The first three action-packed escapades of everyone’s favourite teacher turned archaeologist are now available as separate entities on Blu-ray (mercifully, the fourth instalment is absent). Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the first in the series from Hollywood’s own golden idols George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, is still the strongest by far and remains a thoroughly rousing and nostalgic delight to return to. What’s more, Spielberg has thankfully spared us from seeing that huge boulder hurtling towards Indiana during the film’s breathtaking opening segment cleaned up with digital effects, Lucas-style.
This is still our childhood favourite, sans any digital facelifts or scene recontextualising. After revisiting Raiders of the Lost Ark, it becomes even more apparent just what an expert grip Spielberg has on his material here, which could have so easily descended into schlock and cornball in lesser hands. The countless imitators which followed – even stretching as far as Nicolas Cage’s anaemic National Treasure films, decades later – were never able to successfully mimic or mine what the (then) dream team of Lucas and Spielberg did here. Raiders is a film which looks far from dated, and is now part of that pantheon of timeless, escapist Hollywood action cinema that can be enjoyed over and over again in high definition.
The only moment of unintentional giggles stems from nemesis Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman) swallowing a fly mid-sentence – now an unmistakable blooper in this peerless digital transfer. It’s also interesting to note just how fabulously bloody and gory the film is at times. Aside from the infamous villain face-melting comeuppance (still as repulsively effective), this is a kid’s feature which sees a Nepalese henchman shot (point blank) in the face, a disturbing sequence of mummified corpses groping the heroine and a variety of messy squib impacts. It’s hard to believe that a contemporary family film of this nature would be awarded a PG certificate in this puritanical age without receiving the kind of cuts which would render many of the action scenes to a jarring, nonsensical mess.
For the myriad of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones lovers out there both young and old, it’s time to dust off that fedora and reach for the bullwhip, heading off on that intrepid journey once more. This was a time when a young(ish) Harrison Ford still looked like he could feasibly pull off displays of death-defying heroics, and an age in Hollywood where plot and story wasn’t predetermined by a pre-existing property or a lucrative fast food tie-in (hands off, Subway). How far Indy has fallen since 1989’s The Last Crusade.