‘Raiders': Damon Lindelof’s love letter to a ‘perfect movie’

Aug. 31, 2011 | 6:30 a.m.
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Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, prepares to snatch a golden idol from a South American temple in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Indiana Jones flees from a giant rolling boulder used to safeguard an ancient temple in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, confronts his lost love Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen, in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen, contemplates the sought-after headpiece to the Staff of Ra in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, makes sure the setting sun is in precisely the right position as he prepares to uncover the location of the Ark of the Covenant in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Indiana Jones fights a Nazi-hired assassin at a street bazaar in Egypt in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies, and Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, lift the Ark of the Covenant out of its resting place in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, carries Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen, in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Indiana Jones is surprised by a venomous cobra in the forbidding Well of Souls in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Nazi Col. Dietrich, played by Wolf Kahler, left, French archeologist Renée Belloq, played by Paul Freeman, and the evil Toht, played by Ronald Lacey, examine the contents of the Ark of the Covenant in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Marion Ravenwood and Indiana Jones try to avoid the powerfully destructive forces unleashed by the Ark of the Covenant in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Harrison Ford and Karen Allen pose for a publicity photo during location shooting in Tunisia for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Director Steven Spielberg uses a vast miniature set of the Tunisian desert to plan a complex shot for "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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George Lucas, left, and Harrison Ford take a break from the production of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," circa 1980. (Lucasfilm)

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Harrison Ford, left, and George Lucas take a break from the production of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," circa 1980. (Lucasfilm)

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Executive producer and story creator George Lucas, left, poses with director Steven Spielberg on location in Tunisia during the production of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

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Harrison Ford watches director of photography Douglas Slocombe, director Steven Spielberg and art director Leslie Dilley set up a shot of the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol for a scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

In honor of the 30th anniversary of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Emmy-winning writer and producer Damon Lindelof, in a guest essay for Hero Complex, describes seeing the action-adventure film for the first time when he was 8 years old. Let’s just say the movie made an impact on Lindelof, whose credits include “Lost” and the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot. Read his essay below, and enjoy photos from the set of “Raiders” and the film itself in the gallery above. Be sure to click CAPTIONS ON.

GUEST ESSAY

I remember with great clarity the last time I peed my pants.

This was not, contrary to later reports, an “accident.”  It was a decision I made of sound mind and body and one that I make no apologies for.  Despite overwhelming opportunity to release my bladder the way most civilized people do (that would be into a toilet), I made a conscious choice to do otherwise.   I offer only two points in my defense;  The first is that I was 8 years old.  The second, and much more relevant, is that I was in a movie theater watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark”  for the very first time.  And there was not a chance in hell I was missing a single second of that glorious movie.

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Truth be told, I had initially resisted the idea of going to see “Raiders.”   I was much more interested in seeing “Clash of the Titans,” which opened the same day and had a Pegasus in it.  Ultimately, however, my dad argued that “Raiders” was the superior pick because it had Han Solo.  I narrowed my eyes suspiciously — “But… Han Solo is frozen in carbonite.”

“This movie happened before that.”  My dad responded.

“How could it happen before a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?”  I reasoned.

“Because this was longer ago.”

“How much longer?”

My dad leaned down, quite serious, and whispered, “The 1930s.”

And thus, I was effectively  duped into seeing what even now, three decades later, stands as one of the most perfect movies ever made.

And here’s the thing: Although it’s easy to reduce “Raiders” to a “popcorn” movie — a piece of escapist adventure with fantastic action — very rarely is it appreciated for its pure innovative genius.  This is something people seemed to be well aware of back in 1981 (it was nominated for a best picture Oscar), but over time, the legacy of “Raiders” seems to neglect just how incredibly revolutionary it was as a film. Therefore, as a debt of gratitude (and for everything I’ve stolen from it in my own work), I feel it’s only fitting to write a long overdue love letter to one of my favorite films ever.  So without further ado…

Dear “Raiders of the Lost Ark,”

You are awesome. God, you are awesome.

I have seen you, in your entirety, more than one hundred times. I know there are folks out there that have seen you more than that, but they don’t know you like I do.

I really know you. I know what music you listen to and where your scars are. I know that you like to be kissed where it doesn’t hurt. And I’m sorry if that seems a little “creepy,” but hey, you’re into snakes and melt people’s faces off, so we’re speaking the same language, are we not?

So what, exactly, is it that I love most about you, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”? Man …  I don’t even know where to start. But let’s get past the obvious stuff that all your other admirers seem so dazzled by (the whip!!!) and talk about what truly makes you unique.

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Marion Ravenwood, played by Karen Allen, contemplates the sought-after headpiece to the Staff of Ra in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

I could go on for pages about just the little things. Like the sound you make when Indy punches someone in the face. Or that Marion’s superpower is drinking. And don’t even get me started on the coat hanger. Where did that Nazi even get that thing? Did he special-order it? “I need somezing that vill terrify people when I take it out, but then give them a false zense of relief when I reveal it is simply somezing on vich to hang my coat.” Seriously. The best. But I know you’ve probably heard it all before and therefore, I’ll stick to the big stuff. First and foremost…

I love you because Indiana Jones is a nerd. Granted, a highly capable nerd who knows how to ride horses and fight real good, but still, at his core, Indy is an academic who’s motivated purely by his desire to find and retrieve really cool stuff so he can put it in a museum where other nerds can appreciate it. Also, he wears glasses and gets nervous when hot female students write the words “Love You” on their eyelids. Do you have any idea how much commitment is involved in writing “Love You” on your eyelids?  It’s really hard!  Not that I’ve ever done it.

Because I haven’t.

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Indiana Jones is surprised by a cobra in the forbidding Well of Souls in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

And while we’re on the subject of Dr. Jones, here’s another thing I love about him.  He’s actually scared of stuff.  This doesn’t seem like something that should be celebrated, but it’s actually quite rare for the hero of a movie to be scared of anything.  Do you know what Green Lantern is afraid of?  Fear. He is afraid of being afraid. Does that even make sense? Here’s what makes sense to be afraid of — Hissing Cobras and Gigantic Bald Nazis with mustaches trying to kill you. And it was perfectly OK for me to be scared of them because Indy was too.

You know what else is wonderful about you? That over and over and over again, Indiana Jones has failure rubbed in his face, yet he refuses to give up. He gets the Golden Idol…. But it’s snatched away by a Frenchman. Indy finds the Well of Souls and recovers the Ark. It too gets taken away from him.  Same Frenchman! Now Indy gets back the Ark and …  oh no, Nazi submarine! They take the Ark and Marion… but Indy gets the drop on them with a bazooka! And yet, he can’t bring himself to destroy the Ark, so Indy is captured.

By the Frenchman.

Yeah, I know his name is Belloq. And I’m pretty convinced that he is another reason I love you so much. Because quality French bad guys are hard to come by and Belloq is la crème du la crop.

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Nazi Col. Dietrich, played by Wolf Kahler, left, French archeologist Renée Belloq, played by Paul Freeman, and the evil Toht, played by Ronald Lacey, examine the contents of the Ark of the Covenant in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

And so, we now arrive at your ending. This, more than anything else, is why my love for you is an undying one. Because we all know how movies like you are supposed to end. The hero fights off a bunch of evildoers, saves the girl, gets the thingamabob away from the bad guys before they can do any harm with it and then say something kinda cool before he rides off into the sunset.

But this, sweet Raiders, is not what you did.

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Marion Ravenwood and Indiana Jones try to avoid the powerfully destructive forces unleashed by the Ark of the Covenant in a scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm)

Your big climax is not affected by Indiana Jones at all.  He’s tied to a pole with Marion the whole time, completely helpless as Belloq and his Nazi pals open the Ark. And while most heroes would perform some incredible act of selfless bravery, what does Indy do? He shouts at Marion to not even look at whatever is coming out of the very thing he has coveted for your entire duration. And you know what?

I listened to him.

For the first 20 or so times I watched you, I shut my eyes tightly as I heard the Nazis scream for what seemed like five minutes. And when they finally stopped, I slowly peeked out to find Indy doing exactly the same thing.

In that moment, we were one. Terrified.  Awestruck. And most of all, relieved that it was finally over.

Now I fully appreciate that Indy was rightly pissed that the Ark was ultimately taken away by the same shady Intelligence dudes who hired him in the first place (“Top people” indeed.  Hrrrmumph!).  but if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been treated to your final crowning achievement. I would never have seen the Ark, now packed unceremoniously in a simple crate, being wheeled down an impossibly long aisle in the largest warehouse ever. And for reasons I am far too lovestruck to fully articulate, let me leave it at this –

In a world where movies and TV shows often end in ways that are sometimes unsatisfying bordering on outrage-inducing (yeah, yeah, I know), your ending, darling Raiders, is absolutely, exquisitely perfect.

And that is how I shall always remember you. Locked away safely in the warehouse that is my heart … fully aware that it’s highly possible that you will burn a hole through my chest or at the very least, make the rats inside me run around in uncomfortable backward circles.

I love you.

Always have. Always will. And I am deeply grateful for the countless hours we have spent together.  I will treasure them more than you can ever know.

Your Biggest Fan,

Damon

P.S.  Do you have a mailing address for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind'”?  She left her T-shirt at my apartment.

–Damon Lindelof

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