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Still shot from the movie: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Nazi forces are searching for the ancient Hebrew Ark of the Covenant, believing it will ensure their army's supremacy. Under the commission of the US government, Professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) trades chalkboard and classroom for fedora and bullwhip in a race to try and find the artifact first. Get the movie review and more. »

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Overall: C+ 2.5
Violence: C-
Sexual Content: B
Language: C+
Drugs/Alcohol: C-
Run Time: 115
Theater Release: 11 Jun 1981
Video Release: 21 Oct 2003
MPAA Rating: PG
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I can still distinctly recall the night I went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at a theater in downtown Vancouver, Canada. Meeting up with a group of friends, who had brought other friends, I was shuffled to a seat beside a good-looking young stranger, whose name and face completely escape me now. All I know for sure is, he was really afraid of snakes -- a phobia that became increasingly more obvious as the movie progressed. Looking back with nostalgic good humor on that long past evening, I decided to share with my family what has since become a classic in the action/adventure genre.

I must have been crazy. Even taking my old age into account, how could I have possibly forgotten how much violence this film contained?

In all honesty, I did remember the plot was pretty intense, so I choose to sit beside my nine-year-old in case she became frightened. She managed to stay composed through the dark and scary jungle scenes (underscored by sinister music), bats, tarantulas, dialogue referring to dangerous tribal people who use poisonous darts, a mutinous plot foiled when a gunman is disarmed by a whip, and even the suspense of entering a cobwebby cave no one has been known to return from. But after the impaled, part skeletal - part rotting-flesh (with dangling eyeballs) bodily remains of an unwitting, previous visitor jumped out of the screen at her, she started to express serious reservations about our entertainment choice. Too bad we were only ten minutes into story.

To keep the peace with her older siblings, my daughter endured to the point where a tough-talking, though vulnerable woman (played by Karen Allen), is threatened by a Nazi Gestapo agent intent on acquiring an ancient artifact she has in her possession. Interrupted from his evil designs by Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, of course), a bar brawl breaks out between the heroes, the diabolical Germans, and some expendable locals. About then I heard a whisper, "Mommy, I don't think I want to see any more people killed tonight."

Who can argue with the innocent, yet profound observations of a child? While she wandered off to amuse herself with more benign pastimes, I watched the rest of the movie with a greater parental sensitivity.

No one can dispute the icon status this George Lucas/Steven Spielberg production has achieved. Spawning two sequels, mimicked by many following filmmakers, and turning its leading man into a household name, Raiders of the Lost Ark features an exhilarating mix of edge-of-your-seat adventure, funny moments, Biblical themes, and science fiction fantasy.

However, it also includes profanities, main characters smoking and getting drunk, a supporting actress in skimpy attire (and primitive natives wearing even less), an implied sexual relationship, as well as lots of violent action. Besides the aforementioned snakes and things that go bump in the jungle, the high body count accumulates thanks to death by guns, arrows, swords, motor vehicles, airplane propellers, and supernatural powers. Blood spattering, decaying corpses, and melting faces accompany some of these depictions.

Given a PG rating by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), in the days before the Association introduced the PG-13 category, parents suffering memory lapses like myself may get a bit more bang for their DVD buck than they bargained for. Even my older children claimed to be traumatized, although I suspect part of their motivation was my offer of the master bedroom floor to anyone afraid of nightmares. (Any excuse for a family sleep-out will do!)

So why did I enjoy this movie so much twenty years ago? It couldn't have been the characters' redeeming qualities, because these rogues steal from tombs for profit. Nor was it the good versus evil theme, because the opposing sides in this flick are really just different shades of gray. So it must have been the spectacular stunts strung together to form the plot, which moves from one cliffhanger to the next as triumphantly as the theme music. By the time the closing credits roll, this captivating raider has robbed all reason, and you're apt only to remember the fun, frolicking, theme-park-ride feeling the film creates.

If you find yourself tempted to peek at the contents of this lost ark (as did many of the characters in the story) just for its entertainment value.... don't say we didn't warn you and your family.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is rated PG:

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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