Review by Nate
The shadowy silhouette of the leader of an expedition crew stands at the base of a South American waterfall reading the remains of a torn map. Two natives stand behind him watching pensively. One of the natives stealthily advances toward the leader and draws a revolver from his belt. He quietly cocks the hammer and points the revolver at the leader’s back. With a crack as quick as lightning the leader spins around brandishing a whip and swats the gun out of the native’s hand. The leader emerges out of the shadows to reveal the scruffy face of… Han Solo??
I remember watching Raiders of the Lost Ark as a child and when that big reveal came in the opening scene, I could not understand how Han Solo left the distant space-past to hunt ancient artifacts on Earth in the 1930s. But that didn’t matter because, after the initial shock of seeing Solo sans Wookie and trademark, bartender vest, the new immersive Spielberg-world totally overtook me. But why, you might ask, are we reviewing a 34 year-old movie when new releases are dropping left and right? First, according to Collider, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy confirmed “that Indiana Jones 5 is indeed in the works.” Whether that means Indy 5 will be a sequel or a reboot with someone (Chris Pratt? Bradley Cooper?) else donning the fedora is to yet to be determined. Nevertheless Indiana Jones is an icon that is here to stay. Second, the movie is just so darn good that it’s begging to be reviewed! Is it really necessary there be a third reason?
Now, I suspect this post will not reveal much new information. However, part of its focus will be on how the film treats Scripture as well as how it lends itself to a Christian worldview. On that front there may be some new things to consider. But, first, let’s review.
Adventurous archaeologist/mild-mannered professor Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford) is an expert at discovering ancient artifacts hidden in mysterious, booby-trapped temples. When he realizes that Hitler is zeroing in on the location of the biblical Ark of the Covenant he races to Egypt with the help of the brash and beautiful Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) to stop the Nazis from acquiring the ancient, Jewish artifact and, potentially, taking over the world. Sounds simple (not), except Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), Jones’ nemesis, is leading the Nazis and seeking to outmaneuver Jones in order to get his own dainty, little, French hands on the Ark first.
Spielberg and Lucas’ homage to early cinematic serials is such a pleasure to watch largely because each aspect of the production is top notch. Consider the casting for this film: John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, the formidable yet cuddly Egyptian excavator and Indy’s close friend; Denholm Elliott as the astute and vicarious Marcus Brody, Ronald Lacey as the creepy Gestapo agent with the disfigured hand; and, of course, Karen Allen and Harrison Ford. Each of the actors wear their characters well, like comfortable clothes; and for what the film is and what it wants to be they bring a believable gravitas to their roles. As a matter of fact, Ford does such a brilliant job as the daring adventurer that all he has to do is grimace while being half-cast in shadow in order for us to buy it.
Another excellent aspect of the film is that the CGI is sparingly used. Each set piece is elaborately built with an eye on detail that reinforces old-world, authenticity, a tactile realism that would not exist if Ford and Allen were running across a green screen instead of the streets of Tunisia (Cairo) or pretending to fight off CG asps instead of interacting with the real thing. Certainly Spielberg’s own special effects (and camera tricks) are rather obvious in remastered, high definition. The point is he exhibits good instincts in not overplaying his hand, and that’s vital to any great action flick.
Beyond the production quality of the film the subject matter, also, is of particular interest; that is, the Ark of the Covenant is a biblically-attested historical artifact described in various places in Scripture. It should follow that, if a filmmaker wanted to make a movie centering on the Ark of the Covenant (or its discovery), he or she should strive for historical accuracy. Certainly Spielberg took from the Bible in order to come up with a representation of the Ark of the Covenant. This explains the cherubim on top of the box with wings outstretched, and also that the box itself is covered in gold. It would, thus, seem that Spielberg is taking Scripture’s account of the Ark of the Covenant seriously. Even Indy’s instructions to Marion as the Ark opens – “Shut your eyes. Don’t look at it no matter what happens.” – comes from 1 Samuel 6:19: “[God] struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord.”
So then why, in other ways, does Raiders of the Lost Ark get the Ark so wrong? The premise is that Hitler is into the occult and, therefore, wants to acquire the Ark as a means to destroy his enemies. Wait a tic! The Ark of the Covenant is the container that housed, amongst other things, the tablets of the law and occasionally hosted the presence and power of God. The Ark is not a mechanism or light switch by which God’s power can be manifested. On the contrary, the reason the Ark was capable of such power was not due to any magical configuration of words or construction. So when the movie claims (via Marcus), “An army which carries the ark before it is invincible,” it is mischaracterizing the Ark as if it were some kind of mythical/spiritual gattling gun. Anyone who understands the biblical accounting of the Ark knows that only the army God chooses to help will be successful. So, in other words, the true power of the Ark rests in God, not the box in and of itself.
A fascinating aspect of the film that lends itself to the Christian worldview is the inverse character relationship between Indy and Belloq. “You and I are very much alike,” Belloq says to Indy. “I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.” With true devilish eloquence he has revealed the seduction of sin and darkness. That is, men love darkness (John 3:19) and can easily stumble if they do not persist in keeping God’s word. The Bible says that all have fallen short in sin (Romans 3:23) and even characterizes it as something that can very easily entangle us (Hebrews 12:1). One can imagine that the ethical shortcuts Belloq pursued that transformed him into who he became were probably small in scale, initially. Likewise, for us, the application is clear. A decision to sin here, a refusal to do the right thing there, and pretty soon we can slip from being Indiana Jones to becoming Rene Belloq, the shadowy version of our light-filled selves. Therefore, we would be wise to heed Paul’s instruction to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13) so that we may live.
It is useful (to say the least) that Belloq acknowledges his role as the evil mirror image of Jones. There is much wisdom in his insight, especially as it pertains to the ease by which a person can stumble. Thankfully, no matter how mythical Spielberg treats the Ark, the director doesn’t lose the allegory. For, as the climax of the film unfolds, those with impure hearts (especially Belloq) find their faces falling to the floor.
Rating 4.5 out of 5
Despite the critiques of how the Ark is treated in this film, Raiders of the Lost Ark is just a blast to watch! Therefore, as details continue to come in about the latest Indy project, pop in the original and join the adventure one more time! This film is rated PG for violence, profanity, and some intense images.