The story idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark came from George Lucas. He had postponed the film to concentrate on the Star Wars series, and eventually suggested to Steven Spielberg that he direct the movie. Spielberg liked the idea, and the two of them hammered out the details. Neither expected the 1981 film to be the blockbuster that it turned out to be. It won a total of five Oscars and spawned three more Indiana Jones movies. To maintain consistency with the other films, the movie was renamed
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones, but the role was first offered to Tom Selleck. Committed to the television series he was about to launch, Magnum P. I., Selleck declined. Lucas had been hesitant to use Ford, since he had already been in 2 Lucas films. Eventually, Ford was given the part that was to turn him into a true star at the box office.
The role of Marion Ravenwood was first offered to Debra Winger, who turned it down. Karen Allen was then cast as the daughter of Jones’ mentor. John Rhys-Davies turns in a performance as the Egyptian digger, Sallah, Indy’s friend. Denholm Elliott appears as Marcus Brody, the curator of the museum that purchases most of Indiana’s finds. The part of Belloq, a French archaeologist who delights in thwarting Indy’s plans, is played by Paul Freeman.
Total budget for the movie was about twenty million dollars. By comparison, the first Star Wars movie, released in 1977, had an eighteen million dollar budget. Blade Runner, filmed a year later, carried a twenty eight million dollar price tag. Raiders grossed in excess of $380 million at the box office, the most of any film that year. Paramount, who had finally agreed to finance the film after every other studio turned it down, was no doubt pleasantly surprised.
The action takes place in 1936, centering around the exploits of Indiana Jones, the archaeologist. He teaches at a college and travels to remote parts of the globe in search of valuable artifacts. Within the first few minutes, he hacks his way through the jungle and dodges booby traps to retrieve a priceless idol. Belloq, however, has a tribe of natives on his side, and forces Indy to hand over the idol. Jones escapes from the natives and goes back to the classroom. Almost immediately, he is contacted by federal agents, who tell him that the Nazis, led by Belloq, are after the Staff of Ra. Indy’s friend, Abner, is the last known owner of the staff. Indy realizes that the Nazis are searching for the Ark of the Covenant and flies to Nepal in search of Ravenwood. He finds Abner is dead, but the staff’s headpiece is in the possession of Abner’s daughter. Marion, however, bears Indy no love and delays giving him the headpiece. The Nazis raid her bar, and she and Indy escape with the headpiece. They endure many more dangerous encounters before finally losing the Ark to the Frenchman Belloq and his Nazi colleagues. However, Belloq wants to test the Ark before he delivers it to Adolph Hitler, so he opens it. This kills everyone except Jones and Marion, who keep their eyes closed. At the end, the Ark arrives in America and is promptly stored in a warehouse.
The movie won Academy Awards in the categories of Sound Effects Editing, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Sound, and Art Direction. It was nominated as Best Picture but lost. Industrial Light and Magic provided the visual special effects, while Ben Burtt supervised the special sound effects. The score was provided by John Williams and was also nominated, losing to Vangelis for his Chariots of Fire score.
On location filming in Tunisia was challenging for members of both the crew and cast. The heat was oppressive, and many also fell victim to dysentery and other illnesses. The scene with the fancy sword work that ends with Indiana shooting the swordsman was not originally scripted. Ford was too ill to play the scene as it had been written and suggested the alternative. He also injured his knee when, during a fight scene, the wheel of an airplane rolled over his leg.
Since its premier, Raiders of the Lost Ark has been a perennial fan favorite. In 2008, a DVD version which included extras as well as correcting some errors was released. The film is also available in a boxed set.
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