Thirty years ago today, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' first opened in theaters.
Many of you reading this weren't even born yet, but I was there on opening night, a very excited Harrison Ford fan, who talked her parents into seeing it as soon as possible. (Dad was game -- he's the one who read about 'Star Wars' in Time magazine and suggested we check it out long before everyone else did.) And then I quickly saw 'Raiders' again with my best friend, Mary. And again. We now had Indiana Jones to pin up next to our Han Solo magazine cut-outs on our bedroom walls.
It's hard to believe -- especially given that these days we all know the second a movie deal comes together and every detail years before the movie itself is ever made -- but I first learned this movie existed from a mere newspaper ad.
All I needed to know was in that black-and-white ad. It read: "From the creators of JAWS and STAR WARS comes Indiana Jones. The ultimate hero in the ultimate adventure." And the star was Harrison Ford. What more did I need to know? (Who cares that I'd never seen 'Jaws' and had only the vaguest idea of the difference between a director and a producer?)
I can't remember where we saw the movie or how much the tickets cost. (I wasn't paying!) I can't remember if we got popcorn.
But I do remember that moment when Indy first stepped out of the jungle, the tarantulas, the skeletons popping out of the wall, and the pulse-pounding run from that giant boulder. And that was only the first 10 minutes! And so my love affair with 'Raiders' began.
It wasn't just Indy that made the movie for me, but the thrilling chases, the breathtaking action, the great villains, the exotic locations and the awesome power of the Ark itself. And who didn't love Marion, who could out-drink the biggest hulk, wield a mean frying pan and hold her own against vicious Nazis? She also cleaned up nice.
Three years later, sadly, 'Temple of Doom' was massively disappointing. Sure it had even more over-the-top stunts and derring-do, but instead of the awesomely self-sufficient Marion, Indy was now saddled with a helpless damsel in distress who did nothing but shriek and an annoying kid sidekick. And instead of traveling to the far reaches of the globe, nearly all of the movie took place in that stupid temple.
I didn't even bother to see 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' when it opened, I was that disillusioned with the whole franchise. (Now, of course, I love the genius of casting the original James Bond, Sean Connery, as Indy's father and the cranky camaraderie between them.)
I remained an Indy-holic, though, one who would take issue with anyone who claimed to know the movie better than I did, even if I politely kept that information to myself. (I'm sorry, friend of my college roommate: Marion's dress in the final scenes is not the same one Belloq gave her. D'uh!)
In between 'Last Crusade' and 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,' I moved to Los Angeles, where I've had the fabulous good fortune to meet Harrison Ford a few times. The time I shook his hand as a pure fan, not a journalist, at the 2002 Golden Globes, well, that news made it back to my mom's dental hygienist, since my parents might love Ford even more than I do. When I got to attend his star on the Walk of Fame ceremony, I felt just like that girl waiting in line to see 'Raiders' for the first time. If only my old BFF Mary could have been there.
My Indy love returned in full force for 'The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.' Not that it's a great film, but seeing Indy on screen again made up for all the alien nonsense. And this time, I definitely noticed the venue: the Vista in L.A. with its Egyptian temple motif was the perfect setting to fall back in love with Indy all over again.
The beauty of 'Raiders' is that it's one of the greatest popcorn-slash-pure-entertainment films ever made. In an age glutted with the overuse of CGI and 3D, 'Raiders' still takes our breath away with real stunts, not to mention charm and humor. It was an homage to the films of Spielberg and Lucas's childhood, and it became a movie of my childhood. But no matter what age you are when you see it, you'll feel like a kid every time you watch it.
My hat's off to you, Indy.