Views from the Sofa’s 100 Greatest Scenes is a list of the 100 greatest moments in the movies. This could be long introductions, moments of action or great dialogue between characters. The scenes are in no particular order and come from many different types of movies.
Not many scenes have been as parodied and recreated as this one. It isn’t just about the great set-piece which only makes up about thirty seconds of the scene. The scene works because it is the perfect ten minute introduction to a character, telling you everything you need to know about the movie’s hero without delivering heavy exposition. A masterclass in character-setting.
Greatest Scene Number 25: The Raiders of the Lost Ark – The Boulder Chase
This scene is at the beginning of the movie but isn’t the opening. Director Steven Spielberg manages to create a character of mystery just by silhouetting him throughout the opening three minutes, only revealing his full face and features once a man tries to pull a gun on the hero, only to have it whipped from his hand. This creates a very cool edge to the character of Indiana Jones, which Spielberg will then slowly remove as the scene goes on.
The real meat on the bones of the scene is when Jones and his companion, Satipo, played by Alfred Molina, actually enter the chamber containing the Golden Idol. So far Jones has showed his experience by managing to avoid every ancient trap set by the locals and this is no different. He shows the eager Satipo that there are booby-traps in the room and manages to coolly avoid them, stepping over cracks and avoiding the steps leading to the idol.
What follows is the second most parodied moment, where Jones tries to substitute the idol for a bag of sand. He measures using his eye and with a sweated-brow and the wordless encouragement of his companion, successfully swaps it out.
The rest of the scene is where the casting of Harrison Ford shines through. Having already shown his everyman charm as Han Solo in George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy, all he had to do was channel the same energy here. As the bag of sand falls away, triggering the traps, so does all the cool, calm edge that Indiana Jones has had so far.
The scene comes alive as the traps begin to set themselves off. Jones ignores the darts as they fire in a collapsing room. He is then forced to repeat the feats he underwent to get in the room, including going back over the large gap in the floor.
The betrayal of Molina’s Satipo, tricking Jones into giving him the idol, isn’t a surprise but is a great set-up for the exciting moment which follows, where the hero jumps the gap and finds himself teetering on the edge. Again, Ford sells this brilliantly, with relief turning to panic in an instance while placing the audience on the edge of their seats.
Satipo has been killed in quite a gory fashion. It is easy to forget how grim Raiders of the Lost Ark is and although many remember the “face-melting” finale, Spielberg wasn’t shy about showing the blood and gore early on, signposting how nasty the movie could really be.
The scene is best known for the next trap though. Happy that he is clear of the obstacles, a large rolling balls descends from nowhere. It is a silly, completely impractical trap but the spectacle of it is great. Watching the hero run from the large boulder as it crashes through the temple, throwing Indiana Jones outside, is everything people love about the character and the film series – pure adventure.
As a final kick in the teeth for the character, he doesn’t even get to keep the idol. Spielberg shows that Indiana Jones is both a cool, heroic and brave character but also an endless loser. He does the work while Paul Freeman’s villain Balloq takes the glory. It gives the audience sympathy and sets-up the eventual demise of the slimy character perfectly.
Overall, not many scenes stand the test of time as well as this one. In one scene we get everything we need to know about both Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones and the type of movie that Spielberg is delivering. It is exciting, funny and eventually sad but one of the best openings to any movie.