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Monday, September 10, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Last week, I did a feature on one of my favourite movies from the 1980s, only instead of focusing on the plot of the film, I ended up talking about some of the behind the scenes moments about how the film came to be.  Never before heard trivia, bloopers, scene changes, and casting blunders.  You know...the antics that usually end up on the cutting room floor.

Well, since last week’s Monday Matinee was a hit with the audience, I thought that I would do the same thing yet again with another one of my favourite eighties films.  And, believe me, I found out some behind the scenes trivia that not even I knew!

For today’s Monday Matinee, I thought we would go back in time thirty-one years to the year that yours truly was born.

1981 was a year that many would call a period of hodge-podge.  Or, at the very least, I like to call it that.  It was a year in which we had all possible genres of music topping the charts from rock and roll to country music crossovers.  It was a year in which television sitcoms were being backburnered to make way for such prime-time soap operas as “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, “Falcon Crest” and “Knots Landing”.

And in the world of movies, there were a huge variety of films that one could see at the box office.  Among the top ten movies of 1981 were “On Golden Pond”, “Chariots of Fire”, “Arthur”, “The Cannonball Run”, “Stripes”, and “Superman II”.

Quite the eclectic list of films, eh?

It should also be noted that 1981 was also the year that two Hollywood heavyweights made their feature film debuts; Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat”, and Tom Cruise in “Endless Love”.

But what film was the highest-grossing film of 1981?  What film completely set a new standard in how future Hollywood action films were shot?  Which film gave Harrison Ford a career outside of “Star Wars”?

Well...let’s watch a trailer for the movie.  Maybe this will help jog your memory.

That’s right.  We’re going to look at the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, starring Harrison Ford and Karen Allen.  It’s one of my all-time favourite films, and it was the top-ranked movie of 1981, easily making almost four hundred million dollars at the box office.

The movie was released on June 12, 1981, and it was produced by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg.  This film was so successful that a number of sequels (and at least one prequel), each of which did extremely well at the box office, and also inspired a television series entitled “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” which aired between 1992 and 1996.

As most of you know, Harrison Ford portrayed the main character of the series, archaeologist Indiana Jones, and as the film begins, we begin to understand who he is and why he does what he does (although the 1984 film “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” does a better job of this, considering that it was the prequel to this film). 

The year is 1936, and Indiana Jones bravely makes his way through a Peruvian temple filled with traps that would kill the average man, woman, or child.  But not our Indy.  He manages to get through the temple in one piece trying to retrieve an ancient golden idol.  It’s just a shame that on his way out of the temple, he is confronted by his arch-nemesis, Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) and a group of Hovitos, and is forced to surrender the idol and flee.

All that work for nothing!

But then when Indiana Jones returns to his teaching position in the United States, he is told by a couple of Army intelligence agents that the Nazis are searching for Indy’s former mentor, Abner Ravenwood.  Ravenwood being the leading expert in the Egyptian city of Tanis, and who also happens to have the headpiece of a rare artifact “The Staff of Ra” in his possession.  Indiana Jones believes that the only reason why the Nazis would be interested in Tanis is because they believe that it is the location of the Ark of the Covenant, a biblical chest built by the Israelites to contain the fragments of the Ten Commandments.  The Nazis believe that by getting their hands on the Ark, they will become an unstoppable force in the world.  The Staff of Ra, meanwhile, is the key to opening up the Well of Souls, the area in which the Ark is rumoured to be buried in.

And, Indiana Jones couldn’t let the Nazis take possession of the Ark, could he?

So with that, Indiana Jones boards a flight to Nepal in hopes of meeting with Ravenwood.  Unfortunately, he happens to be too late.  He’s already kicked the bucket.    What’s worse, the headpiece of the Staff of Ra is now in the possession of Ravenwood’s daughter, Marion (Allan), a former, embittered lover of the hero.

So, what does one do to try and get something from someone who is scorned?  Buy them off!  No, seriously, that’s what Indiana Jones does.  He offers to pay Marion $3,000 (an insane amount of money back then) for the headpiece, and an additional $2,000 when they return home to the United States!  But before the deal could be made, a group of Nazis along with their leader, Major Toht (Ronald Lacey) bust through the doors of Marion’s tavern and set it ablaze.  Fortunately, both Marion and Indiana escape with their lives and head off to Cairo, Egypt, where they meet up with an old friend of Indiana’s, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), who agrees to help the two locate the Ark.  But when they learn that Belloq has joined forces with the Nazis to find the mystical treasure, it becomes a race against time to get to the Ark before they do...and naturally there’s lots of danger, trauma, adrenaline, and snakes. 

And anyone who has seen the movie knows exactly how Indiana Jones feels about snakes.

So, that’s the basic plot of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, completely ignoring the ending...because as you know, I never reveal endings.  But I will reveal a bunch of trivia and facts about this movie.  Again, some of this you might already know.  But some of it may be a surprise.

1 – Here’s a recent piece of trivia.  When “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was re-released in September 2012 for a one-week engagement (to promote the upcoming Blu-Ray release of the movie), it actually outperformed the more recent offerings for that box office weekend.  In fact, this past box office weekend was the worst one since the weekend of September 21, 2001!

2 – Watch the whole movie carefully and you will notice something...throughout all of the action sequences and situations that Indiana Jones faces, he never once loses his hat!

3 – Here’s an interesting piece about how the role of Indiana Jones was cast.  Initially, Harrison Ford was always Steven Spielberg’s first choice to play the role.  But George Lucas did not agree.  He was worried that people would accuse Lucas of casting Ford in every movie that he produced (Ford played Hans Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy).  By May of 1980, they thought they had found the perfect Indiana Jones in actor Tom Selleck...but at the last moment, Selleck dropped out of the production as he had just signed on to do a show called “Magnum P.I.” (which ended up running until 1988).  Harrison Ford was cast as Indiana Jones just three weeks before the film started shooting in June 1980!  How’s that for a close call?

4 – Other actors who were briefly considered for the role of Indiana Jones aside from Selleck were Tim Matheson, Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Peter Coyote, and Steve Martin!  Could you imagine Steve Martin as Indiana Jones?  I know I can’t!

5 – The famous truck scene in which Indiana Jones is dragged under and out behind a moving truck took eight weeks to complete.

6 – You know that scene in which Indiana Jones is in the room filled with thousands of snakes?  To recreate that sound in the background, sound designer Ben Burtt used a rather unconventional method.  He recorded the sound that his fingers made as they went inside a cheese casserole! 

7 – The film was originally set at a low budget.  By the time the filming wrapped up, the final budget came in at a whopping $22 million!  Luckily, the film more than recouped their budget!

8 – Danny DeVito was originally considered to play the role of Sallah, but he could not make it in to film the movie due to scheduling conflicts.  Rhys-Davies was given the role after Spielberg watched his performance in “Shogun”.

9 – This film marks the acting debut of Alfred Molina.  He plays a guide to Indiana Jones who ends up betraying him at the beginning of the film.  Don’t worry though...he gets what’s coming to him in the end.

10 – Before Karen Allen was given the role of Marion, Sean Young was also under consideration.  Debra Winger turned down the part.

11 – The iconic opening scene where Indiana Jones makes his way through the booby-trapped temple was inspired by an unusual source...a Donald Duck comic illustrated and written by artist Carl Banks!

12 – The jacket that Indiana Jones wore in the film was actually a brand new jacket at the time.  It had to be artificially aged by the costume department.

13 – I’m sure many of you want to know where Indiana Jones’ iconic hat came from.  Fear not, I have the answer.  Ever hear of a place known as Savile Row in London?  In that area was the famous Herbert Johnson hat shop, which is where the hat was sold.  And here’s a funny story about how the costume department aged the hat, courtesy of the Bonus Features section of the DVD.  Apparently, Harrison Ford and the head costume designer Deborah Nadoolman sat on the hat! 

14 – The boulder used in the iconic boulder rolling scene was made of fibreglass, and the sound effect was achieved by recording the sound of a tire from a Honda Civic coasting down a gravel embankment.

15 – Harrison Ford must have a high tolerance for pain.  When he was filming the scene that involved an airplane that was out of control, the plane ran over Ford’s knee!  Although ligaments were torn, he did not want to undergo any health care in Tunisia (where the bulk of the movie was filmed).  He ended up simply wrapping his knee in ice!

16 – John Rhys-Davies ended up contracting cholera while filming the movie.  In fact, the only crew member that did not get sick during the shoot was director Steven Spielberg!

17 – Initially, the main character of the film was named “Indiana Smith”.  It was changed to Jones the day the film began production.  The name Indiana came from the name of George Lucas’ dog, who also inspired another George Lucas creation, Chewbacca from Star Wars.

18 – Indiana Jones’ bull whip was actually sold at Christie’s auction house for $43,000 in December 1999.  His hat and jacket are on display in the Smithsonian.

19 – In the German release of the film, the voices of the Nazi actors were redubbed because the parts were played by American actors who weren’t exactly fluent in German.

20 – British wrestler Pat Roach held a dubious honour in the film.  He was the only actor to portray two different characters in the film, both of which were killed off!

21 – Want to know how the shot of the monkey raising his paw and saying “Heil Hitler” was achieved?  The first part was achieved by putting a grape on a fishing pole and holding the grape above the monkey’s head so that he would reach for it.  Of course, it took about fifty takes before the production crew got the shot they needed.  As for the voice of the monkey, it was provided by veteran voice artist Frank Welker.

22 – Here’s a freeze frame moment for you.  Take your copy of the movie and fast forward to the scene in which Indy is confronting the Nazi troops, threatening to blow them away with a bazooka.  If you watch the scenes containing Paul Freeman, you may notice a fly creeping around his mouth...which Paul ends up swallowing!

23 – The snake pit in the Well of Souls contained mostly real snakes, scavenged from several pet stores in the London area.  But when they still didn’t have enough snakes to cover the pit, garden hoses were added in.

24 – During the filming of the Well of Souls segment, assistant director David Tomblin was attacked by a python!  He ended up being okay, and the python was not seriously injured.  Another python wasn’t so ended up dying after being attacked by a cobra.

25 – Frank Marshall, one of the film’s producers had to play a pilot in the airplane fight sequence after almost all of the stuntmen fell ill.  But this cameo was not a fun experience for Marshall, who was forced to sit in a cramped airplane cockpit in the unrelenting Tunisian heat.

And, finally...

26 – Without giving too much away, I’ll just state that the following items were used in the iconic final confrontation scenes...a vacuum machine, a heat gun with time lapse photography, and a shotgun.  And believe it or not, the movie was almost given an R rating because of the graphic scenes.  It was eventually lowered to PG after some editing work.

That’s our look back behind the scenes of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.  So, what’s on tap for Monday, September 17?  Well, in 1982, Dustin Hoffman ended up performing in a movie that had people talking...and here's a's not "The Lady In Red".

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