The best movie scores are not only fantastic to listen to, they heighten the sensibilities of a scene. Jaws creates an unseen monster with droning horns. Jurassic Park establishes a beautiful sense of wonder with majestic rhythms. Raiders of the Lost Ark produces a hero with chipper, spirited moments full of energy.
Raiders contains one of the best -if not THE best- car chases of the ’80s, a desert romp with collisions, clotheslined Nazis, and rousing stunt work of the highest caliber. None of it works without John Williams’ score imposing on the visuals, so in tune with the flow of the scene it becomes dialogue in a sequence that has none otherwise.
Hold your breath for a second though: Raiders is a B-level story. That’s just the way it is, but more importantly, that’s how it should be. Therein lies the charm, a movie that is allowed to get away with anything as it travels around the globe to seek out the next alarmingly kooky action scene. To simply dismiss it though based on the fact that thousands of snakes can live in a pit, alone for 3,000 years is missing the joy. Looking at Indy’s face reveals the same level of surprise, not to mention terror… he hates snakes, and it’s always snakes.
By removing the layer of reality and pulling back to the veil on ludicrous archeology, Raiders becomes a catch of all action styles. Chase scenes, rescues, brawls, shoot-outs, sea tensions; it all combines into a singular element of excitement. The film can be as loopy as it wants to be by hinging on instantly likeable (and on the opposite end, completely unlikeable) characters. The balance couldn’t be better by pitting two extremes against one another.
And, while most action cinema will find itself sparked to life with male adrenaline, Raiders inserts the spunky Marion (Karen Allen), sharp with a frying pan and her drunken wits. She’s one of the boys, and equally feminine in a romance the audience pays to see.
No matter who the side characters may be, the heart of this film – and of course the series – belongs to Harrison Ford. He’s the perfect action hero, appropriately clumsy to be believable and sharp witted to be a top tier adventurer. He has gusto and a little ego, enough to charm anyone as he makes his first score in a jungle surrounded by traps. You can say he’s almost too experienced in his field and the trip ups in his plan are out of his control. The film never gives it that sense though. Indy is a mild-mannered professor by day, and remarkably astute superhero-esque treasure hunter by night. Again, it’s all about balancing elements to find a happy medium. Raiders does that and more.
Raiders was publicized for being given a total and complete restoration. Top to bottom, it’s dust and dirt free, even during the effects work. There’s not a speck left on this print, and Paramount has certainly lived up to their marketing side.
However, just because the restoration process went smoothly does not remove Raiders from criticism. There’s plenty to leverage on this transfer that doesn’t have to do with the photographic elements. The first anomaly comes early as Indy enters the room covered by spiders (around 4:50). Small motion, both of the lead and his panicked assistant, leads to double imaging. Motion becomes choppy and certainly not film-like. Played back at regular speed, it looks like exaggerated motion blur despite the minute movement of the characters. In stills, you can make out the previous frame just enough to see the problem.
Grain management has lessened the impact of the film stock, although without any perceptible negative consequences. Compression is tight until dissolves or the iconic map travels, wherein chroma noise makes a slight appearance, turning grain into artifacts. The loss of resolution in the transition phase wouldn’t be as jarring were it not for the added impact of the noise. Then, there’s color correction. Raiders feels significantly heated. The opening scene burns plant life slightly and saps some of the green from the image. Flesh tones are especially heavy because of this warm up, and not only in this introductory scene, giving the film a very digital sense of color timing. In some way it makes sense; most of the movie plants itself in the desert.
So what works? Everything else. When the cinematography hits those high marks, so does this presentation. Facial detail can be nothing less than perfection, and locations appear tremendous with the added ability to resolve distance. Intricate markings on tombs are exquisite, resolved without any anomalies or problems caused by unnecessary tinkering. Grain spikes (there are only a few) are put into capable hands. Despite the naturally fuzzy look, no additional problems are added in the transition to the format.
Night brings with it substantial black levels to back these scenes, the best example being in the burning bar. Not only is the location overloaded with spectacular shadows, it’s gifted outstanding depth. The snake pit is likewise a highlight, balancing between light, dark, and management of shadow detail. To play the cliché game, is it the best it ever looked? Certainly. Are there lingering questions destined to keep Blu-ray enthusiast forums rumbling for some time? Of course.
In terms of the audio restoration, you’ll find no troubles. Dialogue has a supreme quality that doesn’t reveal age, and more importantly, is as consistent as one could ask. Highs are shocking in their clarity, and the horn-heavy musical arrangements could have been recorded yesterday if audiences didn’t know better.
In a move to 5.1, the stereos are granted extensive license. Dialogue will bounce back and forth between the speakers as characters travel around the frame. Busy marketplaces light up with activity, and chases are extravagantly mixed. Surrounds play a supporting role, adding to the scenery while expanding environments virtually. Gunfire will find a place too, although with less intensity than what’s sprouting up in the surrounds.
In terms of audio enhancement, there are questionable choices. You can refer to the fisticuffs taking place around the plane for a great example of how to exaggerate punches past their limitations. It’s not even the burly German, whose punches could logically have some emphasis. Even Indy’s wimpy blows are given a shot of LFE activity worthy of some explosions (and as it turns out, it matches the take-off zone lighting up from leaking fuel).
Elsewhere, bass is better mitigated. Drums in the score pack a wallop as needed, and the ark opening is a stunner. If you can’t feel that down the street, check your calibration. That accentuates the fear and the wonder in a masterful way. Oh, and the ball rolling in the opening escape? Sublime.
Raiders of the Lost Ark comes packaged with the series, leaving the bonus features on a later disc. Contained here are trailers alone. The score reflects that.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.