Indiana Jones Memories: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Unless you have been living under a rock (and possibly even then), you probably know that a brand-new Indiana Jones movie is opening this Thursday.  My wife and I have already arranged for a babysitter and purchased our opening night tickets.  With that in mind, this seems like a good time to reminisce a bit about my experiences seeing the previous movies in the series.  In this post (and later ones about the other two films), I’m not really going to write reviews, although I expect to reveal at least a bit of my opinion of each.  Instead will just tell a bit of the story of my own experiences.

With 19 years having past since we last saw Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 27 years since the character was first introduced in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m part of a likely pretty large group of adults who will be going into this new movie with a hope of recapturing a little bit of magic from my childhood.  I was only 11-years-old when the first movie came out and was 14 and 18 when the previous sequels came out.  As a long-time movie enthusiast, I probably would list other films (including others by Spielberg and Lucas) as somewhat higher on both my lists of favorites and bests, but I can think of very few that invoke more fond memories or that had quite as much influence on my love of movies and my cinematic preferences.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out back in 1981, I was already a fan of the Star Wars films (The Empire Strikes Back came out one year earlier) and, not surprisingly, was immediately very receptive to the promotion of a new George Lucas movie starring Harrison Ford.  My older sister (who was 14 at the time) also had a definite movie-star crush on Ford, which also helped to build our family’s interest in the movie.

The first that I ever heard about the film remains my pick for possibly the most amusingly wrong magazine article I’ve ever seen about a movie.  I don’t remember the specific publication (although my sister may still have the clipping somewhere in her files), but it was a movie rumors column in either a teen magazine or a general entertainment magazine of some sort.  The short article ran right around the time that The Empire Strikes Back was released and announced that the 3rd film in the Star Wars series would be coming out only one year later and would center around the character of Han Solo.  The title of this new film would be "Lost Raiders of the Ark".  I’m sure that whoever wrote that is very proud…

Back in 1981, I didn’t really follow the movies very closely and certainly didn’t have access to the kind of ready information on the topic that is out there today.  For the most part, the first real awareness of Raiders came primarily when the ads started hitting.  Back then, George Lucas and, especially, Steven Spielberg were not really household names, so the ads heavily promoted the movie as "From the creator of Star Wars and the director of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind".  As I said, the Star Wars connections were the big draw for me, although I had seen and enjoyed Close Encounters (but only on TV).  I didn’t see Jaws until a few years later.  After seeing Raiders, I quickly became a Spielberg fan, something that really solidified a year later when our family went out to see a sneak preview of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial without knowing much of anything about the film other than that it was from the same director.

My father took my sister, my best friend, and me to see the first evening showing of Raiders on its opening night.  We were living in Flint, Michigan at the time and saw the movie at The Flint Cinema, an old-fashioned single-screen theater.  Built in the late 60s shortly after the end of the movie palace era, it wasn’t anything overly fancy but was mainly known for a large screen and 70mm, 6-track Dolby presentation.  I think Raiders was actually the first film we saw there as the first two Star Wars films had opened at the nearby Eastland Mall Cinemas instead.  The movie pretty much blew us all away.  We knew it was supposed to be a fast-paced adventure movie, but I don’t think any of us really were prepared for the scope of the film or the sheer level of adrenaline it would pump.

My Mom wasn’t originally sure she was that interested in the movie (she hadn’t really liked Star Wars) and decided that she didn’t feel like dealing with the opening night crowds for the movie.  We, of course, all came home and told her that she needed to see the movie as soon as possible and we all went out to see it with her the next weekend.   As a joke, we all conspired ahead of time to repeatedly warn her that the movie started out very slowly, but promising her that it got better as it went along.  As you might expect, the very exciting opening sequence in the idol cave caught her very much off-guard.  She really loved the movie, although the intensity did get to her a bit at times.  She was holding my Dad’s hand during much of the movie and afterwards they laughed that she instinctively pulled her hand to her mouth, thus biting my Dad, during the Well-of-Souls sequence when the snake climbed out of the skeleton’s mouth.

Over the course of that summer, this became the first movie that my sister and I went to see multiple times in the theaters during its initial release (we had seen Star Wars and a few Disney films more than once due to re-releases).  By the end of the film’s run, I saw it a total of 13 times.  My father absolutely fell in love with the movie as well and went along with us to many of those showings.  Prior to that, he had never been much of a movie fan and didn’t typically see anything more than once.

John Williams score to the movie also represented a bit of a milestone for me.  I had started to become interested in movie scores a couple years earlier.  My interest was first sparked by John Barry’s orchestral score to Disney’s The Black Hole, which ended up being the first score soundtrack that I purchased.  My interest expanded dramatically after getting first The Empire Strikes Back and then the original Star Wars soundtracks and I then started a collection of movie score LP’s from movies involving outer space.  Over a year or so, I bought a bunch of albums including Close Encounters, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Superman, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.  After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark and hearing Williams amazing music for the film, I immediately wanted that soundtrack.  It was at that point, that my interest really broadened to film scores in general instead of just to souvenirs of space movies.  This really established my musical tastes for the long term as film scores remain the dominant part of my collection and my music purchases today.

I loved the sequels and have certainly been very impressed and excited by other action/adventure movies over the years as well.  I think Raiders will always hold a very special place in my memory, though, and I don’t really believe any other movie will ever quite match the surprise and excitement that surrounded this one.

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