Raiders of the Lost Ark Turns 40

It’s hard to believe 40 years has gone by for this priceless treasure of a movie. Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was great then, as it is now. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark was conceived by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas while the two were on vacation at the time Star Wars was released in theaters in May 1977. The two filmmakers wanted to collaborate on a project. Spielberg wanted to do a James Bond film, but that did not pan out. Instead, he and Lucas decided to create their own hero and over time, Phil Kaufman helped flesh out Lucas’ story, and later Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark debuted June 12, 1981, it made us realize that Hollywood did not make movies like this anymore. Directed by Steven Spielberg and executive produced by George Lucas, the film was a tribute to the old black and white adventure serials (often done by Republic Pictures) that appeared in cinemas back in the early days of film.  

It was an adventure movie set in the 1930s with a touch of the religious and otherworldly—namely the mystical artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, which was sought after throughout the world by the archeologist Indiana “Indy” Jones (Harrison Ford, who was never more dashing) and Nazis led by Indy’s dastardly rival archeologist Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman). The film boasted a handsome and rugged hero, a beautiful, but tough, female lead (Karen Allen), smarts, spunk and pulse-pounding action. It’s why many moviegoers still consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be the all-time greatest action movie.

What helped Raiders stand out from other action films were Spielberg’s directing which injected so much passion and energy into each scene and the hint of the supernatural when the Ark was finally opened. Basically the film was a Republic serial on a steroid budget as it boasted topnotch production values and effects, which consisted of blue screens and miniatures. One chilling effect that was unique at that time was that of one of the villain’s face melting off when the Ark was opened. The effects crew constructed a mold using a stone skull and gelatin that was melted between two propane heaters. It took about ten minutes for the face to melt, which of course, was sped up in the film to a gruesome effect.

Another star of the film was the film’s composer, John Williams. Already famous for his memorable scores for Jaws, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Williams was picked for Raiders thanks to his association with both filmmakers. Originally, Williams had two distinct themes for the film, and Spielberg suggested he combine the two and viola, that is how we got the famous Raiders March that evokes a feeling of grand adventure and thrills.

The film was wildly beloved when it burst into the scene that summer. Later in 1982, it won five Oscars and was even nominated for best director and best movie of the year, though as usual the Academy Awards voters chose to bestow those honors to less deserving winners (Warren Beatty for his overstuffed Reds, and Chariots of Fire, a real yawn fest of a film that is largely forgotten). As noted before, Raiders of the Lost Ark was based on cheaply made serials, yet it was made on a budget of less than $20 million. However, the film grossed almost $400 million (very high for its time), which proved that audiences still liked good old-fashioned adventures.

American actor Harrison Ford on the set of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Raiders of the Lost Ark and the followup Indiana Jones films dispelled any doubt that Harrison Ford could only be a box office draw for the Star Wars movies. Ford stood out so clearly with his iconic wardrobe, bullwhip and tough-as-nails demeanor, except when it came to snakes! After his role in Indy, Ford went on to become one of the top earning action stars of the ’80s.

At the same time, Raiders helped disprove that George Lucas was a one-trick pony, since he is best known for his Star Wars films, while it cemented Steven Spielberg’s deserved status as one of our greatest film directors.

The sequels were well received for the most part with exceptions. The first sequel, or rather prequel (since it takes place before Raiders), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was criticized for being too violent and helped inspire the PG-13 movie rating. The third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was considered by some as the best of the Indy films, though most still think that forty years later, the first one is the best. Unfortunately, the last one, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which came out in 2008, is considered to be the weakest film, thanks to the obvious use of CG, clumsy antics and Shia LeBeouf, who played Indy’s son, but it still has some terrific moments.

Thankfully, that film will not be the last we have seen of Professor Jones as a new adventure is being filmed for release next year. But given Harrison Ford’s advanced age (he is 78), it is hard to see how the film will convince us he is still a man of action. It’s too bad, there were not more Indiana Jones movies made when Ford was in his prime, otherwise we would not have this dilemma. But keep in mind that the actor wanted to branch out and do other films, plus Spielberg and Lucas were also busy with other projects, which meant that all three getting together to do more Indy films was a logistical nightmare and it still is, as seen by the fact that Steven Spielberg is not directing the fifth film; James Mangold has taken over for the directing duties.

With three sequels released and a fourth sequel currently filming we should take a moment to consider the appeal and influence of Indiana Jones.

The concept of Indy being an outdoor adventurer looking for things of importance no doubt influenced Tomb RaiderUncharted, the Temple Run video game franchise, the Jumanji films, Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, and even Dora the Explorer. Lesser known properties inspired by Indy’s film adventures include the cult classic The Rocketeer, the fairly recent Journey to the Center of the Earth movies with Brendan Fraser and The Rock, and TV shows like Tales of the Golden Monkey. There was even an Indy- themed episode of Magnum P.I. starring Spielberg and Lucas’ first choice to play Indiana Jones—Tom Selleck. The actor almost got the part, but had to bow out due to contractual obligations with his TV show.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is so influential that any imagery in media showing a person or people exploring the jungle, with table cards flashing a bold logo is no doubt influenced by Indiana Jones. It even re-popularized the fedora hat that Indy often wore along with his leather jacket. These are just some of the reasons why we celebrate Raiders of the Lost Ark forty years after its release. Simply put, it still holds up as an exciting, innovative and lavish adventure yarn that is timeless.  To paraphrase Belloc, who mentioned in the film that if he buried a cheap watch in a thousand years it would become priceless, well in a thousand years we sense that this movie will still be priceless!

Walter L. Stevenson

Disneyland Resort’s Avengers Campus Is Now Open For Recruits!

After over a year, the Disneyland Resort in California was allowed to re-open in April once the coronavirus cases dropped in the state. To help celebrate the re-opening, Disney California Adventure (DCA) opened its long-awaited Avengers Campus land on June 4 to the public.

Originally set to open last summer, Avengers Campus is a richly themed land based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but not exactly. Avengers Campus is not set in the complex continuity of the MCU, instead it is a parallel reality called the Marvel Theme Park Universe where the Blip or Thanos’ Snap did not happen. No problem, the place still looks like its part of the MCU!

The land right now consists of three attractions, the Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout, which opened in 2017 and is a redress of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride, Ancient Sanctum, an outdoor magic/performance show with Doctor Strange, and the new land’s main attraction, Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure.

The Spider-Man ride is your basic 3D augmented reality (AR) shooting arcade where you board a vehicle and help Spider-Man corral self-replicating spider robots. You actually mimic the way Spidey uses his hands to shoot webs and can shoot webs without web shooters. Just aim your hands and fling your arms out then animated web line shoots out from you to the robots. It sounds like fun, but let’s face it, Web Slingers cannot compare to the classic ride in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. That ride is over 20 years old and is still a beloved, exciting attraction that continues to hold up today. Sure, it’s hard to compete with the Universal ride, but it seems as if Disney did not even bother to match that ride and instead went for a ride similar to Toy Story Midway Mania, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle! instead of trying to create something unique.

In reality, Web Slingers is not supposed to be the headline attraction in Avengers Campus. The Avengers Quinjet Experience will open during the Phase 2 expansion of the land sometime in the future. That ride is the definite E-ticket center of the land and seems to be some kind of interactive simulator ride. Not much was revealed about specifics or when it will be complete but construction has not even begun, though the outer building where a mockup of the Quinjet is complete. That spot is currently the location to spot several Marvel superheroes themed after their MCU counterparts.

While Avengers Campus may not compare to Islands of Adventures thrill rides such as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk Coaster, what the land excels with is the overall theming. The Marvel-themed land at Islands of Adventure, Marvel Super Hero Island, is rich in detail and well-executed. However, the look of the place has barely changed since it first opened in 1999. To be frank, the land is stuck in a motif that captures the garish look of comics from the 1990s and since Disney will not allow any further work on Marvel Super Hero Island, the place will remain that way.

However, Avengers Campus just looks wild and immersive from the architecture with countless Easter eggs, unique foods (they even have a shawarma cart!), amd the performers who walk around and interact with guests. They look like they just stepped off the silver screen with their accurate looks. Probably the highlight of the immersive atmosphere is the Spider-Man Stuntronics robotic double that swings through the air just like Spidey does in the comics and films. Disney constructed a special animatronic robot that is capable of pulling off the acrobatic feat that would be too dangerous for a human to pull off.

Looking at what Avengers Campus has to offer and will offer, not just at DCA but at other Disney parks worldwide, it’s easy to see the potential of what can be done to immerse guests into the MCU. In other words, more reasons for fans to visit and burn through budgets! But hey, it’s so worth it! 😀

The Independent Comics: Unmined Gold For TV & Film

When comic books are brought up in conversation, most people think of the big two comic book publishers, Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Yet, true comic book fans know of the countless independent publishers that put out entertaining and sometimes off-beat comic books that aren’t just about superheroes, but most of the genral public never heard of them. That was until recently, when more and more popular TV shows were revealed to be based on independent comics.

Thanks to the popularity of films and TV shows based on superheroes from DC and Marvel, film studios, television channels and streaming services are now creating their next big superhero film or TV show. The problem for entertainment companies not called Disney or Warner Bros. is that film and TV rights for popular characters like Spider-Man or Batman are off limits. So what can they do to take advantage of the current superhero craze? These companies could create their own characters from scratch as we saw with Heroes and Chronicle. However, the companies do not have to this since there are so many superheroes from independent comic book publishers. What’s more, is that these independent comic books are great treasure troves for other types of genre material from sci-fi to fantasy to horror or a combo of all three.

There have been successful hit films or TV shows based on independent comics that came out years ago, Some examples that come to mind include The Mask (Dark Horse Comics), The Crow (Caliber Comics), and The Kingsman (Icon Comics), but the biggest hit television program based on an independent comic is course, The Walking Dead from Image Comics, the survival saga taking place during a zombie apocalypse. The runaway success of The Walking Dead prompted film and TV studios to mine other properties from independent comics. While these studios did not find the next zombie apocaplyse they found a diverse slew of properties that were begging to be adapted, and yes, this included superhero fare, as well.

Many of these properties are currently airing/streaming and have been well received. These include The Boys (Dynamite Entertainment), Invincible (Image Comics), Jupiter’s Legacy (Image Comics), Resident Alien (Dark Horse Comics), Locke & Key (IDW Publishing) and The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse Comics). Part of the reason for the success of superhero-related shows like Jupiter’s Legacy or The Boys is because the shows are more graphic and mature compared to the more youth-oriented DC fare airing on The CW, for instance. In other words, they offer a different take on superheroes.

Thanks to the success of these TV shows, even more independent comics are in various stages of development. These include Paper Girls (Image Comics), Ice Cream Man (Image Comics), Port of Earth (Image Comics), Harbinger (Valiant Comics), Oblivion Song (Image Comics), Spawn (Image Comics), and BRZRKR (Boom! Studios). The latter comic book, about a prehistoric immortal warrior, seems to be tailor made for films or TV and it’s no wonder since Keannu Reeves co-wrote it. Any idea who would star in the upcoming television film adaptation from Netflix? The success only confirms that a well-crafted story formed in one medium will be able to crossover to another medium. In this situation, the comic book medium is a great place to find material that is ripe for adaptation.

Of course, there are so many other quality comic books that would make terrific films or TV shows. The list would be exhaustive but should include Saga (though the creators of the comic are not interested in having their sci-fi/fantasy epic being adapted), The Department of Truth, Geiger, Canto, Give Me Liberty, Stray Dogs, The Undiscovered Country, Concrete, Something is Killing the Children, and Astro City.

Thanks to the popularity and success of the live-action adaptations, more and more attention will be paid to the independent comic books. Surveyors will find an impressive and endless trove of reading material spanning a wide variety of subject matter.

The Latest Crazy Internet Rumor: Disney Buying DC

Well, it did not take long for the wild rumors and speculation to begin once it was announced last week that Discovery, Inc. and WarnerMedia. were merging into one company called WarnerDiscovery. The wildest rumor has it that allegedly the Walt Disney Company is going to buy WarnerMedia’s DC Comics or Warner Bros. Being that Disney already owns Marvel Comics this would mean that both comic book companies can be merged into one.

Think about that for a moment.

If this was somehow true, this would be the most shattering development for comic books and related media since comic books were created nearly a century ago. Of course, fans know that DC Comics and Marvel Comics are the two biggest comic book companies with legendary superheroes and other characters. The fact that the two giants are natural rivals adds fuel to rumor fire about the possibility of this merger.

Think of the team up and crossover events. “Crisis on Infinity Secret Wars” or some other overpriced and over-printed epic spanning hundreds of issues per month with spinoff titles and one-shots cluttering comic book shelves in stores. It would blow out recent events like Dark Knights: Death Metal and King in Black in the shear scope. Imagine trying to buy all the tie-ins for that event!

This could spillover into games, books, and yes, films and TV shows. Thought Avengers: Endgame or The CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths were epic? Guess again and imagine a live-action version of the last, great DC/Marvel crossover, JLA/Avengers or the 1990s’ DC vs. Marvel that pitted the Hulk against Superman or Captain America fighting Batman! Imagine further and think of the possibility of Robert Downey, Jr. sharing the silver screen as Iron Man alongside Christian Bale as Batman. Or Henry Cavill’s Superman meeting Chris Evans’ Captain America.

Let’s come back to Earth now and face reality because it is doubtful any of this will happen. Sure, it is possible, but to date there are not any credible, confirmed sources to back up this claim.

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What Does The WarnerMedia/Discovery Inc. Merger Mean For DC And Warner Bros.?

The news that AT&T divested its ownership of WarnerMedia to Discovery, Inc. for $43 billion to form a new, merged entertainment company may not sound as exciting as when The Walt Disney Company acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, but it is just as important.

Ever since AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85 billion in 2018. there were many concerns in the entertainment industry, which turned out to be justified. Renamed, WarnerMedia, the entertainment conglomerate was owned by a telecommunications giant that did not have any experience with entertainment media and this resulted in questionable moves by AT&T. The most impactful were the creation of the HBO Max streaming service and fractured relationships with notable genre directors like Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve and James Gunn.

In AT&T’s quest to push HBO Max to be competitive with other streaming apps, all of the films slated for release this year by the movie studio, Warner Bros., were released simultaneously in theaters and the streaming service. On the surface, this took into account the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that most movie theaters were closed. However, now that the pandemic seems to be winding down (at least in the United States and Europe), this strategy has been questioned. Not only did this move result in diminished box office returns, but it alienated many of Warner Bros.’ top talent.

This first began when Wonder Woman 1984 was streamed on Christmas Day in 2020 instead of delaying the film’s release because of the pandemic. This worked in that it attracted attention (and subscribers) to the streaming app but the film received negative reactions from critics and fans who did not find much original content on HBO Max. Unlike Disney+ or Apple+, HBO Max lacked an attention-grabbing genre TV show like The Mandalorian or For All Mankind to entice fans to stay with the service. The app did stream TV shows that once exclusively streamed on the DC Universe app like Titans and Doom Patrol. But it is baffling that throughout all of the development of the app, no one thought to have an original DC TV show ready. The closest thing to semi-original content being Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which did not stream until this year, months after the app was launched. While Disney+ already streamed the Marvel properties WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, HBO Max has yet to stream original DC content. Its announced Green Lantern TV show seems to be forever in development.

It shoud be noted HBO Max premiered the sci-fi TV show Raised by Wolves when it launched and while it was well done the TV show did not capture much attention. It is a shame because the streaming service is quite good with plenty of content, but its launch was botched and confused people who already subscribed to HBO or used its then-existing apps HBO Now and HBO Go.

Filmmakers such as Nolan and Villeneuve were incensed that films they specifically shot for large screens were to be directly streamed on HBO Max. Not only would this lead to low box office returns but the decision robbed audiences of seeing films meant for the large screens. Denis Villeneuve and Legendary Pictures (the production company which bankrolled Villeneuve’s Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong and other recent genre films) expressed their dissatisfaction to push the streaming service over Warner Bros.’ film schedule. After all, in light of the pandemic, if one is able to access the app, why bother going to the theaters? As it now stands the following genre films either streamed already will do so later this year:

  • Wonder Woman 1984
  • Godzilla vs. Kong
  • Mortal Kombat
  • The Witches
  • Superintelligience
  • The Suicide Squad
  • The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
  • Malignant
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy
  • Reminiscence
  • Dune
  • the fourth Matrix film

WarnerMedia recently announced that starting in 2022, its films would be released solely in theaters before coming to HBO Max. But the damage has been done as many filmmakers openly expressed their dissatisfaction with WarnerMedia and some were no longer willing to do films for Warner Bros.

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