Raiders of the Lost Ark Limited Edition Steelbook 4K UHD Review: Cinematic Adventure Perfection

Watching as a child, I knew that Raiders of the Lost Ark was a great adventure. It had everything you knew you wanted in a story: danger, skeletons, violence, horror. When I watched it, I was too young to care if there was a girl in it, but it’s got that, too. I knew it was fun. I knew it was great. Only watching it as an adult can I appreciate how much work and craft went into making that fun.

Recounting the story or the history of Raiders seems redundant, since it has ensconced itself so completely in cinematic history. Like Star Wars before it, Raiders was George Lucas’s attempt to bring the excitement he felt at watching cheesy serial films he loved as a kid to a modern audience.

So, after developing the story he eventually roped in his friend Steven Spielberg to direct. Lucas’s prodigious font of ideas and Spielberg’s unparalleled talent for crafting images and pacing a cinematic story combined into a perfect adventure story.

Indiana Jones is a consummate pulp hero: an academic committed to studying history who is also an expert with a bullwhip, a sharpshooter, and bar brawler non pareil. Harrison Ford plays him as a man who expects to be invulnerable and is regularly surprised, he’s not. The U.S. Government sets him on a quest to beat the Nazis in finding the Ark of the Covenant. Of course, that was the obsession of his old teacher and mentor. He’s nowhere to be found, so Indiana finds his daughter, Marian, with whom he’d had a relationship 10 years before.

She’s still bitter. About him and about her father dragging her across the world and leaving her in Nepal where she runs a bar. Marian’s a perfect pulp fiction female protagonist. Anyone who thinks the girls in the pulps were all damsels in distress waiting to be rescued has never read any actual pulp fiction. That kind of girl is boring, and the pulps were all kinds of things, good and bad… but never boring. Marian can hold her liquor, run her own business, keep her head in a fight, and when she loses everything, she finds the one lifeline she has: she’s now Indiana Jones’ partner.

But any pulp heroes are only as impressive as the villains they overcome. Indiana Jones meets opposition in the natives of the various countries he has to move through, but the real baddies are the invaders: Nazis. There are plenty of faceless blonde, blue-eyed thugs, but the real embodiment of the evil is Toht, a Gestapo man in black leather whose little pinched face and high-pitched voice are no-one’s idea of a superman. He chases Jones as he goes from Nepal to Cairo, having incredible adventures.

The story’s fine, the characters are great. The action is almost non-stop but it’s always moving the plot forward; that’s the genius of Lawrence Kasdan’s script. Lucas and story writer Philip Kaufman had a bunch of ideas for scenes, Spielberg brought more. But Kasdan, who later did a credited rewrite on Empire Strikes Back (though that was released first) took these ideas and put them into a coherent framework. He links the various set pieces and action scenes into a marvelously propulsive story.

This 4K release is the same as was released in a box set last summer, with all four films. The transfer and restoration on this 4K are stunning. This film is almost 41 years old and looks like it could have been shot this year (only better, since 35mm still looks better than even “technically” superior digital.) Several scenes in the film depend on high contrast imagery, with plenty of shadows and light, and they’re rendered beautifully in this release.

Raiders of the Lost Ark has been released in 4K by Paramount Pictures. The steelbook case has the artwork from the 1982 re-release of the film by Richard Amsel. Included in the case is a mini-poster of the original release artwork, also by Richard Amsel. Besides a digital copy of the film and a few trailers, there are no other extras on this release.

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Kent Conrad

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