Fortune Favors the Brave: With INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS about to be released, The Times.co.za offers a look back on the franchise that nails the social-political that helped make the original RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK a blockbuster in 1981:
The one thing nobody could have foreseen was the film’s intersection with a social and political shift. Stanley Kauffman wrote: “In this film the future is the past, spiffed up with the latest technology and the belief that the best has already been.” The key factor was the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, a movie star who was indelibly connected with the movie past and with a rugged, frontiersman style that galvanised the US out of its post-Nixon, post-Vietnam slump into a decade of optimism and prosperity. Indiana Jones, so defiantly American, with his bull-whip and his leather jacket, was like a poster boy from Reagan’s America, and Reagan’s own aura evoked that old movie magic. Instead of looking dated in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was riding the crest of a new mood in America.
Unfortunately, in trying to define the original RAIDERS as a nostalgic flashback to old-fashioned Americana, the Times’ cover feature makes an unconvincing attempt to paint the film as a box office gamble. We’re supposed to find some significance in the fact that Spielberg was paid “just” $1.5-million for directing the film, as if this indicated that, after the box office disappointment of 1941 (1979) Spielberg’s career was in the toilet and only the intervention of George Lucas saved him.
Let’s get real. During the 1970s, the two filmmakers had overseen four of the biggest blockbusters of all time: Spielberg directed JAWS (1975) and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Lucas wrote and directed STAR WARS (1977) and executive produced THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1979). CE3K reveled in the kind of feel-good tone that pleased audiences, and the two STAR WARS films were clearly inspired by old-fashioned movie serials – as was RAIDERS.
All in all, I’d say this “gamble” had all the odds tilted in its favor.