In a recent episode of Jeopardy! (did you know it is supposed to have the exclamation point at the end?) one of the responses given by a contestant resulted in a loss of money. It had related to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and she had included in the title the character after which the Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) series is named. After a few minutes, the judges decided to go back and give her the credit for her answer, citing box sets with the full Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark on it. Whatever you want to call it, this will be the beginning of a series where all four will be reviewed. It is just a shame that the monkey dies, despite it apparently being a Nazi collaborator.
Raiders of the Lost Ark introduces us to the famous archaeologist Indiana Jones. When we first see him, he is leading a small group of locals in Peru is search of a Golden Idol revered by the Hovito people. After dodging a series of boobytraps in the temple that housed the idol, Jones tumbles out only to be greeted by an armed band of Hovito led by his rival Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman), who simply takes it out of his hands. Returning to the United States, a group of government officials approach him with an intercepted Nazi communique that suggests the fascist German regime is searching for the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel that carried the Ten Commandments. Given Jones’ expertise, they send him off to try and find the Ark before the Nazis do. He has an inside track on doing so because an old girlfriend of his, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), possesses an amulet needed to point the way to the Ark’s resting place. He shows up at her bar in Nepal and rescues her from a group of Nazi thugs sent to retrieve the same trinket. Together they then travel to Cairo where they enlist the help of Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a renowned digger. Unfortunately, the Nazis are still after them, who manage to capture Marion. In his first attempt to rescue her, again, he believes she dies in an explosion. Instead, she ends up in the hands of Belloq, who is working for the Nazis and lowers her into the chamber Jones had found the Ark in, taking the prize for himself in the process. The Ark changes ownership a couple of times through a series of adventures until they all end up on an island in the Mediterranean. There Belloq decides to open the Ark, an act which does not please God too much. The resulting Heavenly wrath consumes Belloq and his Nazi supporters. Jones and Marion are spared because they wisely shut their eyes. Somebody had read their Bible.
While Jones is not exactly a Christian, Raiders of the Lost Ark nonetheless seems to take what the Bible has to say about the consequences of basically trying to play God at face value, particularly with items directly related to His acts. Throughout the Old Testament, whenever the presence of God comes upon the Israelites, they know to avert their eyes in proper reverence. If they do not, they believe it will result in death, though the Bible is replete with instances of worthy people being granted special graces that prevent them from knowing this fate. Of course, I have trouble believing that the wrath of God would involve people having their faces melted off, but creative license is what it is. It is also a little silly to think that a picture in a Bible, albeit a very old looking one, would actually be what the Ark looked like, but this is not that big of a deal. Still, what makes this film palatable for a Christian viewer is the fact that the good guys approach the finding of the Ark with a certain amount of respect for its meaning. Granted, Jones is a little more determined, but at least he has the sense to close his eyes at the end. Finally, I applaud director Steven Spielberg for the scene where the box containing the Ark and adorned with Nazi paraphernalia shows the swastika being burned off. God is love. The Nazis represent hate. Thus it makes perfect sense that God would not want His vessel to be sullied by such a mark.
Raiders of the Lost Ark has a bit more violence in it for its PG rating than one might expect. I remember not really thinking much of it as a kid who found the Indiana Jones films so exciting. Looking back at it now, I would probably think twice about showing it to a younger audience. I guess the 1980s were just a different time. For us older folk, watching this film, or any of the others in the series (except, I suppose, the last one, though I will be examining that in a few days), they represent a trip down memory lane. They are genuinely exciting films, and they set the stage for the subsequent adventures to come.