Saturdays and summer vacations are often the best times to have movie marathons. I rarely have time to sit down and have a back-to-back-to-back marathon of films, so I'll usually spread the movies out across several days. For example, in anticipation of Marvel's The Avengers, I watched each of the five films - Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger - in the days leading up to the premiere. Last year, I prepared myself for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides by watching each of the previous three films every Friday before the fourth film hit theatres. These marathons usually help to get me in a summer blockbuster mood, in which I'll be inundated with splashy effects and loud noises more often than anyone should be.
There's something exciting about just letting yourself get absorbed into a series of movies. You become a part of that world, and you enjoy moments and situations that generally don't occur in real life. People sing and dance. Fight scenes are elaborate and choreographed. Explosions are thrilling and only marginally life-threatening. To celebrate summer movie marathons, Saturday Matinee will devote the whole summer to a very special movie marathon. Each week, we'll take a look at one or two films represented in Disney Hollywood Studios' The Great Movie Ride, along with an accompanying Disney short that fits thematically for viewing. This week, we'll be continuing with From Screen to Theme's "Summer Week" by taking a look at one of the best summer movies ever made: the 1981 action-adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark. It will be paired up with Disney's own 1999 summer hit, the animated film Tarzan.
Unfortunately, I couldn't acquire or view 1932's jungle classic Tarzan the Ape Man (the actual film featured in The Great Movie Ride) in time for this week's Saturday Matinee. However, all three films still fit within our weeklong celebration of Summer here at From Screen to Theme.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Doctor Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr. is approached by the U.S. government to find a rather unique relic: the Ark of the Covenant. They have determined that Hitler has sent several of his own troops to Cairo to dig it up. Indiana Jones is sent over, intent on getting to the Ark first, or at least ensuring that the Nazis don't find it. He first travels to Nepal in order to get a medallion that would help him locate the Ark. The current owner of the medallion, Marion Ravenwood, was once in love with Indiana, and she agrees to help him find the Ark.
On the streets of Cairo, Indy and Marion get separated, with Indy falsely believing that she's been killed in an automobile explosion. She instead had been taken captive by Rene Belloq, a rival archaeologist working with the Nazis to find the Ark. Indy, his friend Sallah, and several others end up finding the proper burial place for the Ark, and dig it up. However, they are caught by the Nazis, who arrange to have Indy and Marion buried alive. Can they escape and rescue the Ark from the Nazis?
A ship burns at sea, as Lord and Lady Greystoke make their escape on a lifeboat, with baby Greystoke safely tucked in Lady's arms. They build a treehouse in the jungle, but are ultimately killed by Sabor, a leopard. Sabor also kills the infant child of apes Kala and Kerchak. Kala soon hears the cries of baby Greystoke, and discovers he is still alive. She takes him in as her own, calling him Tarzan. At first, young Tarzan does not fit in with the other apes, but over time, he becomes proficient at climbing trees, gathering fruits, even grabbing the hair off an elephant's tail. He then proves his worth to Kerchak when he kills Sabor.
When Tarzan is a young adult, he meets other humans for the first time: Jane Porter, her father Professor Archimedes Q. Porter, and hunter Clayton. Tarzan learns English quickly from Jane, and the two teach each other about their cultures. Tarzan is eager to learn more about Jane's world, just as she is for his. Clayton, however, would prefer hunting game, and soon traps Tarzan, Jane, and Porter so they can capture and sell the gorillas. Can Tarzan escape and rescue his family?
Raiders of the Lost Ark was director Steven Spielberg's fifth theatrical film, after a string of four pictures that were each distinctly different from the next. 1974's The Sugarland Express was Spielberg's first foray on the silver screen, bringing us a tense drama supplemented by brief moments of comedy. In 1975, Spielberg would practically invent the term "blockbuster" with his summer thriller Jaws. 1977 saw Spielberg's more thoughtful approach to science fiction, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which perfectly counterbalanced the space opera known as Star Wars, directed by his good friend George Lucas. Spielberg's war comedy 1941 could be classified as his first - for lack of a better word - disappointment. Columbia Pictures and Universal Studios expected the film to do the same business - if not, better - as his past films, but critical reviews were mixed, while box office reception was warm.
Any bitter taste left after 1941 would be washed away in 1981, when Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theatres and re-affirmed Spielberg as a box-office draw. The film not only did gangbusters at the box office, but was highly-acclaimed and went on to be nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Thirty-one years later, Indiana Jones has continued to thrill audiences today, as he's been featured in three additional films (all helmed by Spielberg), a prequel television series ("The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles"), and several theme park attractions and shows. Imitations continually show up in film and television, some successful like 1984's Romancing the Stone (starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner), others laughable like 2006's The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (starring Casper Van Dien and Leonor Varela).
However, one of the greatest testaments to the film's success and continued relevance with audiences today is a little-seen fan film. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, produced between seven summers from 1982 to 1989, was made in the days before YouTube and Final Cut Pro. Heck, it was started in the days before VHS and DVD. A group of friends would get together every summer to shoot scenes from the film, using whatever materials they had to keep it faithful to the original film (including a bootleg audio copy from the 1982 theatrical re-release). The film was completed in 1989, but lay dormant until 2002, when one of the friends rediscovered it. If you can ever catch a screening, you're in for a real treat. The film may be amateur, but shows just how wild the imagination can be, and how resourceful these budding filmmakers were.
Disney's Tarzan culminated a decade of animated hits for the company, while also bringing the "Disney Renaissance" to a close. Unlike its Broadway-style predecessors, Tarzan's songs were not always directly performed by a character. Rather, scenes or montages were set to a thematic song. We've seen versions of this before, such as "Someone's Waiting For You" in The Rescuers and "Baby Mine" in Dumbo. In Disney's Tarzan, three songs are performed this way: "Two Worlds," "Son of Man," and "Strangers Like Me." Of the three, I've always felt that "Two Worlds" was staged the best. It open up the film with one of the most intense sequences in Disney's animated history. Lord and Lady Greystoke escape their burning ship, juxtaposed with a pack of apes trekking through the jungle. Soon, both experience a loss, as the Greystokes are killed by Sabor, who has also killed the young ape belonging to Kala and Kerchak. Throughout, we hear "Two Worlds," which helps to unite these two not-so-different groups. Kala finds baby Greystoke, whom she takes as her own and names Tarzan. Tarzan is forever a man of two worlds, and it's his struggles to fit into both that help define his journey throughout Disney's film.
I've always been a big fan of Disney's Tarzan, especially the soundtrack. Phil Collins' ballads in this film and the equally-underrated Brother Bear are some of the best in Disney's songbook, even if they haven't reached the timeless success of some of Disney's most well-known songs. As it has been only thirteen years since Tarzan, it's still hard to gauge whether songs like "You'll Be In My Heart" or "Two Worlds" are on the same level as "When You Wish Upon a Star" or "Heigh-Ho." Give it time; I'm sure a Disney historian fifty years from now would decide to place that high a regard to the Collins-Disney song catalogue.
Images above are best version to acquire
Raiders of the Lost Ark has seen DVD releases by Paramount in 2003 and 2008, the first release in a box set with its two sequels (Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade), and the latter in both a box set and as an individual seller. Paramount will release all four Indiana Jones films to Blu-Ray in September.
Disney's Tarzan was released to DVD in 2000, as both a single-disc edition and a two-disc Collector's Edition, both of which are now out of print. The film was re-released in 2005 as a single-disc Special Edition (hold on to your Collector's Edition instead). It will be released in the near future (date is still TBA, I'm placing my bet on first-quarter 2013) to Blu-Ray as a "Two-Movie Collection" with 2005's Tarzan II.
Finally, although I wasn't able to cover Tarzan the Ape Man this week, you can still find Johnny Weissmuller's twelve Tarzan films on DVD. The first six are available in "The Tarzan Collection" (released in 2004), while his final six can be found in "The Tarzan Collection, Volume Two" (released in 2006). Both releases are by Warner Bros., who later re-released the first four Tarzan films under the "TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection" banner in 2011.