I resist 1980s Hollywood. The American blockbusters of that time typically champion brawn, (non-)accidental xenophobia, and a callous attitude toward human life itself. You will notice that the body count in non-R-rated films of the era is much higher than it would be today. I don't say all of this because I don't love a good action film in which a single man or woman is responsible for the ruthless deaths of hundreds of faceless bad guys. Why else would I love video games like God of War so much? But that xenophobia? No, still not a fan.
No, I resist 80s Hollywood because of one single fact: I do not identify with their protagonists. I understand that when you see a musclebound, chain gun-toting Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando that it is meant to be a form of wish fulfillment, but to me, he's not the hero. He's the villain. Anyone in possession of immense power whose fate never actually seems to hang in the balance does not strike me as a person for whom you're rooting. Yet the filmmaking always reflects a position of awe towards that hero. And it's always a hero, not a heroine. Directors not named John Hughes in the 80s didn't really know what to do with women.
With all of this cultural baggage in mind, I've gone through childhood into adulthood never having been interested in watching the adventures of Indiana Jones. But then I acquired the complete set of films on Blu-ray, effectively obviating lack of access as an excuse. So I finally watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. To quote my much-derided Facebook post: "Eh *shrugs*."
I'm not going to use this space as an area to rant about how all of my expectations were completely validated by the experience of watching Raiders, because they weren't. In terms of story structure and character development, Raiders is almost untouchable among not just action films of its time, but any action film I've seen. Harrison Ford is still a devastatingly charismatic presence, Karen Allen manages to carve out a place for her own, and John Rhys-Davies bellows straight into your heart. Steven Spielberg takes the complicated plot and keeps it moving at a breakneck face, without losing clarity or sight of the main goal. There is a reason why Raiders is held high among the greatest of action films in all of history and, objectively, I can feel that reason.
Subjectively, though, I was still left cold. I was simply never thrilled by Raiders. And I don't think that it's the movie's fault.
Well, actually, there are plenty of things that this movie does wrong, all of which are associated with the film's depiction of the Other, something that somehow goes unmentioned in most critical re-evaluations of Raiders. Take, for example, the opening sequence in "South America" (because, you know, everything is the same in the entire continent of South America). After canny avoidance of the ancient tomb's many traps, Indy is waylaid by his nemesis, Belloq, and a veritable army of spear-wielding, loincloth-clad, anonymous natives named the Hovitos (based, apparently, on the Jibito people). Ouch. Nothing ages worse in film than the portrayal of non-white people.
Another gripe: the first we see of Marion Ravenwood (Allen) establishes her ability to drink a great, big man under the table. This is an excellent narrative decision, as it anticipates her later drinking contest with Belloq, in addition to setting her up with a gender-neutral contest as a woman to be reckoned with. She's no slouch. Yet, bafflingly, she is thrust not once, but twice into situations in which the only available clothing are flimsy, white dresses, which are ideal for becoming torn apart and dirtied up during adventures in the desert. Why is this necessary? I'd like to say that it is the female equivalent of taking away John McClane's shoes at the beginning of Die Hard in order to make him more vulnerable, but Indy's allowed to keep his rugged clothing, so what the hell? We're left, instead, with the titillation of watching a beautiful woman having to run around in clothing that is ideal for, say, sleeping or cocktail parties. Oh, yeah, and Indy has to tear the bottom half of her dress off at one point, so there's that, too.
But I anticipated these two aspects of the film to grate on me, because they're problems that have hardly been fixed even today. Like I said earlier, I just wasn't all that thrilled by Raiders. Once you've seen films like the Raid series, in which the hand-to-hand combat is excellently choreographed, brutal, and completely convincing, the stodgy fight scenes in Raiders feel about as exciting as an episode of Gilligan's Island. If the film had more scenes like the famously witty scene in which an almost bored-looking Indy blasts a scimitar-twirling maniac, then I could forgive its duller moments. And the thing about the Raid is that technology has nothing to do with it: you could have made those scenes at any point in history. And yes, you can explain all of these issues away by accusing me of being unfair, and perhaps I am, but this is what happens when you wait until your mid-twenties to watch a film like this.
That, ultimately, is the crux of my point. My parents would have been around 22 when Raiders came out, and so their generation is understandably enamored with the film. And I imagine that my Facebook friends who came at me with pitchforks and torches after my trolling comment saw Raiders when they were children (although those same friends were all men; ladies, do you care for Raiders?). Spielberg and George Lucas made this film with the intention of replicating the adventure serials of their childhoods, except with enormous production values and contemporary technology. People of my age in 1981 would not have felt nostalgia for those serials, so it's the big-budget, epic sweep of the film that would have done them in. That technology is now 34 years old, which, as you know, is positively ancient by current standards.
All of this is to say is that Raiders is not made for people like me (and I don't mean snobs). Despite the bloody, point-blank headshots and rampant death portrayed in the film, it is meant for children to enjoy. People like me who come at Raiders with a fresh perspective have only the story to cling to, and the film's faults are not obscured by the mists of nostalgia or undeveloped taste (as in the case of children). This is why I was unimpressed by Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Please, do not toss any bricks through my windows.