Friday, November 18, 2011

RAIDERS Returns to the Big Screen

Always my favorite Raiders poster
Frankly, the thing I am most excited for this weekend, is that a new restored print (I think it might be digital) of Raiders of the Lost Ark will be showing at Chicago's Music Box Theatre. I LOVE seeing this film in a theatre with an audience, it's just smashing to hear the crowd enjoy the adventure together.

I'm always on the lookout to see "important" films in theatres with audiences. This started, in earnest, when I saw a restored print of Gone With the Wind in an theatre in (I believe) 1998. I had always been "meh" about Gone With the Wind. I respected it for it place in history, the artistry involved, but watching it on TV never impressed on me it's entertainment value.

I was shocked at how incredible Clark Gable is in that film. He's hilarious! It's a performance that just lives by hearing laughter around you. It's never the same in a living room. There's also, truly, no way to understand how incredible the shots in that film are without being overwhelmed by the imagery. The absolute same can be said of Lawrence of Arabia. I still shudder thinking about seeing a 70mm print of that in 1989. Glorious. (I'm not buying that until there's a Blu-Ray)

I'm a purist. Movies are made to be seen in large groups, with overwhelming imagery and sound. It's supposed to be an event to connect with the humanity around you, and revel in how you can all react together to what's on the screen. Yes, yes, I'm very happy technology has advanced to where I can see amazing, film-like presentations of movies I love in my living room. There's a place for that, but that is not where movies live and breathe. Like theatre, we're supposed to be together in watching a movie.

But I digress...

I love this
Star Wars lives in my heart as my favorite series of films. The place where my cinephilia sprang full form as that Star Destroyer rumbled over my head. It lives in a special place nothing else can touch.

But, for my money, Raiders of the Lost Ark is perfect. It's the most brilliant execution of the exact film that was intended that has ever graced the screen. All the elements are exactly right for the style and genre that was being attempted.

The script? Perfect. The cast? Perfect. The filmmaking? Perfect. All the pieces are executed exactly as they should be. No one made a wrong turn. No idea seems shoehorned in, the internal logic is impeccable. It's simply the greatest "popcorn movie" of all time. It's a living example that you can make blockbuster entertainment, and it doesn't have to be dumb.

It also doesn't have to feel utterly preposterous. One of the saddest things, to me, is that we never really got a sequel to Raiders. Yes, Indiana Jones returned, but there's a rough edge, and a realism, in Raiders that none of the sequels ever come close to.

Yes, Raiders is filled with humor, but, almost immediately, the humor began to take over the franchise. The first film was astounding because it WASN'T a cartoon, it felt real. Indy hurt, he bled, and in a realistic way. Yet you could still get comedy out of it, the scene between Marion and Indy on the Bantu Wind is engaging, funny, and yet clear that what Indy has gone through took a toll. With each sequel he bounced back that much more easily.

This too. By Tom Whalen
To be clear; I love all the Indiana Jones films, deeply. I just simply hold Raiders as miles above the rest. Temple of Doom got darker, but also cartoony. Last Crusade and Crystal Skull both play more like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "Road" pictures, comedies first and foremost, rather than adventure films. They all have their great moments, and are entertaining, but they can't touch the original. Not at all.

(And...No, I don't see anything in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that deviates all that far from Last Crusade. They're actually the two Indiana Jones pictures that seem most connected, tonally, to me. You wanna talk to me about the refrigerator bit? Then you have to acknowledge that the fighter plane in the tunnel is as dumb, if not dumber. Yeah, the aliens...I know, but I don't see it as that far removed from the "magic" we see in the rest of the series. Your mileage may vary.)

Long story short, there's a, well, magic, in Raiders of the Lost Ark that many films have tried to replicate, but no one has been able to.

I can't wait to see it again.

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