Raiders Of The Lost Ark, 1981

This is it. This is the big one. The single most influential film of my life. The film I've seen more times in the theater than any other. The one that came along at at time to make the move from Southern California to Central Florida easier on an 11-year-old boy.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a name spoken in hushed, awed tones.

What is wrong with this film? Absolutely nothing. This is my perfect film, the one that had a hand in shaping my idea of the hero and single-handedly overtook the Star Wars films as my greatest obsession, which was a monumental task considering The Empire Strikes Back had only come out the year before. I still know and can recite every single line, something I can only do with Star Wars and Jesus Christ Superstar.

When we had left California I had already seen it 5 times. Upon arrival I saw it another 3 times in the first month when we were still house hunting. Thankfully, we found a house in Carrollwood that was only about a mile from the local theater (the much missed Mission Bell), and Raiders had just started what would be over an 18-month run there. Films were only $1 a couple of nights a week and my parents and I would be there religiously. More often than not, I would choose seeing Raiders over other films (like Condorman, Personal Best, or Herbie, The Love Bug), and a conservative guess is that I ended up seeing it at least 45 times on the big screen, though I would think that number is closer to 60. It's not that unique as this was before the boom of home VCRs. Plus, I've seen it at least another 8 times since it's initial run, bringing the estimated grand total to somewhere near 75.

Everything about this film was right, especially the timing. While I loved and still love Sci-Fi, I was just at that age where I was looking to mix my fantasy with my something a bit more tangibly historical. Even at 11 I had a fascination with archeology and Egyptology, I had a good knowledge of the World War II and the Nazis, and I had just begun delving further into my Biblical stories in earnest. All this plus Han Solo--that's what Raiders Of The Lost Ark was.

Indiana Jones was a hero, but he didn't always have the answers or make the right choice. He was cool at all the right times, but that didn't keep him from getting cold-cocked by his ex-girlfriend. In fact, the film opens he goes through a heart-racing adventure only end up losing his prize to his nemesis, Belloq. As the film progresses it's his faults that make him more interesting--his fear of snakes, his mispronunciation of words, his geeky professorial side. (You don't know how often I tell people I work in a li'bary.) Even with regards to the actor Harrison Ford. If it hadn't been for Ford's bout with dysentery and a very attuned swordsman one of the most memorable scenes in the film would have unfolded in a very different way:

I'm pretty sure that this is the first case of rumbly tummy contributing to a film being archived by the United States Library Of Congress.

In the wake of the success of Star Wars and the marketing juggernaut that it became (and still is), Raiders had a surprisingly small spread of toys and games. Only a handful of figures, playsets, and toys were released (and yes, I had the J.C. Penney's four pack--Indy, Marion, Toht, and the swordsman). I also had the board game (OK, still have) with the cool 1940s art work that looked absolutely nothing like Indiana Jones, which always disturbed me. Other than that and perhaps some comics and a hat there wasn't much for the rabid kid or collector. I did take to wearing khaki-coloured shirts and pants with heavy explorer boots and my great-grandfather's brown Fedora. Even found a small bullwhip and a 1940s small leather journal. Heck, he was even my penultimate Halloween trick-or-treating costume when I was 11 (I was 'Prince Charming'-era Adam Ant when I was 12).

There is one more aspect of the film I should touch on that has ended up being a pretty important factor, and that is gore. Yup, even though I was a huge monster/horror consumer at a young age, I never was one to stomach graphic gore. Raiders has a famous scene at the end:

Now the first few times I saw the film I hid my eyes at this scene--the screams, the melting, even the exploding face with huge chunks of meat flying out. This was the first time I had ever seen anything like this and it was a bit of a shock. But I think it prepared me for further exploration into the horror genre, for my later love for Friday The 13th and Asian horror.

And then there are the sequels. I will never say an unkind word about the Indiana Jones franchise. I have seen all four films at least 3 times each in the theater (obviously, some more than others), and the worst criticism I will say is that Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is my fourth favorite Indiana Jones film of all time. But that being said, Raiders is the obvious high point, as most first films for franchises are. Every film has quotable, memorable scenes. Every film has that galloping wonderful John Williams overture.

And every film has The Man.

I've had a few heroes over the years, people I've admired or wanted to trade lives with, but very few have remained constant in my life. My parents have always been my heroes. Darth Vader has always been a hero. Mean Joe Greene was always been a hero. Jesus has always been a hero.

But Indiana Jones has always been my idol.