Not for the last time, but there are moments when it feel like I’m always the last to know when something interesting happens; Steven Soderbergh’s reworking of the Steven Spielberg/George Lucas classic Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981 has been gaining a bit of attention of late, even if it’s been online for nearly a decade. It would seem self-evident that the current interest has been sparked by the release of the final chapter in the Raiders franchise, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Soderbergh has got the chops, and the connections at the highest level, to pull off exactly this kind of story-telling heist, and the result are well worth a look for anyone interested in cinema.
So this is the entire 1981 film in full, with Douglas Slocombe’s luminous photography re-expressed in black and white, and with all sound and dialogue cues removed and replaced with ambient, throbbing music supplied by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It looks and feels like a silent film, and that’s the point; Soderbergh is trying to draw attention to the fantastic use of composition and staging, but while the purpose is educational, the result is a highly entertaining mega-mix of a familiar text.
You’ll notice all kinds of details you never saw before; the way the idol seems to looks back at Indy for one brief shot on his first attempt to steal it, or the ingenious use of shadow; Indy casts a thoughtful silhouette on the equation-strewn blackboard as he considers the mission brought to him by Marcus (Denholm Elliott), and his gigantic shadow allows Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) to bask in his magnificence when he returns to her dive bar in Nepal for the famously flinty shoot-out. When he’s in his cups about his missing friend, Indy looks like a blackened death-mask with a dim star for an eye, and each time the forces of darkness gather, the frame fills ominously with their spectral, threatening presence.
A re-watch of a great film always brings more; sure, you can revel in such inspired gags like Major Toht’s elaborate coat-hanger/torture implement confusion, the loving way that Indy’s college class look at him, or the logical, credible way that Marion organises her pursuit of a naughty monkey by sorting out her weapon (a frying pan) and getting into darkness before taking down an assailant. I also hadn’t noticed that Indy takes a stop-over in Bagdad on his way across the globe; a fan-fiction about this particular moment in Indy’s career would seem like a fun place to start a reboot. Waves of expressively ambient, semi-vapourwave music make this a very different movie from the original; some scenes, like Indy’s triumphant swim to the submarine, do feel lessened without John Williams’ theme music, but you can see the original pretty much anytime and anywhere in 2023.
Playing fast and loose with licencing law, since I doubt that the ‘authorities’ will ever allow my ‘tribute’ to The Flash with a live kazoo, catcalls and flatulence soundtrack to see the light of day, this is a fascinating tribute to Raiders of the Lost Ark that enshrines a stupendously made film without a hint of CGI to complain about. Spotting just how quickly that rat smells the burning smell that comes from the festering Ark is just one tiny detail in a prescient reminder of just how fulfilling, elegant, witty and just sensational AF a movie can be. I saw Raiders at the flicks in 1981, loved it, still do, and this Raiders is a welcome refresher course in how well crafted a great movie can be. Link below.