Steven Soderbergh is a director obsessed. For his and our study, he converted Raiders of the Lost Ark to black and white, and scored it with a new soundtrack. He hopes we’ll come to appreciate Steven Spielberg’s immaculate staging–the way every element in a scene is combined to contribute to a film’s world and story.
And Soderbergh is right. Raiders is an extraordinarily well directed film that will make you appreciate just how far we can stretch an audience’s imagination without CGI.
What makes this shot great? Yeah the boulder is neat, but Soderbergh is right–look at the staging at play. You have these defining props. A boulder, yes, and Indy’s whip, hat, and the artifact. Why does Indy have his hands full? The things he carries define him.
The first really gorgeous use of light in the film–the silhouettes of trees are a 1:1 juxtaposition with the beams of light showing through them–even if the Indiana Jones films aren’t exactly known for their cultural sensitivity towards native peoples.
We watch a lecture from Professor Jones, but the camera frames him through a globe and collected artifacts. You see him as both adventurer and professor at the same time.
The female lead character, Marion, is utterly freaking out outside a burning building. She has just shot and killed someone. Her character and the set have both become chaos.
The contrast in these scenes is just nuts–you have people in all white under direct sun, and these luxuriously rich shadows at the same time–which Soderbergh points out is a hallmark of cinematographer Douglas Slocombe. Here, that idea is played with a bit to draw the line between public characters and the shady underworld.
When has sitting down ever looked so badass? With a monkey? And a hookah? Oh, and who tilted that white fedora so perfectly on the left side of the frame?
Sorry, Gandalf. This is fully phallic tension with a staff.
A snake has Indiana frozen in shock. But behind him, a rope slithers, signaling that his potential avenue of escape is really no escape at all.
Marion is trapped in a tomb full of skeletons and sarcophagi. Indy runs up, knocking away the monsters like props. Dust is everywhere. It’s theatrical and heroic at the same time. And what was the dust budget on this film?
Spielberg’s use of vertical space throughout the film is really extraordinary. Whomever has the power in the scene is positioned on the higher plane–towering above their victim from the lip of a tomb or perched on a cliff. This positioning is a frequently reprised visual metaphor of just who has the upper hand. Here, we see that idea mixed with the earlier concepts of an underworld cloaked in contrast. Indy both stands in the high position of power and holds the darkest weapon in the scene.