I got to see Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time on the big screen this weekend, and what a truly great experience it was to finally see this film as it was meant to be seen. In watching this film, I have plenty more to talk about (the pacing alone on this film is just incredible, it doesn’t stop for a second). This film also benefits from having not one, but two great movie villains: Toht (the sadistic Nazi agent), and Rene Belloq (Indiana Jones’ archeologist nemesis and dark side. “It would take a nudge to make you just like me”, Belloq tells Indy) Thematically every Indiana Jones movie is pretty much the same…Indy is always looking for fortune and glory, always in the beginning seeing the religious artifact he’s after as a prize more than respecting its spiritual or supernatural signifagence. But in the end, he always gives up the prize for the greater good, as in Raider’s, its his respect for the true nature of the Ark for what it is that allows him to let it go (well that and the fact that the government takes it away from him. But Indy and Marion are the only ones who really understand the power behind the Ark). But to understand the journey Indy takes to become the better man, nowhere I think is this more greatly illustrated than the Truck Chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Truck Chase in my mind is not only one of the greatest action sequences put on film, but what makes this sequence so engaging is that its completely driven by character. This is the hallmark of every great action sequence ever done, where the characters choices and attitudes reflect their overall arc in the film. We know that while Indy is motivated to go after the Ark, its not because of the supernatural implications that everyone warns him about early on (he still doesn’t believe the Ark has any mystical power), he sees the Ark as a prize (like Rene Belloq). His motivation is reflected in the sequence.
Before the beginning of the chase sequence, Indy has just been through a huge debacle trying to stop a plane from taking off he thinks the Ark will be transported in. It’s a huge action moment, where Indy is fighting with the large menacing German mechanic, gun fire, tanker explosions the works. By the time its all over, Indy finds out from Sallah that the Ark is being transported on a truck. Indy: “WHAT TRUCK?!” Now the chase begins.
The sequence starts off with Indy catching up with the truck on horseback. He’s got to take care of several Nazi officers in the process. But once Indy throws out the driver and gains control of the truck, for awhile things start going good for him. A little too good. He’s got his prize, and once he has it, he starts to get cocky. He manages to swerve the truck, throwing off the Nazi’s hanging from the sides. But then a Nazi gets to the cabin and shoots Indy in the arm. Indy gets rid of the guy, but not before another Nazi officer (who climbed on top of the truck where Indy couldn’t see him, sees his injured arm and starts punching him there, and then throws Indy through the windshield. This leads to Indy hanging off the front of the truck, and the Nazi tries to crush Indy between the truck and Belloq’s staff car. But not before Indy can climb under the truck, leading to him getting dragged behind it, and then having him climb over the truck, back into the cabin, where he beats the Nazi and throws him through the window, and the Nazi is run over by the truck.
Indy has gained control of the truck, but his cocky attitude is gone, and he is tired, bruised and beaten. His only goal now is to find safety, which he does by the end of the sequence. By the end of this sequence, something changes in Indy, and he starts to understand that the Ark may be more than just a prize. A struggle begins within Indy, which keeps him from doing the right thing and blowing up the Ark near the end of the film, when Belloq dissuades him from doing it, saying “You want to see it opened as well as I”, and playing to Indy’s ego. Everything changes for Indy after the truck chase.
It was interesting for me to watch this film on the big screen, and I felt like I gained a new perspective on it in the process. Raider’s for me is the one true Indiana Jones movie. One of the issues I have with the other Indy films is that, while I enjoy them, he always ends up having to relearn the same lesson over and over again, where in the beginning Indy is always motivated by money and fortune for the artifact he’s after, seeing it only as a prize, and only at the last minute giving up that prize out of respect for its supernatural significance. You would think that after everything he went through in Radiers, that life lesson would have pretty much stuck with him, and that he would be more of a believer when someone says the artifact may have supernatural powers. Alas. But as it remains, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first and greatest Indy film, driven by personality and character, in the end making it one of the greatest action/adventure films of all time.