//Breaking down the sequences of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to me is the most perfect action movie of all time. Yeah yeah…Die Hard/Heat/Aliens/Terminator/Hong Kong cinema/etc are amazing, but Raiders tops them all in my book. A lot has been said over the years about how Lucas/Kasdan/Spielberg modeled ‘Raiders’ after the action/adventure serials of the 30s/40s. so I sat out to watch ‘Raiders’ with timecode and a pen to break them down. As someone who’s made more than a few short films, a coherent feature that’s structured on ~11min sequences is appealing to me both from a narrative/story structure and from possible advantages in low budget filmmaking.
There are 10 sequences spanning an hour and fifty five minutes. Most sequences are in between 9:30 and 12:30, with two big exceptions of sequence 4 being bigger with its own midpoint and sequence 10 being very short (but with end credits). If averaged out, each sequence is 11min. Total action is roughly 22min, which is about 20% of actual screen time. A few of the times are rounded as I watched.
Sequence 1: The Raiders of the Idol
Time Length: 12:46
What happens: From start of walking through the jungle through getting the idol and fleeing onto the plane
What’s introduced: Indiana Jones as a character and his courage/adventure skills, his arch enemy Belloq
Action: Brief when someone tries to kill Indy, then 1:45 worth of action as he flees the cave
Who wins: Belloq
Sequence 2: Professor Jones
Time Length: 10:12
What happens: Indy teaches a class, talks to Marcus, get’s mission from Army Intel, talks with Marcus again as he packs up
What’s introduced: Indy’s professor occupation and skills, friend Marcus, Nazis as enemies, Ravenwood, entire goals for movie: Ark of the Covenant as goal, Staff of Ra headpiece, map room as guide, Well of Souls as destination. Also set up is Indy’s arc that he has no belief and instead curiosity is his belief.
Who wins: Technically no one, but Indy is doing well
//Turn to Act 2! We have a mission and a protagonist who’s committed. We’re 23 minutes in.
Sequence 3: Marion Ravenwood
Time Length: 10:10
What happens: introduction to Marion as hard drinking heroine, their past, Nazis arrive and fight for medallion, bar burns down
What’s introduced: Marion as past lover and future partner, Nazi badguy
Action: 2:50 worth of gunfight in burning bar
Who wins: Indy
Sequence 4: Cairo
Time Length: 15:30
Special Note: This sequence is really broken into two halves of 8:17 and 7:13, the first sequence ending with Marion’s faked death.
What happens: The first half of the sequence is meeting Salah then walking in the market, fight breaks out and Marion ‘dies’. Second half is Indy is depressed, encounter with Belloq, back to Salah’s for meeting with the mystic who reads the headpiece. An interesting bookmark is the entire 15min sequence begins with the introduction of the monkey and ends with the monkey’s death from ‘bad dates’.
What’s introduced: Salah as ally, what’s happening in Cairo, race to the map room.
Action: 3:53 of chase/combat in the market
Who wins: draw. Marion “dies” but later Indy and Salah find out the Nazi’s are digging in the wrong place.
Sequence 5: The Dig! (aka the actual Archaeology)
Time Length: 10:30
What happens: Belloq and the Nazis dig and are frustrated. Indy goes into the maproom get’s real spot, they dig. Well of Souls is opened.
What’s introduced: Nothing really, just progress in the game we set up back in Sequence 2
Who wins: Indy!
//Midpoint! We’re one hour in, the Well of Souls is opened, the actual raiding of the lost ark is now about to happen.
Sequence 6: Well of Souls (the innermost cave)
Time Length: 12:30
What happens: Indy and Salah retrieve the Ark while Marion dines with Belloq (nice cutaway contrasts). Belloq discovers Indy, steals the Ark and throws Marion in. This sequence begins with the Well of Souls being opened and ends with it being closed (with Indy inside).
What’s introduced: Further development of the game from sequence 2
Action: none, but tension from snakes and Belloq (who’s also a snake).
Who wins: Belloq/Nazis
Sequence 7: Death & Recovery of Life
Time Length: 9:25
What happens: Indy and Marion escape from the Well of Souls, only to immediately fight their way through the airplane badguys. The ark is loaded onto a truck.
What’s introduced: new plan for the Ark – bad guys want to take it to Berlin, now by truck.
Action: Little bit in Well of Souls, then 3:40 of fist fighting at plane.
Who wins: Indy
//Turn to Act 3! At 1:22, we have only 29 minutes left. Our hero has recovered his life, his girl and can now pursue the Ark on horseback.
Sequence 8: Recovering the Ark
Time Length: 12:00
What happens: epic action sequence of Indy fighting for the Ark on the truck, then safe arrival at large boat and him victorious, but physically broken. Final image is the swastika is burned off the Ark’s wooden box.
What’s introduced: setup that the Ark has real power in it
Action: Longest/best action sequence of the movie: a full 7.5min sequence at the truck
Who wins: Indy!
Sequence 9: Return of the Nazis
Time Length: 11:20
What happens: The nazis intercept the boat, steal Marion and the Ark. Indy pursues and gets the bazooka, but Belloq calls his bluff and at 1:44:00, Indy gives up.
What’s introduced: the Island, final set piece, and their plan to open it.
Action: Kinda none, though some as Indy swims out to boat and has to punch a few Nazis to get his bazooka.
Who wins: Belloq/Nazis, and fully. Indy has now totally lost.
Sequence 10: Return of God and the US Govt
Time Length: 7min then credits (so kinda 11)
What happens: They open the Ark, God kills everyone and Indy survives because he finally grabs hold of faith instead of his curiosity. Finale is the US Govt seizes the ark, Indy is mad but gets the girl. Credits role on final note of mystery/awe as the Ark is catalogued into a massive warehouse.
What’s introduced: Completion of all goals set forth in sequence 2
Action: maybe a minute of God melting Nazis
Who wins: God, Indy, US Govt
//Total Run Time: 1:51 then four minutes of credits, so 1:55 TRT
I loved doing this and was surprised at how cleanly this movie moves forward on its sequences. There is very little re-use of locations between sequences and is almost perfectly linear in its progression. Definitely lots to glean from how they set this up. As a sneak of peek of what I’m researching next: the transcript of the Raider’s Story Conference