Raiders of the Lost Ark Has the Greatest Exposition Scene in Movie History

“The folks I introduced are necessary and so they’re ready,” Indiana Jones is informed early in Raiders of the Misplaced Ark. “[They’re] military intelligence and so they knew you had been coming earlier than I did.” It’s a cryptic line of dialogue stuffed with thriller, even for  a man like Dr. Jones. Earlier than this second, Indy’s been revealed to be a person of many abilities: grave robber, bullwhip grasp, even school professor. However a spy? The character, and extra importantly his viewers, can’t fairly fathom what that is all about, however our curiosity is piqued to find extra. Particularly, as we quickly be taught is perpetually his customized, Indy goes into this example on the wrongfoot.

So begins one in all Raiders of the Lost Ark’s most pivotal scenes. At its core, the scene the place Harrison Ford’s Indy meets with two authorities stuffed shirts is an exposition dump, one meant to catch the viewer up on magical arks, occultist Nazis, and God’s wrath inside of 5 minutes. However it’s written so elegantly, and staged so thoughtfully, that it elevates probably the most useful mechanics of Hollywood storytelling into one thing higher. Hardly ever has a scene tasked with the laborious obligation of exposition appeared this lithe or engrossing. Therefore why, in its personal means, the second the place Indiana Jones excitedly runs to a chalkboard could be almost as thrilling as watching him outpace a boulder.

The Hidden Perils in Exposition

Underneath regular circumstances, exposition is among the most thankless elements of a screenwriter’s job—and the more severe they’re at delivering it, the higher the burden turns into for actors, administrators, and even audiences to make it work. Each typical piece of narrative storytelling wants to determine its floor guidelines, in fact. And exposition is nothing if not key items of knowledge a viewer, reader, or gamer requires to comply with alongside. However typically the extra high-concept the story, the more durable it turns into for the narrative to organically share that info.

Therefore as Hollywood has drifted towards huge blockbuster spectacles that demand heavy-handed worldbuilding, exposition scenes have equally change into more and more cumbersome. It’s what led to lazy decisions like every Transformers film beginning with compulsory voiceover narration and table-setting flashbacks, or title playing cards for Each. Single. Character. in 2016’s Suicide Squad.

After all Raiders of the Misplaced Ark, together with different early successes from director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas, helped usher on this fashionable age of blockbusters. However within the case of the primary Indiana Jones film, they did it with such efficient wit and intelligence that even the narrative dump turned one of many film’s basic moments. 

Raiders of the Outdated Film Tropes

The idea of Indiana Jones is rooted, a minimum of partially, within the James Bond motion pictures and their serialized, travelogue thrills. It definitely was the preliminary enchantment to Spielberg, who famously got here to the mission after being handed over by Eon Productions for the subsequent 007 flick. So he and Lucas modeled elements of the Jones character on the Bond system, together with the often pat expository scene close to the start.

You recognize the kind: 007 comes into MI6 headquarters and is knowledgeable, typically with typical British understatement, concerning the severity of a scenario by M; the unflappable Bond makes a dryly humorous commentary concerning the mission; he annoys his superiors, flirts with Moneypenny, and is off. By the point For Your Eyes Solely opened in the identical month as Raiders of the Misplaced Ark 40 years in the past, the conference was designed with the precision of clockwork, and infrequently featured the identical quantity of pleasure.

The scene the place Indy meets Maj. Eaton (William Hootkins) and Col. Musgrove (Don Fellows) performs a lot the identical means. Authority figures have come to demand the experience of a proficient man of motion they’re about to ship all over the world. He impresses, if additionally aggravates, the white collar set, after which off he goes.  But from the second Indy’s museum pal Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) tells him Military intelligence is right here, the precise presentation is ingeniously subversive. Earlier than the scene is over, Spielberg’s model of 007 will probably be lecturing the proverbial M, as a substitute of the opposite means round, concerning the mission and the implications of the MacGuffin. It’s Indy and his mental equal in Marcus who perceive what’s at stake, not the federal government.

That is in fact by design. It’s even how the concept of the scene started when Spielberg and Lucas met with Empire Strikes Again screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to interrupt down what would change into Raiders of the Misplaced Ark’s screenplay. In their famed story conference transcripts from 1978, Lucas instructed, “Our man be the one who’s explaining it.”

Noting that it will clearly be the exposition scene of the film, the place the idea of the Ark of the Covenant is launched to audiences who didn’t go to Sunday faculty, Lucas instantly gained Kasdan over.

“I like that,” Kasdan mentioned. “They’re telling him, however he is aware of extra about it than they do.” But Lucas took it additional, going as far as to name the second a “a puzzle scene” the place the protagonist is fixing a small thriller—it’s nearly happenstance he additionally reveals the Outdated Testomony’s Ark of the Covenant as a supply of energy so nice it may degree mountains.

Mentioned Lucas, “The opposite strategy to do it’s to let [Indy] know concerning the Ark, and never them. Having the Military man say that they discovered the misplaced metropolis. Hitler goes in spite of everything these artifacts. He believes in all of the supernatural stuff and the whole lot. We don’t know what they discovered there, nevertheless it’s awfully necessary as a result of they’re sending for this professor. Our man is the one who places two and two collectively. Then he form of explains it. They’ve all of the items of the puzzle, and so they need him to get regardless of the Germans are after. He says, ‘I’ll let you know what they’re after. They’re after the misplaced Ark.’”

Indiana Jones Takes You to (Movie) Faculty

Thus from its outset, the fundamental concept of the scene was at all times rooted in probably the most fertile soil for storytelling: battle. When the scene begins, suspicious and cagey authority figures have summoned a person they count on to be an ineffectual tutorial; they wind up with a man who’s immediately a number of pages forward of them within the script. The reversal makes the ominous dialogue concerning the Ark of the Covenant inherently thrilling, however the way it’s performed by the actors, and staged by Spielberg, elevates this into one thing else totally.

When Ford’s Jones and the indispensable Denholm Elliot enter the scene, the viewers is already a bit of giddy from the disorienting impact of the earlier sequences. In spite of everything, the movie launched Indiana Jones as a mysterious, even faintly harmful presence. He disarms a traitor in his tomb raiding occasion with a whip earlier than we even see his face and he appears extra at dwelling with tarantulas on his again than chatting with Alfred Molina’s Satipo. And earlier than the scene’s carried out, Indy’s escaped a falling boulder, two betrayals, and has been chased by the early twentieth century notion of “natives.”

And but, as soon as he will get to his escape airplane, the best hero audiences have ever met is revealed to be flawed, and albeit a bit neurotic. He almost appears like a terrified little one when he sees a snake and screams, “I hate snakes, Jock! I hate ‘em!

Afterward, the rug is pulled once more as audiences are whisked to Indy’s day job. Not like 007, Dr. Jones’ life isn’t all worldwide journey, fistfights, and seductions. Actually, he’s downright awkward, if ever nonetheless charming, as a college teacher swatting away advances from ahead college students. The film thus rapidly establishes that, in contrast to most matinee idols, this can be a multifaceted motion hero who’s simply as snug in tweed and a bowtie as he’s leather-based jackets and fedoras.

In its means, this all units the stage for the exposition scene the place Indy winds up as everyone’s favourite visitor lecturer. When Indy and Marcus enter the lecture corridor with the G-Males, Spielberg has notably toned down a number of the camp components Lucas pitched within the story assembly (amongst them that the characters needs to be surrounded by a corridor of mummies). It appears to be like like an everyday Thirties New England establishment, with the director counting on the awkward silence of the great previous boys getting settled to underscore the severity of the scenario. Character actors Hootkins and Fellows play it utterly straight after they invoke the phrases “Adolf Hitler” and “Nazis,” which nonetheless would seize the entire consideration of 1981 audiences whose mother and father or grandparents fought in World Warfare II.

“You have to perceive this all strictly confidential,” Hootkins says whereas trying over his shoulder, as if the film is about to share a forgotten secret from the best battle of the century. Solely then does Spielberg begin to transfer his digicam, slowly dollying in on the Military man. “Yesterday afternoon, our European sections intercepted a German communique that was despatched from Cairo to Berlin.” With deft effectivity, Kasdan’s script now lays out what Lucas known as “puzzle items,” with Hootkins demanding whole consideration by breathlessly shouting the Fuhrer’s identify. “Hitler’s a nut on the topic! He’s loopy, he’s obsessive about the occult!”

That is the setup for Indiana Jones to show he’s the neatest man within the room. However the best way Ford performs this scene is what causes you to lean ahead in your seat. When he’s requested about “the misplaced ark,” he’s as incredulous as a schoolboy who’s offended you’ve by no means heard of his favourite band. He’s each the most important alpha and largest nerd within the scene.

Yeah,” Ford enthuses so rapidly his voice cracks, “the Ark of the Covenant, the chest the Hebrews used to hold across the Ten Commandments.” At this level, the federal government males are hopelessly misplaced and simply repeat the whole lot Indy says like it’s an precise Sunday faculty’s name and response. “Sure, the Ten Commandments,” Indy continues,  “the unique stone tablets Moses loses introduced down out of Mt. Horeb and smashed—when you imagine in that form of factor.”

Directly we perceive the important thing components that can propel Indy by the remainder of the film: he has the impetuousness of an motion hero, the passionate curiosity of an instructional, and the overall lack of God-fearing religion that may get him in hassle when trifling with the Hebrews’ prize.

It’s economical character improvement at its finest, which ends up in the picture of Jones earlier than a literal blackboard educating you. A lot of the characters on display screen search for in awe, however as a director to by no means miss an awesome response shot, the one which Spielberg lingers on is Marcus’ fatherly admiration for Indy’s pleasure. And it’s Marcus who supplies a countering sense of awe to Indy’s impatience. Beneath the floor, there’s even a subtler, extra important battle being laid right here that extends past this scene and carries all through the remainder of the image. Marcus is in fact performing as Indy’s de facto wingman, reeling the U.S. authorities in to pay for the expedition. “The military that carries the Ark earlier than it’s invincible,” Marcus says like a salesman closing the deal.

However a second earlier when he warns of how town of Tanis was “cleaned by the wrath of God,” there’s in an uneasy sense of true believing worry in Elliot’s supply. This warring juxtaposition between religion and curiosity will propel the film from this level to the very finish, proper up till Indy learns to lastly avert his eyes within the face of antiquity’s superior legacy.

Actually, the one music in the entire sequence happens when Indy opens a e book of scripture to the spookiest picture ever drawn of the Ark of the Covenant. Not coincidentally, that is additionally the precise second we’re launched to John Williams’ “Ark of the Covenant Theme,” which fills any scene it’s in with looming menace. And the best way Indy dismisses it as “the ability of God or one thing,” as he walks away from the digicam? It solely will increase the film’s sudden sense of doom. Ultimately it dawns on the viewer that maybe you’re seeing one thing you shouldn’t know—that is an journey proper into the guts of the forbidden.

The Stuff MacGuffin Desires Are Made Of

All of which performs to how George Lucas famously differed from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, or for that matter most fashionable blockbuster filmmakers, when it got here to creating MacGuffins (the plot machine characters will stay and die for however audiences allegedly shouldn’t care about).

“The viewers ought to care about it nearly as a lot because the dueling heroes and villains on-screen,” Lucas as soon as informed Vanity Fair.

By no means did that show stronger than in Raiders of the Misplaced Ark’s exposition scene, a second the place the movie turned probably the most menial of duties into one thing intriguing, entertaining, and in the end a bit of unnerving. Whether or not you went to Sunday faculty or not, like Indy you couldn’t cease after this second till you, too, peeked inside that Ark. Which is why, as a bit of filmmaking and storycraft, this sequence stays one in all Raiders’ best treasures.

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