This Weekend's Other Anniversary:
The Legacy of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'
It's probably no coincidence that 'Super 8,' an homage by J.J. Abrams to the kind of movies Steven Spielberg specialized in 30 years ago, is being released this weekend, which also marks the 30th anniversary of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (released on June 12, 1981). Spielberg is nothing if not conscious of movie history -- especially his own -- and it's clear from recent interviews that the making of 'Raiders' is still fresh in his mind. (Moviefone's 'Super 8' review is here.)
In one sense, 'Raiders' has left an immense legacy, in that it launched a huge franchise on the big and small screens, turned Harrison Ford from a second-lead action-movie stalwart into an all-time movie icon and created the action-movie-as-amusement-park-ride template that many filmmakers (including Spielberg himself) have emulated ever since. In another sense, however, the movie seems an anomaly and a footnote, precisely because duplicating its magic and following its example have proved impossible for almost everyone who has tried (again, including Spielberg himself).
Of course, the movie was born out of a love for movie history shared by its creators, Spielberg and producer George Lucas. Even more than Lucas's swashbuckling Star Wars films, 'Raiders' was a deliberate throwback to the action movie serials of the 1930s and '40s. The key additions they made to the tradition: an improvisational feel and a relentless pace that make the movie play like a comedy as much as an action saga.
Like the resourceful Indy, who famously gets out of scrapes by saying he's making it up as he goes along, so did the filmmakers improvise solutions mid-shoot. Most famously, there's the moment where Indy, rather than duel against the swordsman in the street, simply shoots him -- a brilliant, convention-defying, absurdly practical solution that the filmmakers created on the spot. The moment, complete with Ford's world-weary expression, signaled that Indiana Jones was a new kind of action hero -- one who, despite being steeped in movie tradition, was going to do things his own way.
Even more important was the film's pacing, which never let moviegoers catch their breath for two solid hours. Every time Indy escaped from one threat, he immediately found himself confronting the next one. Even during the quiet, expository moments, like the one where Indy and Marcus are explaining the history of the Ark to the federal agents, the momentum is carried by Ford's boyish enthusiasm over ancient riddles and Indy's own ability to solve them. If nothing else, 'Raiders' is a celebration of the motion in motion pictures, a headlong rush of forward movement that carries the viewer along and creates the movie's carnival-ride-like experience.
The immediate effect of 'Raiders'' huge success was to turn the 38-year-old Ford (who'd spent 15 years in Hollywood supporting himself as a carpenter while landing the occasional supporting role and who had yet to parlay his Star Wars fame into successful leading-man status) into an enormous star who'd become one of Hollywood's biggest box office draws for the next 20 years. The film also boosted the careers of much of the rest of the cast, notably Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies and Alfred Molina. It also made co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan a bankable Hollywood name, who would go on to make hits like 'The Big Chill' and 'The Bodyguard.'
There were several attempts to duplicate the success of 'Raiders,' on both the small screen (anyone remember 'Tales of the Gold Monkey'?) and large (most brazenly, Brendan Fraser's 'Mummy' movies). But not even Spielberg and Lucas could replicate the magic in three sequels and a spin-off TV series ('The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles'). As Spielberg buff Tom Shone has noted, it was as if 'Raiders' had stumbled onto the formula for the perfect action movie, yet no one could recreate it in the lab.
Well, almost no one. The most endearing part of the 'Raiders' legacy is the oft-told story of the three preteen fanboys who, in 1982, decided to make a shot-for-shot remake of 'Raiders.' Their labor of love took them seven years, working with a pocket-change budget and homemade props, but they did it. Their adaptation has been screened in public many times over the years, and those who've seen it know that it does recapture the seat-of-the-pants ingenuity of both Indiana Jones and the filmmakers who created him. That childlike wonder, exemplified by kids making a home-movie homage to the big-screen fare that inspired them, is what 'Super 8' is about, and is what Spielberg has spent a lifetime evoking in his storytelling.
1937 (June 7): Movie icon Jean Harlow, the first of Hollywood's great platinum blonde sex symbols, dies of acute renal failure, after years of frail health. She is only 26 and still at the height of her fame.
1982 (June 11): 'E.T.: The Extraterrestrial' is released, and the tear-jerking story of a stranded alien and the lonely boy he befriends immediately becomes Steven Spielberg's signature film. It also becomes one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and makes a lifelong star out of seven-year-old supporting player Drew Barrymore.
1984 (June 8): 'Ghostbusters' is released, becoming an instant comedy classic and the year's second biggest hit (behind 'Beverly Hills Cop'). It spawns two TV series and one movie sequel, though a third "Ghostbusters' film has been stuck in development for years.
1993 (June 9): Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, 27, is arrested on charges of pandering, pimping, and possession of narcotics. Though the ensuing scandal threatens to embarrass some of the town's most powerful men, the only big-name client whose name is divulged is Charlie Sheen, a revelation that only burnishes his bad-boy reputation.
2004 (June 5): Movie/music power couple Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony tie the knot in a secret, intimate ceremony in the backyard of Lopez's Los Angeles home. The couple's joint projects would include the 2007 film 'El Cantante.'
Enjoying milestone birthdays this week are Natalie Portman (30 as of June 9), Shia LaBeouf (25 on June 11), Michael J. Fox (50 on June 9), and Mark Wahlberg (who turned 40 on June 5). Celebrating on the same day as Portman and Fox is Johnny Depp, who turns 48.
Lots of three-fer birthdays this week. June 6 is the big day for Sandra Bernhard (56), Harvey Fierstein (59) and Robert Englund (64). Blowing out candles on the 7th were Michael Cera (23), Karl Urban (39) and Liam Neeson (59). Sharing a June 8 birthday are funny folks Keenen Ivory Wayans (53), Joan Rivers (78) and Jerry Stiller (84). The 10th sees celebrations for Leelee Sobieski (29), Shane West (33) and Elizabeth Hurley (46). And on the 11th, LaBeouf's fellow cake-eaters include Hugh Laurie (52), Adrienne Barbeau (66) and Gene Wilder (76).
'Super 8' Trailer No. 2
'Super 8' (PG-13)
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, AJ Michalka, Joel Courtney, Ron Eldard
Directed By: J.J. Abrams
What's It About? In 1979, a group of small-town kids shooting a homemade horror movie witnesses a train wreck that lets loose a mysterious menace that threatens the town.
Why Should You See It? The set-up (home movies, mysterious monster) sounds like a kiddie version of Abrams' 'Cloverfield,' but it's also a tribute to a childhood spent watching Steven Spielberg movies and trying to emulate them (both Abrams and Spielberg, who produced this film, got their start as kids shooting with old-school cameras like the Super 8 models used here). So if you, too, have fond memories of those old Spielberg films (with their spunky latchkey kids, puzzled grown-ups, small-town Americana and misunderstood monsters), this movie is as much for you as it is for members of the YouTube generation.
You Might Like It If You Like: 'The Goonies,' 'E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,' 'Cloverfield'
Interviews: J.J. Abrams | Kyle Chandler
'Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer' (PG)
Starring: Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Parris Mosteller, Preston Bailey, Garrett Ryan
Directed By: John Schultz
What's It About? In this adaptation of Megan McDonald's kiddie-lit favorite, tween Judy (Beatty) is forced to spend the summer with her wacky aunt (Graham) but still finds ways to have goofy misadventures.
Why Should You See It? Because you liked the books, because you're under the age of 10 and because 'Super 8' is probably way too scary for you.
You Might Like It If You Like: 'Ramona and Beezus,' 'Harriet the Spy,' 'Nim's Island'
'Road to Nowhere' marks a comeback for legendary director Monte Hellman ('Two Lane Blacktop'), whose thriller is about a filmmaker shooting a movie whose unknown lead actress (Shannyn Sossamon) may be the actual femme fatale behind the real-life sex scandal that the screenplay depicts.
Showtimes & Tickets | Reviews
'X-Men: First Class': Could this Marvel prequel not only be one of the best recent superhero movies but also the year's best coming-of-age story? Showtimes & Tickets | Trailers & Clips | Reviews
'Beginners': Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer star in what may be the year's best romance and best father-son tale. Showtimes & Tickets | Trailer | Cinematical's Review
'Submarine': This may be the year's best teen coming-of-age story that doesn't involve mutants. Showtimes & Tickets | Trailer | Cinematical's Review
New on DVD: It's hard to add to the kudos already on record for 'True Grit.' After all, it made a huge pile of money, lassoed a slew of Oscar nominations, and made a star out of Hailee Steinfeld. Suffice it to say that, if you don't like Westerns because you think they are obsolete, or if you don't like movies by Joel and Ethan Coen because they're too weird, then this is the movie that could change your mind on both counts. A bonus: Roger Deakins' celebrated camerawork, which looked crisp yet dreamlike on the big screen, looks just as terrific at home. See it now or save it for Father's Day next weekend. Buy or rent the DVD | More new DVD releases
On Our Netflix Queue: Also newly released is another of last year's most acclaimed dramas, 'Another Year.' The story of a contented, long-married couple and their lonely, third-wheel friend (Lesley Manville), the movie is full of writer/director Mike Leigh's usual kitchen-sink, fly-on-the-wall realism. What makes it a must-see is the towering performance by Manville, whom many critics feel was robbed at Oscar time. Buy or rent the DVD
On TV: Speaking of classic Westerns, AMC is airing Clint Eastwood's entire Man With No Name trilogy in one sitting on Saturday. 'A Fistful of Dollars' airs at 5:30PM, followed by 'For a Few Dollars More' at 8 and 'The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly' at 11. And in case 10 hours of Eastwood rockin' that poncho and wreaking vengeance isn't enough, the whole trilogy is preceded by his early Western 'Hang 'Em High' at 2:45PM. Make it through that marathon, and you'll squint like Clint. Check your local listings
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.