Tomatoes list, #1 is a microbudget amateur film that would have been forgotten if it didn’t spawn two popular sequels.  #2 is a foreign film beloved by cinephiles but not known to a widespread American audience.  I’ve never even heard of #4 and have barely heard of #6.  And #5 is a cult film that is unknown to modern mainstream audiences.

Movies We Still Care About

Raiders of the Lost Ark

This is the best action spectacle movie of all time.  Like Star Wars, this is at the highest level of mythology for modern film.  Everyone knows Indiana Jones.  The hat, the whip, the ark, fear of snakes, etc.

It’s a spectacle movie because it isn’t structured like a normal film.  There’s no character development – Indy is exactly the same at the end as he is at the beginning.  And rather than the traditional three acts with rising action, it’s an episodic string of distinct action sequences.  In a lesser film, the audience would be bored and confused, even if they didn’t have enough film theory knowledge to explain why they felt that way.  But Raiders is so awesome that nobody cares about its lack of structure or character growth.

In fact, nobody cares that Indiana Jones is entirely superfluous to his own movie, as explained on The Big Bang Theory:

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a deliberate attempt by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to recall the Saturday morning movie serials that they loved as kids.  Those were in turn based on radio serials.  Which were based on pulp/dime novels.  Which were inspired by the late 19th century adventure novels by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard.  Haggard’s character Allan Quatermain specifically is considered to be the template for Indiana Jones.  This came full circle in 1985 and 1986 with the Richard Chamberlain movies King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold.  These movies are blatant rip-offs of Indiana Jones, even though the character of Allan Quartermain predates Indy by a century.

 Raiders is important for the development of cinema as an art-form, as it established the sub-genre of the Fun Action Movie.  You can generally split action movies into those that are intense, and those that are fun.  These easiest way to see which category a film belongs in is to ask yourself if you would want to be the main character.  Would you want to be Indiana Jones, traveling the world having fantastic adventures and punching Nazis?  Of course you would.  Because the most important thing about Indiana Jones as a character is that even when things go wrong, when he’s captured, beaten up, or exhausted by a string of fights, he still absolutely loves being Indiana Jones,

Look at the bringing a gun to a sword fight scene.  He’s fatigued and exasperated, yet every single person watching the movie can live vicariously through him and would delight in being Indy in that situation.

(Side-note: That scene was ad-libbed.  The script called for Indy to get into an elaborate sword fight. But Harrison Ford was sick that day, and didn’t feel like doing it.  So he used his gun instead, Steven Spielberg realized that was much better, and cinema magic was born.)

In the 70s, action movies had taken a gritty turn, as exemplified by films such as The French Connection.  And prior to the 70s, action wasn’t quite so dark, but still was more dramatic than fun.  Films like The African Queen, North by Northwest, and John Wayne westerns.  Some excellent movies, but that sense of playfulness was mostly absent.

There were a few fun action movies before Raiders, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, James Bond films, and Star Wars.  But  It was really Raiders that brought this feeling of fun into its own, and sparked countless imitators trying to capture that high-spirited adventure.

Raiders expanded the medium, such that from the 80s through today and into the future, we are able to experience both fun action movies and intense action movies, and as fans we are all better off.

Also, if you ever get the chance to see the shot-for-shot remake of Raiders made by twelve-year-olds, do it.  It’s amazing.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find it online.  (I saw it 15 years ago on a VHS tape owned by someone who knew one of the guys who made it.)  The best I could find is the first 10 minutes with no audio.  (If any of you can locate the full version online, please link to it in comments.)

The official website for the Raiders remake is here, though unfortunately it doesn’t have the full movie.

Other Notable Films

Superman II

“Kneel before Zod.”  That’s all that needs to be said for this.  And all that really should be said.  Because aside from a great villain, this film is an incoherent mess that is much better in your memory than in reality.

Clash of the Titans

“Release the Kraken!”  This is a special-effects spectacle movie whose effects were amazing in 1981, but really don’t hold up today.  And without that to carry it, there’s not much point to watching this.

The Great Muppet Caper

I talked about this in my write-up of The Muppet Movie in the 1979 entry.

The Evil Dead

I love Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.  But the original Evil Dead isn’t in the same league.  It’s notable to see the clever techniques that Sam Raimi used to stretch his limited budget while still having a unique feel.  But the story’s generic, and the humor from the later films is lacking here.  Plus the entire events of Evil Dead are re-done with much better acting, humor, and production value in the first 10 minutes of Evil Dead 2.  So you can just watch the sequel and skip the original.

Stripes

Stripes continues the Laid-Back Comedy tradition developed by Caddyshack, featuring Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis being Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis.  While it doesn’t still enjoy widespread appeal after 33 years, it does have a small but devoted following of some who consider it among the all-time great comedies.  It’s certainly worth checking out or revisiting if you’re a fan of Murray/Candy/Ramis.

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Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.