Nitpicking Raiders of the Lost Ark
After first seeing it all those years ago, Raiders of the Lost Ark continues to be one of my favorite movies. I had the toys, the comic book, the story book, some of the trading cards and was even able to coerce the local theater owners in my town at the time to give me the movie poster when they were done with it.
Fortunately I was either a cute enough kid or just plain annoying enough to wear them down that they did give it to me. I still have that poster today.
Through the years I obviously watched the movie over and over on cable, watched it on VHS, then DVD and once or twice went back to a movie theater that was nostalgically screening it.
When I went to the Smithsonian in DC the only thing I wanted to see was Indiana Jones’ hat. I’m sure they have a bunch of nice historical stuff there, but Indy’s hat……that should have its own private wing!
I really hated how they’ve tried to market Raiders by calling it ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’. This was meant to keep it consistent with the rest of the titles in the series. So when they started selling the DVD box set they changed its title on the package. I was really annoyed by this. The word ‘Raiders’ is supposed to be in that big cool orange and yellow font!
I remember first watching that DVD with this ‘new’ title and holding my breath to see if they actually went so far as to change the onscreen title within the movie itself. Luckily they didn’t, but I still refuse to call it ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’. That’s not the name of the movie I first saw all those years ago. The original title worked fine for eighteen years, I’m not going along with Lucas just because he thinks changing its name now is a fruitful marketing gimmick and will help make all the movies more uniform.
It’s not as bad as what he’s done with Star Wars, but that Raiders title change has ever since been a minor grievance I’ve had with the guy.
It might seem like an insignificant nitpick to some, but I can’t help it. I’ll get to more major nitpicking in a minute.
Just recently I went back to see Raiders again at a free movie screening this summer and it’s been the best movie I’ve seen all summer – if I can count it. It’s always cool to see it with an excited audience hooting and cheering at Indy’s first appearance in the movie. Indy pulls out his whip, yanks the gun out of the traitors hand and emerges out of the shadows where we get that big closeup of Harrison Fords face. It’s got to be one of the best entrances of a movie character ever.
The one thing that really changed this last time I watched Raiders in a movie theater are the cell phones. You just can’t get away from them today! What kind of important texting conversation are these people having that they have to continue to do it while sitting in a darkened movie theater???
I let that pass this time around since it was a free screening, but if I was paying these big buck ticket prices for a 3D or IMAX experience and had to deal with these illuminations glowing from people’s laps I’d be pissed. No wonder movie attendance is dropping off – people don’t know how to behave in a movie theater anymore and are just oblivious to the people around them. Who wants to deal with this nonsense???
Enough of that. This isn’t a rant about movie-going etiquette. This is to go over a few points of Raiders that have always made me scratch my head when I stop and think about them. I’m sure other Raiders fans have talked about them through the years as well.
It seems nowadays movie audiences can be much more picky and critical of movies. Sci-fi and superhero fans are notorious for this attitude. They can question every little detail of a movie and if everything doesn’t add up perfectly or work logically in a satisfactory way they’ll gladly point out that flaw and mark a point in the negative column for the movie. The defense of ‘it’s only a movie’ holds absolutely no water here.
This is not to say there isn’t some validity to these ‘nitpicks’, (and I certainly can be a culprit of this, just hear me ramble about James Bond movies), but is the defense of ‘it’s only a movie’ a valid enough argument anymore? Does that provide a pass for some of the more implausible elements in a movie?
Raiders came out years before the age of internet reviewers, bloggers and fans could come together on their computer screens to talk about it when it was a brand new film. So the movie never really had to go through the scrutiny, examinations and endless discussions by fans that current releases are subjected to.
So I thought just for fun I’d take a look at Raiders with more of a 21st century fanboy-blogger mentality. Approach the movie as if it had just been released. I’m going to try to toss away any sentimental attachment I have to it. I’m going to ignore whatever answers deleted scenes would have provided and were ultimately cut from the final film for whatever reasons. There’s no allowances for simple suspension of disbelief either. The idea that ‘it’s just a movie, don’t think about it too hard, just enjoy it’ is wiped away.
Let’s pick Raiders of the Lost Ark apart shall we…..
“Stay out of the light”
This must be the most complex primitively designed booby trap of all time. Indy notices this blue light emanating from the wall of the tomb. He avoids it, quickly sticks his hand into the beam and suddenly out shoots spears that ended the days of his old competitor Forrestal.
So how did this South American ancient civilization manage to manipulate light in such a lethal way? It is quite a feat that way back then they were able to devise the interruption of this blue beam of light to trigger such a deadly device.
Did they have some kind of ancient thermal solar cells in their society? I would think the most advanced thing these folks could do is maybe make a fire and use their hands to make shadow animals on the cave walls. This blue light trick puts our modern day solar panels to shame.
Marion has been using the headpiece all this time….as a necklace?
Ok the headpiece for the staff of Ra was discovered by Marion’s father Abner. He’s long since died and it now holds sentimental value to his daughter. So she wears it around her neck.
Doesn’t this thing seem awfully big to be used as jewelry? It looks uncomfortable and awfully cumbersome to be banging against your chest all day. It’s 1936, I don’t think the idea of ‘bling’ was around yet. Marion couldn’t have chosen a smaller, archeological piece Abner found to keep with her and wear everyday? It’s almost like having your Dad’s bowling trophy hanging around your neck.
The Nazis were able to replicate the medallion from the burnt impression from Toht’s hand? Really?
Toht grabs the red hot medallion and inevitably it burns its impression right into his hand. Ok. So the Nazis are able to duplicate the markings based on this mirrored scar and can read the instructions of how the medallion works – at least the one side of the medallion anyway. Now they know what to do and how to use the replica medallion they make to help them find the ark.
However, how can the Nazis duplicate the crystal center the medallion has? When describing the replica headpiece Belloq had used Sallah says, “in the center the Frenchman had embedded a crystal.”
I would imagine the real headpiece must contain a very unique, special crystal that was made to specifically refract the sun and create the laser beam of light to come down onto the map room floor. You couldn’t just use a stained piece of glass or some boring old diamond or just any random crystal for it to work could you? Toht’s burned hand wouldn’t be able to duplicate the make up of it. Not that it worked anyway, but how did Belloq and the Nazis tackle that little hiccup?
Did Indy follow the instructions correctly?
From the burn mark on Toht’s hand Belloq determined the height of the staff to use in the map room of Tanis. The translation is “six kadam high”. About 72 inches or six feet. Yet, the back of the medallion, which Belloq does not have, says to “take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God, whose Ark this is”. Therefore Belloq’s staff was too high. “They’re digging in the wrong place.”
Indy now knows the correct height of the staff to use. It’s clear it has to be less than six feet high. He has to take off that ‘one kadam’. Yet, when Indy is holding his staff in the map room it towers over him. It looks like he added an extra foot to it! I don’t think he’s four feet tall and unless he’s standing in a hole I think he might have goofed up the math here.
Also Indy attaches the medallion to the staff with some kind of fitting. How does he know how much space to allow for the attachment of the headpiece to the staff. It now has this fitting on it so it will slide onto the pole. It didn’t have that before, so Indy added it. Were there instructions as to how to make that fitting engraved on the medallion?
Same with the bottom of the staff. It fits snugly into the groove on the map room floor. How did Indy know the circumference to make that end or how much of it is meant to sit into the groove on the floor without throwing off the required height of the staff? There’s a lot of room for error with this whole thing. It’s almost as complicated as lining up ceiling molding to fit perfectly in place.
Luckily for Indy it all works out though.
“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”
The Well of Souls has been been sealed and buried for…..let’s just say a really, really long time. It lays in the middle of the desert. Indy, Sallah and his team find it and open it up. The moment the slab of rock is lifted there’s a great bellow of air that comes out of it, as if the chamber is taking its first breath in centuries. And there happens to be snakes living inside it???
How have these snakes been surviving in there for this long? What do they eat? Is there another room filled with bunnies? Are they cannibal snakes? It doesn’t seem too likely that anything would be able to live in this closed off room in the middle of the desert for such a long amount of time, even snakes. Finding mummy snakes in there, fine. Live snakes, come on!
What’s with the poles Indy and Sallah use to lift the ark?
Iman translates the headpiece and he says it contains is a warning ‘not to disturb the ark of the covenant’. He never says you’re not allowed to touch it or need to use poles to carry the thing around.
And even if he did, what would Indy care? He doesn’t “believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus pocus”. Why does he want to play along now, especially since he’s pressed for time with Belloq and the nazis nearby who could discover what he’s up to at any moment.
Granted maybe it was easier to lift the ark out of that crypt with the two poles and it does provide a nice cinematic shot of the ark coming into view (way to go Stevie), but after that’s done Indy and Sallah can just carry it around however they like.
“I knew the Germans would hire you Sallah. You’re the best digger in Egypt.”
Apparently Sallah’s famed reputation of being the best digger in Egypt trumps the fact he betrayed the nazis by helping Indy find the ark before them and therefore his betrayal doesn’t carry any repercussions for him.
Sallah is captured while Indy is left in the Well of Souls to rot. Is any action taken against Sallah? Nope. I suppose after the nazis got the ark Sallah was no longer important and they felt they could look past his little indiscretion and let him go. What does he do when he’s free? He immediately helps Indy again! Nazis are stupid.
(Remember, I’m ignoring the deleted scene of Sallah’s botched execution. I’m just basing all this on what’s in the final cut of the film and nothing on the cutting room floor, the original script or simple suspension of disbelief is allowed.)
“Who knows. Perhaps the ark is still waiting in some antechamber for us to discover. Perhaps there is some vital bit of evidence that eludes us.”
Indy and Marion escape from the Well of Souls by breaking through the wall, going through a chamber of mummies, pushing a big boulder out of the way and emerging from this little brick structure – along with seeing an unconscious bad guy off to the side of it that Indy knocks out which was cut from the final film. Indy and Marion are free!
Ok, the nazis are tearing up this desert looking for the Well of Souls. They used a goofed up version of the headpiece and are digging up in that mistaken area, but they’re also digging all over the place! They have thousands of diggers hauling sand and rock trying to uncover the resting place of the ark.
Why wouldn’t anyone suggest taking a closer look at this suspicious rock structure and seeing what’s inside it? Had they done that they would have spotted the mummies inside. Perhaps that might have peaked their curiosity enough that they would have chipped through the wall and bam they’re in the Well of Souls where the Ark is!
It seems like a huge oversight that this little suspicious stone structure is completely ignored….by everyone! It’s hard to miss. It’s right by the nazi airfield even! Did they just think it was an ancient outhouse? Just a natural stone formation?
Forget using the Staff of Ra to find the ark in this endless desert, why not send a digging crew to start looking for it around this little rock structure that appears to serve no purpose and could possibly lead to somewhere! It’s like the backdoor to the Well of Souls! DUH!
“They’re going to fly it out of here.”
The nazis want to get this ancient artifact back to Berlin and into Hitler’s hands as soon as they can. What better way to do that than just putting it on a plane and flying it back to him? Fair enough.
But is there enough room in this nazi flying wing to transport the ark? I’m no aviation expert by any means, but it doesn’t look like there’s much cargo space to store that big crate they have ark in now. There’s barely enough room for the pilot!
Plus, you obviously want to protect the thing, it’s an important artifact and someone might want to get their own hands on it. Well where are you going to put the guys to guard it? I know Belloq and the nazis are pressed for time and Adolf is getting impatient, but wouldn’t it have been wiser to wait and just use a bigger cargo plane that would have been more suitable to transport the ark?
One of the most famous stunts in the entire series! So, how does this work again?
After dispatching a nazi convoy and a truckload of soldiers, Indy is dealing with the last nazi able to fight. After a tussle in the front seats, Indy gets tossed out the windshield. Indy is holding onto the grill of the truck and it doesn’t look like there’s any way out before he gets crushed into the back of Belloq’s car. There’s nothing else to do but make his way under the truck.
As he’s moves under the truck – a motorized update to the classic stagecoach stunt – with two quick cuts accompanied by a metallic clank Indy attaches his whip to the bottom of the truck, holds onto one end of it and gets dragged behind until he manages to pull himself back onto the back of the truck, surprises the nazi, permanently throws him out and drives away with the ark in the back.
How did Indy attach his whip to the bottom of that truck with such ease? And what’s with that metallic sound? Did anyone else hear that? Does his whip have a powerful magnet at the end of it that was able to secure itself to the underside of the truck?
Slowing things down it appears Indy jams the end of his whip between two metal parts of the truck. Are we expected to believe that’s good enough to hold him? The force of the initial yank would seem like it would be enough to pull the end of the whip out of that groove it’s resting in and would leave Indy rolling around in the dirt.
Fortunately, Indy chooses just the right spot to secure his whip, it holds him and he’s able to get back into the drivers seat.
Hitching a ride on a submarine of all things!
The nazis have the ark. They have Marion. And now they’re making their way to a remote island in one of their trusty u-boat’s. Is all hope lost? Nope Indy swims over to it, runs to the top of it, the crew of the Bantu Wind cheer and Indy kind of just stands there thinking the same thing I was – “what does he do now?”
Based on the map Spielberg provides we can see the u-boat makes a lenghty-sized journey. I’ve heard it’s been estimated around 500 miles. That’s an awfully long time for Indy to be hanging out on the top of this sub. Plus, those old u-boats weren’t the fastest things ever.
I suppose it’s possible Indy could just sit on the deck unnoticed until the nazis reached that island at which point he would jump off before they docked. In fact, in the comic book adaptation Indy ties himself to the top of the sub with his whip and is able to go for the ride while the uboat never fully submerges on its journey. However, in the movie we hear the captain of the u-boat give the German orders for it to dive. Now that complicates matters for Indy up on top!
Indy is tough, but he couldn’t hold his breath that long! Could he have conceivably opened a hatch, inconspicuously snuck inside and stay hidden from a boatload of nazis for the entire journey? I would think those hatches aren’t the easiest things to open from the outside. They’re designed to stay shut aren’t they? Indy doesn’t have any tools of any kind or scuba gear. On top of which he even loses his hat!
How did Indy know he and Marion would survive if they didn’t look at the opening of the ark?
It really would have helped had Spielberg and Lucas established some sort of rules for the ark of the covenant early on in the movie so later when it shows up we’re not thrown for a loop and have a better idea of how it works and what to expect. Or were these two as Indy famously says making it up as they went along?
The scene with Indy and the government agents introduces us to the ark and its powers. However, they never clue us in on two basic rules that we abruptly learn in the middle of the movie – that you can not physically touch the ark and humans are not allowed to see what’s inside it. Those tidbits of information would have been nice to have set up for us early on guys.
As the ark is opened Belloq and the nazis get skewered by lightning, their faces melt and heads explode. Indy and Marion are right there tied up forced to be at this historic moment, but they’re spared by the ark’s powers because they close their eyes.
It seems awfully convenient and a confusing final escape on Indy’s big adventure. It would have kept more in tone with the rest of the movie had Indy been able to untie himself, free Marion and they both run for cover as the ark has it’s bonfire with its nazi hosts.
How did Indy and Marion get off that island with the Ark?
Ok, mission accomplished. Indy and Marion are free, Belloq and the nazis are dead and here the ark now sits all for Indy’s taking. So how does he get off this island with it?
We’ll skip over that now Indy has to get some heavy duty poles to slide into the sides of the ark (I guess he can use the ones the nazis were using) and have Marion help him escort that thing out of the middle of this hot rocky island. It took some brute strength by Indy and Sallah just to lift it out of its crypt and carry it a few feet to put it in a crate, so Marion better have some serious upper body strength for this excursion!
Then Indy can’t simply be carrying the ark around like that. People might get curious about it or think these two are selling ice cream out of it or something. So Indy has to find another way to conceal it.
A simple blanket like the nazis used to throw over it could work, but you’d still have to carry it with those annoying poles. So the best bet would be to crate it up again. Hopefully Indy can find one laying around somewhere.
We haven’t even gotten to the problem of Indy and Marion getting off the island! It’s unlikely they could steal a German u-boat and get back to the states that way. There might be some smaller boats floating around they could hijack and bring the now boxed-up ark with them. This whole thing seems like an adventure unto itself!
Unfortunately, Spielberg doesn’t provide us with one of those retro maps to follow their steps and he simply cuts to Indy back in the states all cleaned up. That was one way around this problem.
Ok, let me get out of this geeky fanboy mode. That’s quite a few criticisms and complaints lobbed at Raiders. Some are legitimate questions and could be categorized as plot holes.
No matter how fussy or justifiable those observations may be – Raiders is still one of my favorite movies of all time? How can it work like that? Hmmm…..I don’t know. I guess those lingering questions and nonsensical portions of the movie just aren’t enough to weigh it down for me. I don’t really think twice about them and I’m not left needing answers to any of them.
Even with the knowledge of deleted scenes that provide some answers to this stuff, whether they were left in the movie or not I don’t think it would affect my feelings either way. They would have answered a few things, but as I said those mysterious leaps of coherence never really bothered me.
Plus, the fast pace of the movie doesn’t allow for much time to brood over the head-scratchers that pop up. I guess the spirit of Raiders just sweeps me up and before I know it I’m lost in Indy’s world where real world rules don’t necessarily apply,
I’m ok with that and I allow that vital suspension of disbelief to carry me through the story up to that final shot of the huge warehouse. Raiders never gets old for me.
This nit-picky thing was kind of fun. Maybe next time I’ll talk about Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, and examine the physical effects of a nuclear blast, the aerodynamics of refrigerators and why monkeys in the Amazon like to hang out with 1950’s greasers and act aggressively towards evil Soviets.
Perhaps then I can figure out why I can’t be more forgiving towards the more outlandish parts of that movie and how it gradually pushes my acceptance of the reality I’ve established in my mind for Indy’s world right over a cliff….in a truck….that gets caught in a tree limb.
Am I unfairly holding Crystal Skull to a stricter level of realism than I should be? Should I grant the same amount of leeway with Crystal Skull I give to Raiders with its more fantastical elements? Would I enjoy that film more then? Or does that necessarily have anything to do with why I really didn’t like Indy’s 1950’s adventure?
It might be something worth looking into.