Indy Week 1: Raiders

This week is Indy Week at The Picture Palace. Part 1: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It will always be the first Indy movie. Charming, witty and thrilling. Rough and ready.

Stealing the template from the James Bond movies - an action setpiece opener, a briefing scene and then globetrotting adventure - but creating something startlingly refreshing. It set the conventions of the action genre that would dominate the next two decades. Throw in some 1940s Saturday serial pulp flavour and everything was in place - the love interest, the breathless pace, the action setpieces spilling from one to the next and, most important, a vulnerable and lovable protagonist who was in no way a superhero. Indy's knees wobble when he takes a punch, he messes things up. He is a fallible human being and admits it - "I don't know, I'm making this up as I go.''

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the product of a young director at the height of his powers who is throwing everything at this magnificent and witty action adventure movie. Steven Spielberg was a man on a mission - a director keen to prove he was disciplined and could deliver a film on time and on budget after long, troubled shoots for Jaws, Close Encounters and the relative flop of 1941.

In the new documentary on the Blu Ray box set released last month, Spielberg is shown on set talking about how he wants to film quickly.

"I said to [producer] George [Lucas] when I took this movie we  are going to shoot it real fast. I'm not going make sure we get the hair out of the girl's eyes every time. There is a time for long shoots with Jaws and Close Encounters.

"You can still make a good movie without spending a year in production."

The rough and ready charm can be seen in the spontaneous and fresh feel of the performances. There is a freshness and spontaneity that you don't experience with a leaden epic. There is a transcript you can find online of a story conference between screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, Spielberg and producer George Lucas. It is fascinating.

You can read the exact moment when Spielberg came up with the idea for the rolling boulder. Spielberg and Lucas are both on fire, spinning out ideas and showing a masterful grasp of the film they want to make. To read this transcript is to realise anew that when Lucas was on form he was a genius. It makes you feel sad at the loss of his talent.

Raiders is hard to do justice in words. You have to experience it. Writing about Raiders is like dancing about architecture. But, nevertheless, here's a few dance moves.

Spielberg seems to understand from the outset that he is creating an iconic character. Indy is perfectly established in that thrilling opening sequence, fleeing a boulder with a golden idol clutched to his cobwebbed chest.

Simpsons creator Matt Groening said that ''memorable characters are always identifiable in silhouette". Indy does not disappoint, he is silhouetted with his distinctive fedora many times in Raiders, from the opening shot to him silhoutted against the rising sun and casting a lamplit shadow against a wall.

Raiders is a cleverly made film that is concisely directed, but never loses its unswerving sense of fun. It's a masterpiece of popular cinema created at the peak of Spielberg's first hot streak.

But, what do you think of Raiders? Post below.

Indy Week will continue tomorrow with The Temple of Doom.

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