Simon Wood

SHELF LIFE: Indiana Jones And The Art of Storytelling

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is one of my favorite films and I also think it’s best action movie ever made.  My belief has been reinforced by the string of blockbusters we’ve had in recent years.  Yes, the IRON MAN franchise, the TRANSFORMERSfranchise along with THE AVENGERS movie have done massive box office, but they are mediocre movies at best.  I don’t think that’s the grumpy old man inside me speaking complaining that ‘movies aren’t as good as they were when I was a kid’.  No, from a purely storytelling perspective, RAIDERS wins hands down on every level.  Let me explain.
All three franchises suffer from the same fault when it comes to their fight sequences with IRON MAN being the worst offender.  That being a big powerful thing punches Iron Man and flies two hundred feet across the ground.  Then Iron Man hits back and the powerful thing flies two hundred feet across the ground.  The same fight sequence has happened in all three IRON MAN movies and THE AVENGERS film—and it wasn’t exciting the first time.  A big punch is a good thing but it makes for a slow and repetitive and unimaginative fight scene.    
However bad fight sequences aren’t why RAIDERS is best.  Story is why RAIDERS is best.  It manages to blend action, dialog, plot, character, conflict and keep them all moving at once.  IRON MAN 2 is probably the worst offender in this respect.   Consider how many times Indiana Jones faces off against the Belloq and the Nazis, either together or individually.  Then consider how many times Tony Stark goes up against Whiplash in IM2.  It’s twice by the way.  Once at the beginning, then at the end.  Banter fills the rest.  This is another cardinal sin the IRON MANmovies made.  The movies’ momentum comes to a screeching while Robert Downey Jr. riffs for five or ten minutes.  This isn’t a Robert Downey slam but more that RDJ’s acting ability was used as a crutch for the movie.  Let’s have Robert Downey entertain us instead of coming up with a tight script.  Now compare to the scenes in RAIDERS between Indiana Jones and Marion.  We get great dialog that is fed to us concisely every time.  I’m astounded by how much back story and banter goes on in RAIDERS and how precious little is learned in the other movies mentioned.
I could keep going and keep on boring you about RAIDERS trumping every blockbuster made in the last twenty years but I won’t.  I suggest you re-watch RAIDERS again and dare you to tell me there’s an action movie that tops it.   
Also I don’t mean to slam other people’s work because it’s not fun and apologies for taking it out on Marvel properties.  I could have picked on the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movies, the SPIDERMAN franchises and the STAR TREK reboots for having the same faults.  It’s just that I love good movies and good stories and the films mentioned fell short and they didn’t have to. 
My suggestion to anyone who is going to make a blockbuster is get a copy of the DVD and the script from RAIDERS.  George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, Philip Kaufman and Steven Spielberg captured lightning in a bottle.  So study it, dissect it and make it your bible.  Do that any you won’t go wrong.

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