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Raiders Of The Lost Ark

If all goes as planned, 2005 will see the première of the first new Indiana Jones film since 1989. With star Harrison Ford now in his 60s, there's a chance that Indy and his friends could start looking like the crew of latter-day original-cast Star Trek sequels. But reviving the series presents another risk. If producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg want to honor their series' chronology, they'll have to set any new installments after WWII, moving beyond the timeframe of the pulp-hero and adventure serials that inspired them in the first place. That's not as minor a matter as it sounds. Before the global conflict of the Second World War, the world was still big enough to hide lost civilizations and ancient mysteries. After Hiroshima, when a presidential order and a single bomb destroyed a city halfway around the planet, the world seemed to shrink. Part of the appeal of Spielberg and Lucas' series is that it gives the old world order one last spin, sending Ford's thrill-seeking archeologist hero into lost realms to find bits of history with world-changing power that science can only imagine. Of the original three films, newly released as a DVD box set (the trilogy, plus a fourth disc of straightforward bonus material), the first one does this best. Released in 1981, Raiders Of The Lost Ark puts Ford in search of the Ark of the Covenant, racing against Nazis who would use it for their own purposes, and bulldozing through one action-packed episode after another. Much of the blame for the all-action-all-the-time approach of current summer blockbusters can be placed on Raiders, but if any of the copycats had Spielberg's command of storytelling and visual gags, it wouldn't matter. Raiders finds the right balance between reverence and wit, and the sight of Ford outrunning that giant boulder thrills as much on the 14th viewing as the first. Still, the same team botched the second installment, 1984's Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. After a great opening in a Shanghai nightclub, Ford lands in a remote Indian outpost where a revived Thuggee cult engages in slavery and human sacrifice. Temple suffers considerably for working on a less ambitious scale, saddling Ford with a shrill heroine (Kate Capshaw, stepping in for the vastly more appealing Karen Allen) and engaging in the worst kind of exoticism. (Foreigners are weird, backward, and dangerous, and they eat gross food.) But the clumsy attempts at darkness are what really spoil the fun. All the shots of emaciated children laboring away under threat of death make Temple feel less like a Raiders sequel than a warm-up for Schindler's List. The 1989 sequel Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, on the other hand, both recovers Raiders' spirit and adds a layer of human warmth. Trotting from Utah to Venice to Berlin to the Middle East in search of the Holy Grail, Ford is forced to team up with estranged father Sean Connery. The two stars have a natural chemistry, and even though some of the big setpieces seem like rehashes of the first film, Crusade possesses a sweetness that no other Indiana Jones movie can claim. Even when Ford and Connery are pursuing game as big as the Grail, their personal quests keep bringing them back to each other. It's a small world after all.


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