The Amazing Spider-Man – Review

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)  4.0_MG_SMALL

Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Andrew GarfieldEmma StoneRhys IfansDenis LearyMartin SheenSally FieldIrrfan Khan.

When the news of a reboot for the Raimi-Maguire Spiderman was first announced (and not just a reboot, but another ‘origin’ story, only 10 years after the first one), the obvious question on anybody’s lips was “Why on earth?”. What followed was a sort of anti-campaign from fans and critics alike: we all seemed to have decided we were going to hate this film, at all costs. When eventually first teaser was released in 2011, with all that badly CGIed, cartoony, extended point of view shot, looking more like a video-game than anything resembling a real film, we had already made up our minds that new incarnation of Spiderman was going to be not just redundant, but the final nail in the coffin for possibly the most beloved superhero of them all.

Well, I am happy to eat all my words back and say that I could not have been more wrong: The Amazing Spider-man is possibly the best Spiderman movie we’ve ever seen (I would have to watch the second one by Raimi again to really work out which one is now my favourite), but more importantly Andrew Garfield is the absolute ultimate Spiderman.

The line that everybody has been saying over and over again to describe this film is that it is a more realistic version of Spiderman (if you can call realistic the story of a man in spandex swinging through the skyscrapers of New York); what director Mark Webb has managed to infuse in it, is not the usual gritty and dark realism we’ve come to expect from those Nolan-directed Batman movies, but one steeped in real characters and real feelings, where people can be hurt both in a physical and emotional sense. And if you thought the Raimi-directed films were love stories first and foremost, and ain’t seen nothing yet!

The comparison with the previous incarnation of your friendly neighbour,  given the fact that we are meant to buy into another origin story so soon after the first one, it’s not just unavoidable but also quite fair. The ghost of Raimi is constantly behind the corner, but cleverly Mark Webb (who has obviously studied his source deeply and intensely) has manage to avoid most of the obvious comparison by giving the story a completely new spin (you will forgive me the pun), steering away from anything which could give us any sense of Déjà vu, making the story and the characters different enough at each opportunity, giving us a new baddie and a new girlfriend too.

While I was watching it, the only thing I felt I was missing from this version, was that sense of wonder and excitement that came with the first one, when Peter was swinging across NY for the first time. But having now seen it all, I am willing to admit that the film is keeping all that for the end and I was just waiting for it because of my knowledge of the 2002 version.

And of course on this one we get the added dimension given by the 3D technology, which seems to be have been created for this kind of films: I’m not your number 1 fan of 3D, but seeing this in an IMAX Theatre, I have have to tell you I found myself flinching from time to time and having a sense of vertigo that I am sure it would not have been so strong if it had been in 2D. So for once, kudos to the gimmick!

The final result is a film that manages to be just as fresh and exiting as if it was a completely new story, and it still manages to keep us guessing, thrilled and entertained throughout.

Somebody may argue that, clocking at around 136 minutes, it is all probably too long, but not me. Never once I felt anything was superfluous or in need of a trim. Andrew Garfield is so good and likeable in the main role and the chemistry with his co-star Emma Stone so sweet and believable (Yes, I know those 2 are together in real life too, and it shows) that I was just happy to be in their company. And even if Mark Webb took his time before the new Spidey costume made its first appearance, I would have been absolutely fine without seeing it for even longer. And if the film works as it does it’s because we do actually spend some proper time with these characters. It’s crucial that those scenes don’t feel rushed.

Rhys Ifans as the one-armed scientist/lizard, has enough screen-time  to flesh out his character into not just your stereotypical baddie, but a proper two-dimentional persona, making that extra twist at the end even more believable  (and giving Alfred Molina from Spiderman2 a run for his money for the top spot on Spidey’s best enemy list).

One the downside, James Horner‘s music, while one one hand was nicely judged on some of the more intimate and poignant moments, felt too saccharin and sweepy in what should have been much quieter scenes, but more crucially, it seemed to lack that Hero-theme which this type of films require. The kind of theme you can still hum by the time you leave the theatre, just like in Superman or Indiana Jones or even Harry Potter  (God, is John Williams really the only composer who’s able to do that?).

I’m also in two minds about the costume itself (I know, now we are on geeky-territory, but what do you expect from a moviegeek writing on his blog?!): though it look cool from far away and even on the poster, more often than not it seemed to fit awkwardly on Garfield’s body, creating strange creases and looking more like plastic than anything else…

The CGI work though has still a few cartoony moments is pretty good, and certainly the best we’ve seen so far in any Spiderman movie. I was pleased to see how little of that video-game-like point of view from that first trailer was actually left into the film. It must have been a case of listening to what the fans had to say and acting consequently.

Three editors are officially credited in the film and that’s always a sign of a film going that’s gone through several permutations. As someone very close to the art of editing I could see that despite those 136 minutes some of the transitions were a tiny bit too quick: the explanation of how Parker was able to make his web seems to be the sequence that suffered more than any other.

But I know, I am really picking needles here! It might not be the most original story you’ve ever seen (well, it not!), but it’s a thrilling romp and thoroughly enjoyable. And yet, despite all the action, the spinning, the spectacle (and the film has a lot of that!) what really shines at the heart of The Amazing Spiderman it’s the relationship between Garfield and Stone: it might be just marketing campaign to draw in the female audience as well as the the comic fans and the geeks, but it also gave the film such an emotional depth that I completely won me over. In fact in a way it’s the simplicity of the story itself that makes this such a pleasure to watch (I did enjoy the Avengers, but I still have trouble at explaining some of that story…).

If you add to all this, Andrew Garfield‘s spotless performance (in fact in a couple of moment really Oscar-worthy! If only Hollywood was brave enough to allow those types of performances in the Oscar race…) the perfectly balanced and well calibrated direction, and some wonderful supporting cast (Martin Sheen, I love you!) and some thrilling visuals, what you get is one my favourite superhero movie ever.

4 Stars (out of 5)

The Woman In Black – Review

The Woman in Black (2011)

Directed by James Watkins. Starring Daniel RadcliffeJanet McTeer.

I am really sorry to have to reduce most of my review about this film to the fact that it all starts with a bad casting choice, but it’s really quite hard to see past Daniel Radcliffe portraying a father of a four years old boy. I mean, how can I possibly buy into it when the DVD of the latest Harry Potter film is plastering every single window of every store in town right now? It doesn’t matter how much facial hair Daniel is growing to disguise his baby face, or how far away he’s trying to take his new character from the ‘boy who lived’, or even how little dialogue he speaks in this film (because let’s admit it, it usually all falls apart as soon as  he opens his month), I am just NOT buying into it! Daniel Radcliffe has been Harry Potter in 8 films and up until the last one (only a few month ago) we were meant to believe he was just 18 and now all of a sudden, without a single “transition film” in between, I’m expected to believe that he’s a grown man (A lawyer in fact!) who’s been married, widowed and has a child of 4? That is a big leap of faith…

However I was willing to take the leap and I did really try my best, despite the film itself doing virtually nothing to help me and convince me otherwise: there was not a single mention of his young look from any of the characters and we are just supposed to take it all from granted. At some point in the beginning there was even shot of what looked like the Hogward Express, running through the British landscape, with steam and all the rest (I was expecting to hear John Williams’ tune at any point!).

Casting Radliffe was always going to be a dangerous choice. One one hand you get all those devoted Potter fans, on the other you’ve got to be able to shake off his enormous baggage otherwise you’re running straight into the lion’s den, with your public and critics alike.

Radcliffe himself does try his best to restrain his usual trade-mark heavy breathing (even the director James Walkins admitted he’s been trying to force Daniel breathing with his nose instead of his month as he always does, whether he is Harry Potter or even naked on the stage playing in Equus). The film-makers made sure he spoke as little as possible (sadly the worse and most laughable scene, when he has to say goodbye to his son in a train station, comes right at the top of the film, setting a bad start for whatever is left to come). Wisely they managed to  avoid having him standing right next to any other cast members (so that it wouldn’t show how short he is which would have made it even more laughable). But unfortunately all this is just not enough and his presence, instead of making the film better, holds it back. Surely some Potter fans will be drawn to see it, but I doubt anyone could possibly be enraptured by it and in the end bad word of mouth will make this film disappear from the big screens pretty quickly.

It’s probably not very fair to criticise a movie just for his main lead, even less fair to compare it to previous movies in which the same lead starred, I agree. But even when you take Radcliffe out of this film, you’re actually left very little else.

“The woman in Black” wants to be a film about “mood”  and “atmosphere” more than “action” and “twists”. It’s more about the expectations of the ghost in a locked room at the end of the corridor than the actual reveal of the ghost itself. In a way, it’s an old fashion ghost story: it’s all about those creaks in an old house, the thick fog hiding a secret and those eerie shadows that should make your skin cold.

On paper all this sounds great and I am all in favour of an old-style good ghost story… If only it was all building up to something… Alas the pace is even and slow and Daniel is alone for most of the film investigating strange noises around the house for what feels like an eternity; so much so that after a while it all gets incredibly repetitive and rather tedious.

James Watkins, the director, was probably aware of this and in order to “jazz it all up” decided to pepper it all with several fairly predictable loud stabs of cheap scares. I say fairly predictable because as an average horror fan I could see most of those “jumps moment” coming from miles away. Of course some of them are quite effective, but I don’t think that should be a mark of a good horror film. It’s certainly not difficult to scare people with a loud crashes and bangs in the middle of a very quiet scene.

I couldn’t help feeling there was nothing in this film that I had not seen before… A haunted house, rocking chairs moving by themselves, spider webs, locked doors, ghosts appearing in windows, a graveyard at night, thick fog and quicksands, old fading photographs … No cliché was left untouched. Oh look, Daniel is reflected in a window! How long will it take until a ghost appears in the reflection. Not long, believe me.

As for the plot itself, it really feels rather dated, like a story that belongs to a different era, which in theory should be fine, but 10 minutes into the film I really get the feeling that I have already seen it all. There have been way too many horror films following the same sort of set up and this has nothing to add to any of them.

I haven’t read the original story, nor seen the stage play, but by watching this film alone I do get the feeling that this is a short story stretched to its limits. Probably OK for a twilight Zone episode, or maybe even or a theatre stage (apparently this is still a bit hit in the West End in London), but as a film, aside from some interesting visual and a few promising scenes (the very start with the little girls is intriguing for example), there was just not enough to keep me interested for the length of the film and by the time the ending came I just did not really care who lived or died.

I know I am going to be quite unpopular with the many Radcliffe fans out there (and please, don’t take me wrong, I do usually like the guy), but I found this film very very very disappointing. In fact, quite laughable and just boring. Sorry.

5/10

PS: I must probably say, that since I have written this review, I have spoken to a couple of friends of mine (non-horror fans) both of which were absolutely petrified by this film… and bought into Daniel from the start… The beauty of movies: they’re subjective.

 Click here to read the review from the last Harry Potter.

War Horse – Review

War Horse (2011) 

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Jeremy IrvineEmily Watson, Niels ArestrupPeter MullanDavid ThewlisBenedict CumberbatchCeline Buckens.

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

War Horse has probably some of the best Spielberg we’ve seen in a while, but unfortunately it has some of the worse too. The result is a strange hybrid of a film that at times showcases true mastery in Film-making (some real craftmanship that very few directors have these days) but other times falls flat (and almost into self parody) with some incredibly misjudged moments and, worst crime of all, (especially for a Spielberg’s film) is actually devoid of any real emotional drive: each set piece works as an individual piece in itself, but as a whole film “War Horse” lacks a certain narrative unity which in the end prevents one for getting completely swept away despite the glorious score by John Williams.

I was ready to let myself go on this one: on paper this is the ultimate weepy! But strangely while I was left admiring the nicely composed frames and the beautiful cinematography, I found myself emotionally detached from the actual story. Whatever happened to that great manipulator of emotions that still makes me cry every time I watch ET? Why was I so underwhelmed and not reduced to tears as I should have been?

Spielberg films his horses just like he would film a human being: close-ups, tracking shots and all sorts of filmic tricks bring them alive as their faces turn to camera and their eyes reflect the light from yet another great vista. He’s so good at making us see what the horses are actually feeling at any point in the film, that he almost forgets to make us care for the actual human beings the populate the rest of the film.

Human characters come and go in this film like bell boys in a hotel and yet few of them really leave any mark. Rarely you really feel sorry for these people when they die (crucially some of them die off camera too!), maybe because they’re so many of them, or maybe because most of these are slightly two-dimensional or maybe because there isn’t enough time to get close to them (However look at  Pixar’s “Up”: we were all crying during that 5 minutes montage scene!). Let’s face it, the real star of the film is the horse and that’s it. We don’t really care about the humans…

I’ll give you an example: At the end of the film (watch out… spoiler ahead) there’s a big reunion moment between our hero, Joey, (and his horse) and his family. It’s supposed to be a bit climatic moment, as the music swells and the cinematography pays tribute to Gone with the Wind itself. The old parents are finally able to hug their son who’s just returned from war. Potentially this is a heartbreaking moment unravelling under our eyes and yet I was coldly thinking to myself: “Oh… I didn’t realise the parents were actually worried and waiting for him… because I’ve never actually seen them being worried while the kid was away. In fact I don’t think I ever even seen the kid being in difficulty during the war. Was he suffering? Was he missing his parents? All he seemed to care about was the horse, and that one seems fine to me”. How could that be the big climatic moment of the film, if I wasn’t really prepared for it by anything I’ve seen so far.

And what about all those people dying? Was I meant to feel something for them? I really didn’t, because I was only given the point of view of the horse. It looked like I was only meant to care about the horse.

Are we all basically just supposed to feel sorry for people dying, simply because they just… erm… die, even if the film hasn’t really made care about them?

The beginning of the film is probably the worst part. It’s a very lengthy first act, which despite continuous nods to Spielberg’s intellectual mentors like John Ford (just to mention one) feels cheap, corny, cheesy, slow and just dated in the worse possible sense. Spielberg may call it old-style film-making, but those words actually disguise some pretty bad and indulgent sequences, with some caricature acting that makes it all look more like a bad episode of “The Little House in the Prairie” than “How Green Was My Valley”.

Especially considering what’s coming later on, this first part feels like a totally different film. It is all plastered with a constant unsubtle soundtrack, without a single moment of silence, that tells us what we are supposed to think at each given point. Worst of all are the more comical-moments in this first part, which are really unfunny and yet the music make them sound almost as if they belonged to a Lauren & Hardy film.

But just when you think this is getting so predictable and really beyond bad, finally war breaks and the film becomes something completely different, and actually quite good one.

This is the best Spielberg of the best moments Saving Private Ryan (and to a degree the one behind the scenes of both Band of Brothers and the Pacific). There are hints of his genius popping up every few minutes

There are some absolutely beautifully and impeccably crafted and choreographed sequences: some thrilling battle scenes, some great memorable moments (a massive crane reveals the aftermath of a battle and shows us that the casualty of war are not just humans. An execution sequence, seen through a windmill chilling in its beautifully timed production), there are some breathtakingly locations, some wonderful cinematography, and of course a heartfelt score by John Williams (more successful here where it has more time to breathe than it did in Tintin.

One of the most beautiful scene which obviously everyone will remember is when our horse gets trapped in big cluster of barbed wire (amazing special effects by the way. Surely that must have been some CGI work, though I couldn’t quite tell how it was done) and then is saved by two soldiers from two opposite armies: it’s an almost poetic moment which gets away from being panned as a cheap trick and manages to be funny, sad, poignant and tense all at the same time.

There are some great new characters too peppered throughout and there will be moments to leave anyone speechless for their powerful honesty and epic scope.

But unfortunately, despite all these elements and all these little stories, the overall arching narrative  still feels bitty and choppy and even though what’s actually happening under our eyes is so powerful that we could almost forgive anything, the ultimate emotional journey of the main human character, Joey, is not as strong or compelling as the sum of all the other parts and eventually I couldn’t quite connect to him.

What we are left with is a very uneven film which wants to reach everyone (never the terms “a film for the whole family” has been more appropriate and I’m sure everyone will enjoy if not love parts of it) and yet I can’t quite help feeling that if it hadn’t tried so hard to please everyone it probably would have been a stronger film. There were moments I loved and moments I really hated, and if my rating may seem a bit high is probably because after 3 weeks since i saw the film, those great moments in it are still imprinted in my mind.

7/10

The Adventures of Tintin – Review

The Adventures of Tintin – the Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Steven MoffatEdgar WrightJoe Cornish. Stars: Jamie BellDaniel CraigAndy SerkisNick FrostSimon Pegg 

I should probably tell you straight away that I have been waiting for this film for about 3 decades! Yes I know, quite a bold statement which may give away my age, but it will also tell you about my level of expectations for this film. If then you add the fact that I’ve grown up watching Spielberg movies back in his golden years (obviously the 80s) and that I’ve also been an avid fan of all Tintin comics ever since I was a little boy, you can probably get an idea of the kind of palpitations I had when I sat into the theatre and wore my 3D glasses. Having said all that I will still try to give an unbiased and honest review as much I possibly can, praising the (many) merits of the film but also highlighting some of the faults which in my option prevented Tintin from being the masterpiece I really wanted it to be.

For a start I was very  pleased to see how respectful Spielberg was with the handling of the original material. After all, this is the man who wanted to turn Harry Potter into an American, combining several books into one (A bad, bad, bad idea Steven!). The story of this film actually combines several of the Tintin books: ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’ (in which Tintin befriends Haddock and saves him from smugglers) and the two-parter ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’ (which is the core of the story about the search for the lost treasure). There are also some very small elements and secondary characters from other stories too, but as far as taking liberties that’s where Spielberg stopped. Everything else is precisely how the Belgian creator, Hergé had imagined it: with that same sense of adventure, mystery, intrigue, action and fun. In other words the same mood and atmosphere that made the comics so successful  (at least in Europe) and incidentally, in a way those same elements that were also at the centre of one of Spielberg’s classic, Raiders of the lost ark.  It’s not surprising that Hergé himself, after seeing that film back in 1981 thought Spielberg was the only person who could ever do Tintin justice.

Spielberg pays homage to Tintin’s creator right from the start, not just in the beautifully design title sequence (reminiscent of the one from Catch Me If You Can), where he show us so many elements from all Tintin stories, not just in the colour palette he chooses for the cinematography of the film or in the way each character’s face looks, but he even goes as far as having Hergé himself appearing as a street artist drawing a portrait of Tintin the way we are used to see him in the comics: pure genius!

On the whole I must say that I wasn’t as bothered as I thought I was going to be by the motion capture animation. In fact you stop worrying about it about 5 minutes into the film. The characters look more cartoony than realistic and that helps getting away with the fact that their eyes (especially Tintin’s) are slightly dead. This is first and foremost still an animated film (I can place a bet right now that it’s going to be nominated at the Oscars next year, and probably it’s going to win one too!). One thing is for sure: it does look magnificent! From the moody dark shadows reminiscent of those film noir from the 40s, to the great vistas straight out of a David Lean classic, the impeccable cinematography (Spielberg is even credited as Lighting Consultant) is not just beautiful but impressive and atmospheric.

Spielberg in his first animated venture (and his first use of 3D too!) looks like a little boy who’s just been told he can do what he wants for his birthday: he appears to be liberated from any restriction he may have had on a normal feature film and seems to have a lot of fun in finding new beautifully inventive ways to transition from one scene to the next  in a way you could only do in animation (or with a lot of very expensive CGI): Spielberg’s camera floats, glides, flies, moves through glass, shoots straight into mirrors and gives us views which would otherwise been virtually impossible and yet, most of the times it’s never showy, it’s never forced or indulgent (in the same way,it wasn’t forced in ET, when the camera never showed us any adult – mom aside – for most the film and yet it didn’t make it annoying… In fact most of the audience didn’t even notice).

It’s like watching a master at work who knows exactly where the camera should be at which time. It all culminated with one of the most impressive and perfectly executed chase sequence ever portrayed on screen. Impressive not just because of its pace and its edge-of-your-seat thrills, but also for its meticulously choreographed  technique: in fact it takes place in just one impossibly-long shot, which adds to the tension and to the sense of fun. If you ever wondered why didn’t they just film the whole thing for real, that sequence alone (which by itself is worth the price of the entire ticket) should serve you as an answer.

I just wished that same tension and fun of that sequence had been present throughout the rest of the film. Don’t get me wrong, this first adventures of Tintin is a roller coaster ride like few others. Essentially it’s one action set piece after another, and yet somehow I felt there was a strange tendency to resolve problems much too quickly. It’s almost as if Spielberg was so preoccupied to get us to the next action sequence that he almost forgot how to makes  like the one we were watching. I give you a few examples:  a chase sequence at the front of the film, ends much too soon before it has time to climax. Later on there’s a scene where Tintin has to steal a key from a bunch of sleeping goons. A lot of time is spent setting up the dangers and then just when the sequence is about to get fun, Tintin gets the key. There’s another scene where Tintin faints close to the propellers of a plane and once again he gets saved much too quickly.

Whatever happened to those classic Spielberg action sequences that were so tense despite being so simple? I’m thinking of Indy trying to get the antidote to the poison he’s just drunk as the little bottle gets kicked around a room full of screaming people in the Temple of Doom, or fight sequence by the plane in Raiders, or even the glass breaking sequence in the otherwise weak Lost World? (In fact they are too many to even mention).

The pace of the film is strange and a bit uneven. It has moments of long exposition (this is a fault that comes with the source material to be completely fair), then lots of little short action scenes (as I said, slightly too short to feel important. I would have rather had fewer set pieces but longer in their execution) and sometimes it’s even anticlimactic (I’m thinking of the last 10 minutes of the film for example). I don’t think it’s necessarily an editing problem. Since this is animation, there isn’t a lot of extra material that can be added to add tension to scene.

I  am probably picking needles because as I said before I love these stories (and the story-teller) way too much.

The comedy aspect of the film is a bit of a hit and miss: the Inspector Thompson and Thomson are obviously aimed at the younger crowd, but they’re also the weakest characters (we had a glimpse of that in the trailer itself, as one of them falls off the stairs: a scene which in the theatre where I was, full of kids, was received with dead silence), on the other hand Captain Haddock is perfect. I don’t know whether it’s the script, or Andy Serkis’s performance or both, but most of the jokes around him seem to work perfectly. Same goes for the little dog Snowy who is in almost every scene of the film, even if just in the background licking a massive bone in the desert. The audience I was with seemed to love him and so did I.

And finally Tintin himself which in this whole 3D world is probably the most two-dimensional character. Aside from the fact that he seems to get a kick out of solving puzzles and getting into adventures, we know very little about him. I’m not really blaming Spielberg for that, this exactly how Tintin was in the comics, but I do wonder if some character development would have been really seen as sacrilegious by the hard-code fans. Certainly not by me.

Finally I feel I should say a few words about John Williams score, the first one in years (especially if we dismiss the very forgettable one for the 4th Indiana Jones). There’s a very quirky and weird title music (which never really seem to play out throughout the rest of the film) which is the most un-Wiliamesque theme in a while. It’s certainly not bad, but it feels slightly detached from the rest of the film. The Star Wars title music was never repeated throughout the movies either, and yet it felt part of the score. This title music feels like it belonged to can other film (in fact it felt like a non used cue from “catch me if you can”). It’s hard to review the score, because for most of the film I felt it never really had the time to breathe as much as it should have. The comic cues suffered more than the others (the ones for the Inspectors for example), as they were covered by the dialogue and the rest of the sound effects to the point where I even wondered whether any music was needed at all. In fact on the whole I felt there was way too much music in the film (in fact there was hardly a moment without) and yet it had very little time for the music to shine. Having said that, I was still able to hum some of the Tintin action tunes once leaving the theatre… and that’s always a good sign.

To recap, I think Tintin has definitely legs for a sequel and even more than just one. It is a solid action-packed fun-ride for the whole family which is not as loud, dumb and insulting as some of those Pirates of the Caribbean films were (especially the latest sequels). It’s proper film-making with the heart in the right place.

I’ll be looking forward to the next one, even if I am very aware I have now passed the average age of the target audience…

7.5/10

Check out my other reviews of movies by Spielberg: Raiders of the lost art, ET The Extra-Terrestrial, War Horse

Raiders of the Lost Ark – 30th anniversary Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Harrison FordKaren AllenPaul Freeman

Call me childish, call me narrow-minded, call me a “blockbuster-junkie”, call whatever-you-want, but to me this is the perfect film!

Such a bold statement might require some explanation (which hopefully I will be able to give in this post) and certainly begs the question: what makes a film perfect? And, is this really one?

The answer to the second question is a simple and resounding YES.

I believe a perfect film is one that can be watched over and over again: a film that you never grow tired of and that whenever is on TV and you stumble across it, you end up watching. A perfect film is one of those where you struggle to pick up one favorite scene, because they’re all so good. A perfect film is one of those you really wouldn’t change anything about it and where all its elements (story, direction, acting, music, cinematography, editing and so on) come together in a such a way that it’s virtually impossible to choose one over the other.

Raiders of the lost Ark is 30 years old this month, but still shines as if it were made yesterday… except that it wasn’t because, as we all know “they don’t make them like this anymore“.

I still remember going to the movie theatre when it first got released (Yes, I’m giving away my age: clearly I’m not a teenager!) and being absolutely blown away by it. At the time there was nothing like it  (and arguably, that’s probably still true today).

Ever since then people have been trying to  imitate its winning formula, and, needless to say, most of them failed miserably. Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about (and to prove my point), just think of Lara Croft, Prince of Persia, National treasure, The Mummy Trilogy and even those films inspired by the Dan Brown‘s books: well, those are the most successful ones… Enough said. I won’t even go into the list of endless B-movies.

I find quite hard to write about “Raiders”, mainly because I’ve seen it so many times and I know so much about it, that I almost feel compelled to write every single details filling up pages and pages… But don’t worry, I won’t.

Right from the word “go”, from when the summit of the Paramount logo dissolves into a Peruvian mountain (a Visual device which will become the trademark of the entire series), you know you’re in for something which is not only original but clever and handsomely made.

What follows that logo is probably one of the best first sequences of any action movies ever made. The mysterious forest, the haunting music, the bloody  statue, the group of explorers, the old map, the hidden cave, the pulsating tension, the crawling spiders, the giant web, the deadly traps, the decomposed body, the big scares, the golden idol, the sliding  door, the traitor, the whip,  the rolling boulder, the French baddie, the wild Hovitos, the arrows, the chase across the fields, the swinging vine, John Williams‘s “raiders theme”, the snake on the plane, the jokes breaking the tension: and all this is just within the first 10 minutes!!! It is such an incredible edge-of-your-seat beginning that after that the film can afford to launch into a very long scene with some massive exposition

And I haven’t even mentioned the hero himself, Indiana Jones.

Harrison Ford deserves a lot of credits for the success of this film. Who knows what would have happened if Tom Selleck had played the role: he was the first choice, after all (I will be eternally grateful to Magnum PI).

Harrison Ford manages to make Indiana Jones strong and frail at the same time, funny and sad, invincible and weak. Indy is a hero but he gets hurt, tired, dirty and sweaty. It doesn’t matter how far-fetched and over-the-top the action might be, Ford makes it feel real.

Spielberg directs it all with clockwork perfection but he’s also able to improvise on the spot and use it all to his advantage (most famously, the now-classic scene where Indy shoots the sword-man, which as we all know by now, was pretty much improvised on the spot). He orchestrates it all with a mastery that’s never showy and always serving the story and the action as he uses all the tricks in the film-maker book: long lens shots during a chase sequence, a tracking shot across the desert to show the scale of the landscape, a single one-take shot during a drinking competition.

He also knows exactly how to pitch the film: helped by a carefully crafted script, all the improbabilities are always levelled by humour, the action is always counter-balanced by actual dramatic scenes, the magical sense of wonder is always routed to reality and however cartoony some of the characters might be, they’re always incredibly detailed.

Paul Freeman‘s Belloq is not just a baddie. There’s so much more to him: the care and attention he has for Marion, and whole untold back-story and a passion for archeology he shares with Indy are enough to give him more depth and somehow make him more scary. He also gets one of the best lines in the film: “we are only passing though history, this… this IS history”

What started off as a tribute to those Action Saturday Matinee that Spielberg and Lucas loved so much, here becomes a rollercoaster of sheer invention, cracking action and incredible fun. So many scenes are now become classic iconic moments in movie history, whether it’s to do with snakes in  “well of Souls”, or ghost-like creatures during the opening of the ark, running though the streets of Cairo, or fighting with a bald guy by a plane out of control, in a secret chamber underground, or in a massive warehouse with thousands and thousands crates (incidentally, one of the best “last shots” of any movie!!).

This is so much more than just pure escapism: this is a manual of “storytelling with pictures”.

10/10 

Here’s there’s a great fan-made running-commentary of the film. A real work of genius and love for the film made with great care and attention. Well done Jamie!

Raiding The Lost Ark: A Filmumentary By Jamie Benning on Vimeo.

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