Despite portraying Han Solo and Bladerunner’s Deckard, Harrison Ford is most famous for his role as archaeologist adventurer Indiana Jones in his four silver screen adventures. Famously, the magnificently moustachioed Tom Selleck was first choice for the part – a casting decision which now seems utterly implausible. Perhaps stranger still, given George Lucas’ involvement in the franchise, is that the Indy films didn’t spawn hundreds of toys, branded bedding and other gimmicky nonsense – perhaps an indicator of some of the adult themes contained in the films.
Still, the Indiana Jones films were part of my childhood. I once ‘acquired’ a hand-painted, life size cut-out of Indy (which lived for many years on my parents’ hallway stairs) from a children’s play area I used to work at and only recently re-watched The Temple of Doom – a movie which, as a youngster, I viewed through the gaps in my fingers thanks to its horrifying scenes of voodoo, hearts being torn out of people’s chests and chilled monkey brain soup.
But the story began here, with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Set in 1936, Indiana Jones is an archaeologist and historian who learns that the Nazis (!) have discovered the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant – the casket ancient Hebrews used to store the Ten Commandments. In his mission to beat the nasty Nazis to the Ark, Indy travels via Tibet to pick up his ex-girlfriend before barrelling through Egypt, ancient tombs, abandoned submarine bases, islands and jungles.
Clearly, the storyline is absolutely ludicrous. It matters not one jot. To worry about the plot would be to miss the point; this is old fashioned adventuring and old fashioned filmmaking – albeit with a huge budget. Set-pieces and stunts are the order of the day here. In less than two hours the audience is treated to runaway boulders, tarantulas, chases, double crossing Sherpas, biplane escapes, villainous Frenchmen, dozens and dozens of snakes, gravediggers, booby traps and the wrath of God. Famously, it also features the most memorably one-sided fight scene of all time.
Key to it all is Harrison Ford’s brilliant portrayal of Jones. He’s a chauvinistic, stubborn and arrogant man – but still manages to be bloody charming. It’s testament to Ford’s ability as an actor that he managers to imbue the character with a wry humour – and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s also a film which has aged particularly well. This can largely be attributed to the excellent stunt work, set building and locations. In an era where CGI can render anything possible, movies can date very quickly as technology rapidly advances. Here, what you see on screen really happened thanks to amazingly skilful artists and practitioners who created a very real world of absolute fantasy.