Watch: How the Boulder Scene from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ Was Made and Why It Lasts

Watch: How the Boulder Scene from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ Was Made and Why It Lasts

There were many scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark that thrilled my preteen mind: brushing the spiders off a man’s back, the melting eyeballs, the unleashing of the power of the Ark. But, in the end, a scene of Indiana Jones being chased by a large boulder down a long tunnel wins. Why? Not sure. It has metaphorical power, I suppose–maybe it’s the opposite of the myth of Sisyphus, in which a man pushes a boulder up a hill for eternity? Maybe because it was the sort of gut-level entertainment that we rarely see in unmitigated, pure form in films these days? In any event, this brisk and informative "Art of the Scene" installment from Cinefix lays out the history of the film, and, for our edification, the details of the making of the boulder scene. We learn, among many other things, that George Lucas got the idea for the boulder from a Scrooge the Duck comic book, and that the sound of the boulder rolling is actually the sound of the wheels of a Honda Civic, rolling on gravel. Enjoy!

Indiana Jones and the Misunderstood Character Arc

Indiana Jones and the Misunderstood Character Arc

nullBack in October 2013, an episode of The Big Bang Theory ruined Raiders
of the Lost Ark
for many of its fans. In the episode, the geeky Sheldon
shows the movie (one of his “all-time favorites”) to his new girlfriend, Amy.
The moment the credits start to roll, he turns excitedly to ask her what she
thought of the film (as well as his taste). Her reaction is not what he had hoped
for. “It was good,” she shrugs, clearly underwhelmed. “It was very
entertaining. Except for the glaring story problem.” Incredulous, Sheldon insists
that Amy explain; she replies: “Indiana Jones plays no role in the outcome of
the story. If he weren’t in the film, it would turn out exactly the same. […] The
Nazis would have still found the ark, taken it to the island, opened it up, and
all died. Just like they did.” Sheldon’s mouth drops, followed by the mouths of
geeks worldwide. Amy’s criticism was picked up and passed around the Web, as writers
at various fan sites chimed in to voice their opinions on how the episode had gutted
Indiana Jones. At What Culture, Simon Gallagher explained “How
the Big Bang Theory Ruined Indiana Jones For Everyone
,” while at Cinemablend, Kristy Puchko asked, “Has
Big Bang Theory Ruined Indiana Jones Forever?
” (Such hyperbole is
typical of geek culture.) Suddenly, a previously undetected story problem was
eating away at the fabric of geekdom itself. But the problem, despite all the
hullaballoo, is that there is no problem, and there never was.


Amy’s argument, essentially, is that Indy isn’t a good protagonist
because he doesn’t advance the film’s plot. At the climax of the movie, he ends
up tied to a post, and doesn’t do anything to beat the Nazis. According to this
argument, he’s not a true hero because he fails to save the day by, say, punching
someone, or rigging an explosion. Instead, God steps in and wipes out Indy’s
foes, a modern-day version of deus ex

But this argument fundamentally misunderstands the central
conflict in Raiders of the Lost Ark,
and what the film is ultimately about. To be sure, the Nazis are Indy’s
antagonists, and he struggles with them throughout the film. His motives stand
in clear contrast to theirs, and one of his goals is to stop them from
unearthing the lost Ark of the Covenant for their own nefarious ends. (Hitler’s
army, with the Ark at its forefront, would be unstoppable.) But Indiana Jones’s
true struggle isn’t ultimately with the Nazis, but with something else.

Let’s consider who Indiana Jones is. He’s a man of science,
an archaeologist who travels the world digging up priceless artifacts, then
putting them in museums—which is where, he repeatedly and gruffly insists, those
artifacts belong. In other words, Indy is devoted to uncovering the past,
bringing its remains to light, and adding them to the stockpile of human
knowledge. This is why he’s incensed by mercenary archaeologists like his rival
René Belloq, who work for private collectors; it’s also why he opposes the
Nazis, who would use the Ark as a weapon, and a tool of oppression. Belloq and
the Nazis might do archaeology, but their goal isn’t the enrichment of all humankind.
For Indy, securing an artifact for a museum is to secure it for everybody, to
put it on display where anyone can see it, and learn from it. (Of course, this ignores
the colonialist, imperialist aspects of archaeology, especially archaeology of
the 1930s, but let’s save that critique for another day.)

It’s with this goal in mind—the enrichment of public
knowledge via science—that Indy enters into a race against the Nazis. Can he
find the Ark before they do? But his primary struggle remains a conflict with himself. His arc, if you will (pun
intended), comes to a crisis when his devotion to science is tested, and he’s
confronted with the limits of secular, experiential knowledge.

Early in the film, Indy makes it clear that he doesn’t
believe in the legends surrounding the Ark. When explaining what the artifact is
to some visiting FBI agents, he calls it “the chest the Hebrews used to carry
around the Ten Commandments …  the actual
Ten Commandments, the original stone tablets that Moses brought down out of
Mount Horeb and smashed—if you believe in that sort of thing.” A little later, while
studying a picture of the Ark, the agents ask, “What’s that supposed to be
coming out of there?” Indy replies, “Lightning … fire … the power of God, or
something.” He agrees to locate the Ark before the Nazis do, but his
motivation is, as usual, to secure a great new piece for Marshall College’s museum.
As soon as the FBI agents leave, he confirms with his colleague Marcus Brody that the school’s museum
will get the Ark.

Brody chastises his friend, however, for taking the matter
too lightly: “For nearly three thousand years man has been searching for the
lost ark. It’s not something to be taken lightly. No one knows its secrets.
It’s like nothing you’ve ever gone after before.” Indy’s reaction couldn’t be
more flippant. Laughing, he says, “Oh, Marcus! What are you trying to do, scare
me? You sound like my mother. We’ve known each other for a long time. I don’t
believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus pocus. I’m going after a find of
incredible historical significance; you’re talking about the boogie man.
Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am.” On that note, Indy tosses his
revolver into his suitcase. It’s a brilliant character moment in more ways than
one. Obviously Indy is a tough guy who can take care of himself in a scrap. But
he also believes that any threat he meets will be mortal—not divine.

The Ark, to Indy, is an artifact like any other. It’s rarer,
perhaps, and more celebrated, but it’s something made by man, and mystified by
human stories. His nonchalant manner regarding the artifact’s divine power
stands in exact contrast to his friend Sallah, who truly respects the Ark’s supernatural
power. Sallah echoes Marcus Brody’s warning to Indy, claiming, “It is not
something man was meant to disturb. Death has always surrounded it. It is not
of this earth.”

Lest any of this reading seem like embellishment, the
question of Indiana’s faith was central for Harrison Ford, who scribbled notes
in the margins of his script, wondering whether Indy was “a believer.” Recall
also Belloq’s line to Indy, when our hero is standing above him with a grenade
launcher, threatening to blow up the Ark. Belloq calls his rival’s bluff,
saying, “All your life has been spent in pursuit of archaeological relics.
Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations. You want to see
it opened as well as I.”

Indy’s lack of faith is directly challenged at the climax of
the film, when the Nazis secure the Ark. He and Marion Ravencroft watch as the
villains prepare to open the chest—going so far as to document the moment on
film—and their hubris proves instructive. Whereas the Nazis believe
themselves to be God, or even superior to God, Indy realizes that he must
choose a different course of action. Famously, when the Ark is finally opened,
he shouts to Marion that she should close her eyes. In other words, at the very
moment when they are finally able to look upon the artifact they’ve been
chasing, Indy chooses to look away—to refuse to observe. He has come to agree
with Sallah that the Ark is a thing divine, and embodies knowledge that humans
are not supposed to have.

To misunderstand this is to misunderstand Indiana’s
character, and the whole point of the story. Ultimately, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a film about the limits of science, about its hero reaching a boundary where one kind
of knowledge (empiricism) breaks down, only to be replaced by a different kind
of knowledge (religion, faith). Unlike the Nazis, unlike Belloq, Indy humbles
himself, and makes what the film considers the right decision: to close his
eyes before God.

If there is a “glaring story problem” with the Indiana Jones
films, it’s that this basic conflict gets repeated in all of the movies. Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, and Kingdom of
the Crystal Skull
all effectively reset Indiana to square one, despite the
lessons he’s learned elsewhere. In each film, Indy starts out a man of science,
incredulous in the face of some greater power, only to relearn humility. Indeed,
the ending of Last Crusade depicts
him once again learning this lesson. Even worse, Temple of Doom takes place chronologically before Raiders, which means that Indy already
had some experience with the divine before setting out after the Ark—albeit the
divine of a different faith. (A separate article could be written on the
challenges that Temple poses to the monotheism
of Judaism.) To gripe about any of that would be a complaint worthy of a true geek,
rather than the weak tea with which the pretend nerds on Big Bang Theory flummox one another.

But of course, Raiders
got made first, and told the story best. Its crystal-skull-clear dramatization of
Indy’s crisis of faith—and his triumph via humility—is an essential part of why
it’s the greatest Indiana Jones film.

A.D Jameson is the author
of three books:
  Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound, 2011), Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson, 2011), and 99 Things to Do When You Have the Time (Compendium Inc., 2013). Other
writing of his has appeared
and HTMLGIANT, as well as in dozens of literary journals. Since August 2011 he’s been a PhD student at the University of Illinois at
Chicago. He is currently writing a book on geek cinema. Follow him on Twitter at

Raiding The Lost Ark: A Filmumentary By Jamie Benning

Raiding The Lost Ark: A Filmumentary By Jamie Benning

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

[EDITOR'S NOTE: In the tradition of Star Wars Begins, filmmaker Jamie Benning has stitched together the perfect informative tribute to this classic film. Don't miss it.]



[EDITOR'S NOTE: In a yearly feature titled "Oscars Revisited," Press Play takes a look back at the Academy Awards race from earlier eras. Our inaugural series focuses on the five Best Picture nominees from calendar year 1981: Reds, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Chariots of Fire.]

For years after the release of his box-office breakthrough Jaws, Steven Spielberg fantasized about directing a James Bond picture. He got his chance, sort of, with Raiders of the Lost Ark, his first team-up with his longtime friend and fellow "movie brat" George Lucas. The two were on vacation in Hawaii in 1977 after the release of Lucas' own career-redefining blockbuster Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope but before the release of Spielberg's next movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg told Lucas of his desire to make a Bond film; Lucas replied that he had a better idea, and Spielberg instantly seized on it as "James Bond without the gadgets." It was about Indiana Smith, an archaeologist who travelled the world unearthing buried treasure, fighting bad guys and witnessing supernatural events; Lucas envisioned it as an homage to the World War II-era cliffhanger serials that he, Spielberg and other '50s kids used to watch in reruns on local TV, only in color and CinemaScope and in Dolby stereo. Spielberg liked the concept but suggested changing the hero's last name from Smith to Jones.

nullFour years and a $18 million worth of Paramount's money later, Spielberg and Lucas released Raiders of the Lost Ark, featuring up-and-coming action hero Harrison Ford — Han Solo in Lucas' Star Wars franchise — as the whip-cracking archaeology professor trying to keep the Lost Ark of the Covenant out of Hitler's hands. As scripted by Lawrence Kasdan, who rewrote the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, Indy was a rumpled, unshaven, refreshingly human hero, surly but decent, less like a Bond-style sexy sociopath than a Gary Cooper character in a bad mood. The combination of Ford's casual fearlessness, Lucas' gee-whiz sensibility, Spielberg's kinetic precision and costar Karen Allen's tomboy sass made the film into the year's biggest hit, a sleeper that rolled into multiplexes opposite Superman II and the latest James Bond entry For Your Eyes Only and stole their box office thunder. Raiders grossed $209 million in North America and took the "So popular that we can't ignore it" spot in the following year's Best Picture lineup. It also inspired knockoffs, including the network TV series Tales of the Gold Monkey and Bring 'Em Back Alive and the movies High Road to China, Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile

nullSpielberg didn't stint on the violent action; this was probably one the first PG movies in which a lone hero singlehandedly and bloodily eliminated scores of foes, and definitely the first in which the power of God made Nazis' heads melt, implode and detonate, spewing meat chunks into the camera. Three summers later, the even more extreme violence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the Spielberg-produced Gremlins inspired the creation of a new MPAA rating, PG-13. But the film's real draw was its mastery of pacing and tone. For a large production shot in several countries, Raiders was light on its feet, zipping through scenes without a wasted frame. And it managed the same neat trick as Spielberg and Lucas' earlier films in managing to seem at once self-aware and innocent. The duo plundered recent and past film history like kleptomaniacs on a prowl through Macy's. The deranged finale evoked Brian De Palma's Carrie and The Fury; Indy's wild escape beneath the carriage of a hijacked truck echoed a similar stunt in John Ford's Stagecoach; the final shot in which the Ark of the Covenant, recently recovered from Hitler's minions, is wheeled into a gigantic warehouse was filched from Citizen Kane. The transitional sequences depicting the global progress of Jones and company via cross-dissolved travel footage and maps festooned with animated red lines was so brazenly old-fashioned that it made the circa-1981 audiences that I saw it with laugh and applaud. (As I recounted in a piece about Raiders for The House Next Door, this was the first film that made me realize that movies could be expressions of a singular sensibility — that they were directed.)

nullRaiders was a career-redefining entry on the resumes of its major players. Ford stepped into the lead after CBS refused to release the filmmakers' first choice, Magnum, P.I. star Tom Selleck, from his TV contract, and proved he could sell tickets without a laser pistol in his hand; the film's success marked the start of a 20-year run as one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors. Ford's regular employer Lucas showed the studios that he wasn't just the Star Wars guy. The movie also revived Spielberg's career momentum after the box-office flop of 1941 (1979), an epically overscaled bit of period slapstick that in retrospect feels like a dry run for Raiders, an immense physical comedy that owed as much to Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton as it did to poverty row cliffhangers, with a stalwart hero taking on armies. The film and its sequels went on to comprise one of the most financially successful and stylistically influential series ever made. With their superficial awareness of the texture of certain periods and places, Jones' pre-World War II shenaningans felt like a precocious schoolboy's fantasy — flip books scrawled in the margins of a history text. Lucas, Spielberg, Ford and their collaborators pushed this sensibility further in the film's sequels, which saw Indy cheat death in pre-war Shanghai, British colonial India, Nazi-occupied Austria and Germany (where Indy ends up getting his father's Grail diary autographed by Hitler at a book burning!), and an atomic testing site in 1950s Roswell, New Mexico, (which gave prankish new meaning to the phrase "nuclear family"). Although mainstream critics and general audiences enjoyed the series (except for the long-delayed fourth film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which some fans viewed as a personal affront) Indy's adventures had their detractors. The New Yorker's Pauline Kael complained that Raiders lacked the human touch of Spielberg's earlier hits and was lukewarm on The Last Crusade — although with typically Kaelian perversity, she adored The Temple of Doom. Alternative press critics pointed out — correctly, but without much impact — that Indy's adventures had an ahistorical and oddly pre-sexual vibe, and that Lucas and Spielberg's depiction of "foreign" cultures was cluless at best, racist at worst; for a long time, Indy's second adventure Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom was banned in India. For a brief period in the late '80s and early '90s, Lucas brought Indy to TV. His youthful adventures were bracketed with segments narrated by a geriatric Indy, a craggy-faced, one-eyed icon whose appearance was inspired by documentary footage of the old John Ford.

The Indy films do have a personal sensibility, although it's admittedly obscured by gunshots, explosions and supernatural maimings. The films feel like daydreams, not product, and their fusion of spectacle, mayhem, slapstick, banter and miracles has no equivalent elsewhere in cinema. And the saga does have an implied narrative that's more knowing and gentle than Spielberg and Lucas' detractors care to admit. Over the course of four films, the arrested adolescent Indy grows up, taking responsibllity for a surrogate family in The Temple of Doom (a prequel that feels like a sequel), reconciling with his estranged dad in The Last Crusade, then coming to terms with mortality and reconnecting with Marion and the son he didn't know he had in Crystal Skull. There's something to be said for Indy's brand of resourcefulness; it's earthbound and useful, rooted in emotional reality and ultimately touching. He's a superheroic everyman, surly and self-effacing — James Bond as Yankee prole. "I'm going after that truck," Indy tells his buddy Sallah, before throwing himself into the movie's most raucous action setpiece. "How?" Sallah asks. "I don't know," Indy replies, pushing his hat down tight on his head. "I'm just making this up as I go."

A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for New York Magazine and the founder of Press Play.