Tuesday, August 23, 2011
It was only by reloading my Flickchart rankings earlier this year that I was able to reach the following conclusion:
Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite film of all time.
I won't say it caught me surprise. But I'm also not a guy who goes around telling everybody how great Raiders of the Lost Ark is. Everybody already knows that, so you'd be wasting your breath, but I figured my favorite movie would be something I'd talk about a bit more than I actually do. I have one friend who wears his Raiders love on his sleeve, so much so that it's one of the primary things people know about him. He's the first guy you think to contact whenever you hear any new news about Raiders, or even anything about Harrison Ford.
Well, apparently, I should be that guy, too. After all, it's got to mean something if you have Raiders ranked first out of 3,270-some-odd movies, doesn't it? (I've seen about 50 more than that, but not ranked them all yet.) Is it possible that a movie so honored and so beloved could be kind of under the radar, even to the person who honors and beloves it himself?
Another example of my under-the-radar favoritism of Raiders: It's been at least five years since I've even seen it. About five years ago was when I started keeping track of the movies I revisit at the time I revisit them, and it's not on my list. I do have a clear memory of rewatching the movie with my wife, whom I've only known since the end of 2004, and I'm pretty sure it was while we were living together, which started in early 2006. So possibly as much as five-and-a-half years between viewings of my favorite movie of all time.
So, it seemed wise to figure out if Raiders really is my favorite movie of all time.
I'd like to say that I planned this test, but I didn't. As a Father's Day present, my wife got us tickets to see an outdoor screening of Raiders in a park in Beverly Hills, at which there would be a dozen food trucks present. It was to be one of the last in the summer season of Outdoor Cinema Food Fest, in which different classic films are shown in different venues around Los Angeles, each time with the use of an inflatable screen (pictured here), and each time with a host of food trucks present to feed us. (I don't know about where you are, but here, food trucks are in.) After two months of anticipation, the night finally rolled around on Saturday night.
Not without its challenges, however. For one, on Thursday night, I started feeling symptoms of a sore throat. I did my best to ignore it and was not significantly limited during the day on Friday, but by the time I got home, I knew I'd have to cancel plans to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a friend that night. Instead I watched baseball and most of Robert De Niro's 168-minute The Good Shepherd, feeling increasingly miserable as the evening went on. After a couple false starts in getting to sleep, I finally did, and felt better after a decent night's rest.
But as Saturday wore on, I knew the symptoms were not gone, and they started to intensify as afternoon crept into early evening. I was determined to go despite the fact that I had resigned myself to feeling miserable at some point, and knowing that this is not what any doctor would advise. Plus, my teeth were starting to hurt from all the lozenges I was sucking -- incessantly sucking, despite the fact that they did so little to ease the pain.
Then there was the flea attack. That's right, our son may have picked up fleas from daycare. (Or, they may have gotten in some other way, but daycare seems like the easy culprit to blame.) In any case, we saw some earlier in the week and did a bunch of vacuuming and laundry to combat them. Then my wife spotted another on Saturday morning, so the full assault was on, as we left nothing unwashed. This meant trips to the laundromat to make use of their front-loading machines, and general chaos around the house.
So I was a bit unsure whether the circumstances would allow me a focused consideration of the merits of Raiders of the Lost Ark as my favorite movie of all time. Then again, this would be the first time I'd seen it on a big screen in 30 years -- almost exactly 30 years, since Raiders was released on June 12, 1981, and I saw it some time during its theatrical run, which probably lasted a couple months. (It was on a trip to Illinois to visit our grandparents, which must have been during our summer vacation from school. I saw Raiders with my grandfather while my sister saw Annie with my grandmother. Wait a minute ...)
Can I stop here for a second to tell you that I just blew my own mind? I just looked up Annie, and saw that it was not released until 1982. That means that my first viewing of Raiders was not during its initial theatrical run, but when the movie was re-released a year later. Mind = blown. I'd always just assumed I'd seen it when it was first out, but given that I was not yet eight years old, it doesn't surprise me that I missed it in 1981. A year later, I was mature enough, apparently, to handle all the violence that left my grandfather wincing next to me, like he was the one getting punched and smashed over the head with a bottle of whiskey. It makes me wonder ... what other movies did I first see on their re-releases? Today's kids don't have to ask themselves that ... if they saw it in the theater, they saw it on its initial run. Case closed.
Anyway, yeah, I wasn't missing Raiders for a little pain in my throat and a couple fleas.
Given our circumstances, I did question the logic of arriving three hours before the movie was set to start, which is what time the gates opened to get into the softball field where the movie was being shown. Turns out, we needed that time to get settled, listen to a couple bands and wait in line for the food trucks -- not to mention all the various things we had to do to prepare our son for bed. (His presence was a complicating factor I haven't even mentioned to this point. Since it was my Father's Day present, I assumed my wife would take him off to shush him if he began crying and disturbing our neighbors.)
We ended up getting gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches from this one truck, then later, just before the movie was about to start, I picked up a venison burger and some grilled chicken sliders for us to share. (I did not, however, purchase anything from the aptly named Indian truck called India Jones, pictured here -- and yes, I believe that's its name even on nights it is not accompanying screenings of Raiders of the Lost Ark.) We'd brought our own drinks and some chippy things, but I also picked up my wife a Mexican Coke.
Our son was still awake when the movie finally started at 9 -- after a screening of a pilot for the ABC TV show Revenge, followed by a couple technical difficulties -- and was letting out a comical array of gleeful shrieks. Better than tears, I guess, but you can bet I was glad when we were able to calm him down by rocking him in his car seat.
Oh, so I suppose you'd like to know what I thought of the movie.
First, a couple things I noticed:
1) Alfred Molina! I either had forgotten or never knew that Alfred Molina was the "You throw me the idol, I throw you the whip!" guy at the beginning.
2) For some reason, I had been operating under the misconception that Indiana Jones taught at a university in England. Denholm Elliott's accent was certainly to blame, but I wonder why I assumed that Indy was on his turf rather than vice versa. And I figured that the government bureaucrats who visit Jones at the beginning had just flown to England for the occasion. Of course, this time I noticed that his plane starts in San Francisco before making several hops that ultimately lead to Nepal.
3) The pacing. This movie just doesn't stop. For possibly the first time I considered just how tight Lawrence Kasdan's script really is, how much character development he gets across through so few scenes and such a small amount of dialogue. Consider Marion Ravenwood, perhaps one of the greatest female characters ever written (with a performance to match from Karen Allen). We only really get that one bar scene in Nepal to learn everything we need to know about her -- she's a spitfire, she carries a gleeful resentment, she's a romantic deep down, and she can drink toe to toe with any man. Then as soon as the action is transported to Cairo, it's only a few minutes later on screen that she's "dead" -- or so we think, anyway. I remember thinking of this as a tremendous loss to Indy, but she's only been on screen for maybe 15 minutes by that point. Truly incredible.
Okay, so, is it #1?
It has some flaws, but yeah, why not? And maybe only because I can't think of another movie that should obviously be there instead. I mean, if I'm looking at Flickchart, I could promote Back to the Future from #2 to #1, if I really wanted to. But Back to the Future is not a flawless film either. Even Back to the Future has got that agonizing question that gnaws at you: "Why didn't he just go back an hour earlier, rather than ten minutes earlier?"
No film is perfect. But Raiders is about as close as it gets.
Oh, and in case you're wondering ...
It quickly became clear that we hadn't brought enough blankets, and that the grass gets dewy pretty much as soon as the sun goes down. So I was a bit cold and a bit wet for most of the night. And I've still got my sore throat on Monday -- in fact, it kept me up most of the night last night.
But it was worth it. Worth it to see my favorite movie -- yes, I'll say it -- on the big screen.
For the first time in 30 -- er, make that 29 -- years.