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Film Talk: Looking Back – 'Why did it have to be snakes?' with Raiders of the Lost Ark

It was the flick that began the adventure and introduced the world to a character who would become one of cinema’s greatest ever icons.

Harrison Ford as the one and only Dr. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford as the one and only Dr. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Ladies and gentlemen, doth your caps (assuming you can grab them in time from under that closing trap door) to the man who single-handedly spawned the concept of the ‘swashbuckling archaeologist’, and brought back the bullwhip...

The first instalment in a truly fabled franchise, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark stars Harrison Ford as archaeologist Indiana Jones, a maverick academic who battles a group of Nazis searching for the Ark of the Covenant and the supernatural powers it supposedly contains.

Directed by Hollywood heavyweight Steven Spielberg and written by Lawrence Kasdan from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, the film originated from Lucas’s desire to create a modern version of the serial films of the 1930s and 1940s.

If only he knew then the place it would come to hold on the altar of cinema...

Jam-packed with talent, Raiders of the Lost Ark co-stars Karen Allen as its protagonist’s former lover, Marion Ravenwood; Paul Freeman as Indy’s rival, French archaeologist René Belloq; John Rhys-Davies as our leading man’s sidekick, Sallah; Ronald Lacey as Gestapo agent Arnold Toht; and Denholm Elliott as Indy’s colleague, Marcus Brody.

Production of this inescapable modern classic was based at Elstree Studios in England, however filming also took place in France, Tunisia, Hawaii, and California...

In 1936, agents of the Third Reich are on a quest for the legendary Ark of the Covenant – resting place of the Ten Commandments – the powers of which, legends tell, can wipe out entire armies.

Bent on stopping the Nazis in their quest, the U.S. Government turns to Dr. Indiana Jones to find the Ark first and prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

Relentlessly pursued by Nazi henchmen, Indy follows a trail of daring across the world to the Ark’s fabled resting place, where he will need to confront one of his greatest fears to ensure the fate of all humanity remains safe.

Earning $354 million worldwide during its initial release, Raiders of the Lost Ark became the highest-grossing film of 1981, and – adjusted for inflation – remains one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

It was nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, and won for Best Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound, and Visual Effects with a fifth Academy Award being a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing.

In a career defining turn, Harrison Ford achieved what had been thought nearly impossible, in bringing the world another character with as much swagger as his legendary Han Solo.

With fantastic supporting work (particularly from John Rhys-Davies) to complement the superb effort of its leading star, Raiders of the Lost Ark shone – as indeed it still shines – as a buoyantly adventurous joy from the very start to the very finish.

It is often, and quite rightly, considered one of the greatest films ever made, and proves that the best flicks do not always have to be deeply intellectual – just brilliantly entertaining.

Raiders of the Lost Ark spawned a franchise that has had it highs and its lows, with none of the subsequent films quite hitting the standard set by the original. Though with a fifth film on the way this summer featuring the stellar supporting talent of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it could be that Indiana Jones will soon finally be returned to the glorious heights that marked his debut. Bring on the Dial of Destiny.

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