A combination of all.
An imitation of none.
On June 12th, 1981, the world was
introduced to a character named Indiana Jones
in the film Raiders of
the Lost Ark. This film was a landmark
in many ways. It was the highest grossing film
of 1981 and it was also the first project that
combined the talents of Steven Spielberg and George
Lucas, the creators of the two highest grossing
films ever, Jaws
and Star Wars
respectively. Even the movie poster for Raiders
of the Lost Ark said, "Indiana Jones
- The new hero from the creators of Jaws
and Star Wars."
Arguably the two most creative minds of the 1970s,
Lucas and Spielberg had come together for the
first time. Both have stated since
Raiders and its two sequels, Indiana
Jones and the Temple of Doom(1984), and
Indiana Jones and the
Last Crusade(1989), that the character
made famous by Harrison Ford was inspired by and
created with the intention to pay homage to the
classic adventure serials of the early cinema.
However, there are many aspects of Raiders
of the Lost Ark that hardly resemble the
cardboard adventure serial. There is much more
to Indiana Jones than the action and the artifact.
Ultimately, Indiana Jones was created
on a beach in Hawaii. Hiding in those pacific
islands from the possibility that Star Wars may
be a failure, George Lucas was relaxing on the
beach with his long-time friend and fellow filmmaker,
Steven Spielberg. In the midst of their conversation,
Spielberg was telling Lucas that Universal had
denied him rights to direct the next James
Bond film. Lucas seized the opportunity
and pitched an idea to Spielberg that he had been
playing with since 1970. Lucas suggested to Spielberg
that they should do a film with the flavor of
an old adventure serial. Both of the men had grown
up on the old adventure shorts such as Flash
Gordon and Commando
Cody, with their stereotypical emotionally
flat heroes and non-stop action element. Both
Lucas and Spielberg wanted to have that kind of
tongue-in-cheek action in Raiders
of the Lost Ark. Lucas stated that he "wanted
to do an adventure serial that had the same impact
and pace as the old serials used to have."
Much of Indiana Jones' physical
character is a reminder of the fearless action
hero and the times in which the serials were filmed.
Like all the heroes of the serials, Indiana Jones
wears a felt fedora, which was a look mainly taken
from such characters as Humphrey Bogart's worn
traveler in Treasure
of the Sierra Madre and Charlton Heston's
adventurer from Secret
of the Incas. Another inspiration from
the classic shorts was the bullwhip at Indy's
belt made famous by Douglas Fairbank's
Zorro serials. The rest of Indy's costume,
though usually overlooked, is also meticulously
crafted to allude to early 20th century adventure.
Indiana carries a Webley Mark VI revolver, best
known as the pistol of choice for T.E. Lawrence,
also known as Lawrence
of Arabia, who was famous for his adventures
in the Sahara of North Africa in the early 1900s.
Indiana actually wears Arab clothing that resembles
the garb of T.E. Lawrence for a good portion of
leather jacket looks similar to that of a biplane
pilot's and his shoulder bag is a British Mk-VII
gas mask pouch used by British soldiers in the
1930s and 1940s. Indiana Jones' whole look was
carefully tailored by Spielberg and Lucas to suggest
classic adventure, yet the combination of these
elements is the disguise which keeps Indy unique
and apart from the Zorros
and Lawrences of Arabia.
The only aspect of Dr. Jones that does not allude
to the adventuresome past is his name, inspired
by Lucas' female Malamute named Indiana. Essentially,
Indiana Jones is a combination of all adventurers
and an imitator of none.
If Indiana Jones stopped at his
clothes, he would be nothing more than a copy
of a serial adventurer. However, his personality
was as carefully developed as his clothes. Unlike
the stereotypical serial hero, who has about as
much emotion and background as the gun in his
hand, Spielberg and Lucas were very involved in
giving Indiana Jones a personality. Both filmmakers
had their own ideas about the direction Indy's
personality should take. They agreed that Indy
should have a very unique life beyond his archaeological
exploits. Lucas originally pitched the idea that
Indy should be a James
Bond type that partied at night in a tuxedo
with blonde bombshells. Ironically, Spielberg,
who had wanted to do a Bond film, disagreed. Raiders
scriptwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and actor Harrison
Ford also disagreed. They opted to push the idea
of Indy having a job as a college professor during
his off time. This duality gives Indiana two very
different personas within Raiders
of the Lost Ark. One minute, he is an intellectual
professor of archaeology. The next minute, he
becomes a two-fisted, tough talking, street smart,
worldly adventurer. Never in Flash
Gordon did the hero retreat into another
personality. He was always a fearless galactic
adventurer. The James Bondesque ideas conjured
up by Lucas were never totally abandoned and are
hinted at throughout the sequel, Indiana
Jones and the Temple of Doom, in Indiana's
relationship with a blonde singer named Willie
Scott. Arguably, had Indiana become a tux-wearing
playboy when he was not cracking the whip, his
character could have become stagnant and two-dimensional
like his serial predecessors.
Another aspect of the serial hero
that Spielberg and Lucas felt would not appeal
to modern day audiences was the hero's lack of
worldly problems and concerns. There are many
hints within Raiders of the Lost Ark of
Indiana Jones' complexity. Admittedly, they are
subtle and sometimes overlooked, but they exist.
For example, when government agents visit Indiana
to tell him about the Nazis and their search for
the lost Ark, they ask him about Professor Ravenwood
who was an expert on the Ark and Indy's former
teacher. Indy states to the agents, "I haven't
spoken to him for ten years. We were friends,
. We had a bit of a falling out I'm afraid."
Here, Spielberg and Lucas attempt to bring a third
dimension to the serial hero and give him a past.
Indiana subsequently travels to
Nepal where he hears that Ravenwood was residing.
When he arrives, he finds only Ravenwood's daughter
Marion. The reason for his falling out with Professor
Ravenwood is revealed by Marion to be a love affair
he had with her. Later in the film, Marion says
to Indiana, "You know, he loved you like
a son. It took a helluva lot for you to alienate
him," to which Indy replies "Not much.
Just you." Again, Indy is set apart from
the serial hero. Unlike James Bond, Indiana's
relationships with women are far from perfect.
By the last installment, Indiana Jones and
the Last Crusade, it is shown that Indiana
has familial problems as well with the introduction
of his father, Henry Jones. After Marion seemingly
dies in a truck explosion in Cairo, Indy is seen
sitting at a small table with a shot glass and
a half-empty bottle of whiskey. This scene hints
at a facet of Indy's character that Spielberg
wanted to explore, but Lucas and Ford underplayed.
Spielberg suggested that Indy should have an alcohol
problem, much like Humphrey Bogart's character
in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The classic
serial hero never had a problem with chemical
abuse or women. Spielberg and Lucas added these
touches so that Indiana would be human. They wanted
the audience to identify with Indy in some ways.
Both the serial hero and Indiana
Jones find themselves in the same general predicaments.
The action sequences in Raiders
are direct references to the adventure short.
Like Tarzan, Indy swings from a vine into the
river at the start of the film. Indy's jump from
a horse to the side of the Nazi truck is reminiscent
of the old western cowboy trying to stop the runaway
stagecoach. When Indy is thrown out of the front
of the moving vehicle and slides under it to climb
back on from the rear, the sequence is an emulation
of a famous stunt in the Zorro
serials in which Zorro slides under a stagecoach
and climbs on from behind. Both the serials and
Raiders have the
impossible odds, the grand chases, and the nick-of-time
escapes. Unlike the serials though, Indiana does
not escape unscathed like Zorro and Flash Gordon.
Spielberg and Lucas wanted Indiana to represent
the "everyman". Indiana Jones gets hurt
more often than not. By the end of each film,
he is bruised and cut, his shirt ripped and untucked,
and the dust and dirt of the adventure covers
his trademark hat and jacket. Flash Gordon never
even had a bad hair day and Zorro never looked
bedraggled. Indiana Jones cannot be visualized
unbedraggled. He is even shot in the arm towards
the end of Raiders and yelps in pain when Marion
attempts to apply some antiseptic to his wounds.
Finally, unlike the undaunted serial hero, Indiana
Jones has a great personal fear. Indiana has a
phobia of snakes which is exploited during Raiders,
showing that the hero is not fearless. This is
very unique from the serial plot.
Ford as Han Solo.
Through these devices, Spielberg
and Lucas show the audience that, unlike the serial
hero, Indiana Jones is human and is not invincible.
This aspect of Indy's character was one of the
deciding factors in casting Harrison Ford for
the role. Spielberg saw Ford in The
Empire Strikes Back as Han Solo, the Star
Wars series' most down to earth character.
People liked Han Solo because they could identify
with him better than the Force wielding Luke Skywalker.
Han was always asking the questions and lacked
the Force, being limited to his own strength and
devices. Spielberg saw Ford as the perfect basis
Another major deviation in Raiders
from the typical serial formula is the relationship
between hero and villain. Spielberg and Lucas
are both famous for their clear-cut definitions
of good and evil. Brody versus the shark and Luke
Skywalker versus Darth Vader epitomize the battle
between good and evil. No questions are asked
and ambiguity is not present. This was the formula
of the serial with the white hatted "good
guy" and the black hatted "bad guy."
Critics have stated that Spielberg and Lucas continue
to use very defined lines of good and evil, with
Indy, the all American good guy versus the Nazis,
the definition of evil. However, when looked at
a little more closely, one can see that there
is more moral gray area in Raiders.
Admittedly, there are the black hatted Nazi spies
who peek over magazines and attempt to burn Marion
with a hot iron, but they are not the main antagonists
of the film. They are merely the small homages
to the cardboard villains of the serials.
Indy talking to Belloq.
Indy's true enemy in Raiders
is Renee Belloq. The relationship between Indiana
Jones and Renee Belloq, the French archaeologist
working for the Nazis, is not comparable to Flash
Gordon and Ming the Merciless. In Raiders,
Belloq and Indiana have a discussion in Cairo
in which Belloq shows Indy just how alike the
two of them are. Both are very loose archaeologists,
more easily defined as grave robbers than intellectual
professors. Through Indy's obsession with finding
artifacts for museums, Lucas hoped to legitimize
Indy's grave robbing tendencies. Of the Ark, the
focus of obsession for the two men, Belloq says,
"Men will kill for it. Men like you and me."
This is an honest statement, for both Indiana
and Belloq kill throughout the film in their attempts
to take possession of the Ark. Belloq kills through
the Nazis under his temporary command and Indy
kills with his Webley. This is a reference to
the serial western where the lone cowboy stands
against a whole slew of Indians or Mexican bandits.
In Raiders, the lines between
cowboy and bandit are not so clearly drawn. The
Lone Ranger never sat down with the evil Mexican
bandit to hash out their similarities. The Lone
Ranger was never looked upon as anything but pure
good. Within the tense conversation, Belloq makes
the observation to Indy, "Our methods do
not differ as much as you pretend. Archaeology
is our religion, yet we have both fallen from
the purer faith." This complex relationship
between the hero and the villain further sets
Raiders apart from the typical serial.
Serials were famous for their dirty
bad guys and their courageous heroes. They were
also famous for their heroines as well. Every
serial had a damsel in distress in one episode
or the other. Usually, the purpose of the damsel
was to get captured by the bad guy and become
a point of tension. The evil madman would tie
her to the railroad tracks or chain her to a log
cutter and then force the hero to fight his way
to save her before the train came or the spinning
blade cut her in half. Raiders
has many such scenes. Marion, the film heroine,
is almost scalded by a hot iron from the black
hatted Nazi spy, Toht, when Indy saves her in
Nepal. Indy rescues her from a flying wing as
a trail of burning gasoline threatens to end her
life with the life of the plane. Indy catches
her in the Well of Souls when she falls from a
high statue, and then proceeds to keep the snakes
away from her. From this information, it would
seem that Marion is a direct copy of the damsel
in distress. However, there is much more to Marion's
Damsel in distress.
In their wish to appeal to a mass
audience of the feminist 1980s, Spielberg and
Lucas knew that they could not make the heroine
the typical whiny, screaming damsel of the serial
screen. Instead, they gave Marion a very independent
nature. When Marion first appears in the film,
she is drinking men under the table, and when
Toht threatens her, she says, "Listen, airmac.
I don't know what kind of people you're used to
dealing with, but nobody tells me what to do in
my place." At one point, she even blows cigarette
smoke in his face. In the bar fight that ensues,
Marion hits a thug over the head with a log and
shoots another with a Mauser pistol. How did she
get caught in the flying wing? She had just hit
the pilot in the head with a set of aircraft tire
stops when the cockpit fell shut around her. Marion
breaks the damsel mode in many ways. In the classic
serial, the girl is always saved in the end. Spielberg
and Lucas added a scene to the film where Marion
seemingly blows up with a Nazi truck, successfully
deviating from the formula. Later on, Marion awakes
in the Nazi camp and Indy finds her, but refuses
to rescue her. Flash Gordon would never leave
Dale Arden in captivity under any circumstances.
Unlike the normal heroine, Marion begins her own
escape. She drinks Belloq into a stupor and then
pulls a knife on him, only to be stopped by Toht
once again. Notice in the escape from the flying
wing towards the end of the film, Marion and Indy
flee the imminent explosion in step with each
other. They are running side by side. The serial
hero is not dragging the weak damsel out of danger.
Marion and Indiana are portrayed as equals.
The last aspect of Raiders
that deviates from the serial formula is the most
consistent part of the classic adventure short.
In the ending of the classic serial, the good
guy always saves the girl and gets the prize.
In the ending of Raiders, Indiana saves
the girl and gets the Ark. However, the final
scene in the film is a heated conversation between
Indiana and the government agents who have taken
the Ark from him. Indy asks very angrily "Where
is the Ark?" to which the agent replies,
"The Ark is somewhere very safe." This
becomes the standard Indiana Jones ending throughout
the series. He never actually gets the prize.
The Ark is stored away in a secret government
warehouse in the famous final shot from Raiders.
The golden idol is lost to Belloq. The Sankara
stones in The Temple of Doom are lost in
an alligator infested river, the diamond in Shanghai
in the beginning of the film is retaken by Lao
Che, and the Holy Grail falls into a chasm in
the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Unlike the serial heroes, Indiana Jones rarely
has anything to show for his efforts.
Clearly, Raiders of the Lost
Ark is not a mere retelling of the adventure
serial. Indiana Jones is a protagonist with real
relationships and earthly problems. He is not
a two-dimensional Lone Ranger or Zorro. Indiana
Jones feels pain and has the potential to fail
his quests. There are many subtle facets to his
persona, from his past relationships to his partial
alcoholism. His villains are not always the blackest
of men and he himself is not the purest of angels.
The heroine of Raiders is not a screaming,
whining, helpless damsel. Marion is self-reliant
and independent. When Spielberg and Lucas created
Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones,
they deviated from the serial formula for many
reasons. Evidently, modern society would not accept
the lack of character development and sexism that
was prevalent in the classic serials. Lucas and
Spielberg wanted to appeal to a mass audience.
At the same time, they were also determined to
make Indiana Jones unique.
Yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark
is an homage to the classic adventure serials
because it captures the spirit of the action and
excitement. Yet, at the same time, Raiders
is uniquely different. With its very real and
three dimensional main character, Indiana Jones,
Raiders of the Lost Ark not only paid homage
to, but redefined the adventure genre. As the
theatrical poster for Indiana Jones and the
Temple of Doom states, "If adventure
has a name, it must be Indiana Jones."