Sunday, September 7, 2014


Fenya had all 4 of her wisdom teeth removed under general anaesthetic on Friday, which, obviously,I suppose, put a few limitations on our household over the weekend in terms of meals, noise levels and family activities. She handled it like a trooper though, embracing a liquid diet, a gruelling medication schedule and near-constant ice-pack applications with very little in the way of complaint. By Sunday night, her disposition and wakefulness had improved to the point where she was comfortable watching Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I'm always up for rewatching this film (and Last Crusade, too! And the first 15 minutes of Temple of Doom, for that matter.), but a recent flurry of local billboards and bus shelter ads made it even more topical. In October, the Telus World of Science is hosting the travelling exhibit Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology, so it made sense to refresh ourselves on the source material prior to attending.

We're really looking forward to it, since we are not only fans of the film, but also appreciate the fact that the exhibit is being produced by the same people who made the surprisingly educational Star Wars: Identities tour we attended last year. Even better, Adventure of Archaeology is being presented by the National Geographic Society, and features exhibits from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, otherwise known as the Penn Museum, so the content promises to be excellent as well.

Raiders is one of my favourite films as it remains one of the best examples of modern adventure, despite cloaking itself in the trappings of a classic matinee serial. Colourful characters, exotic locales, relentless pacing and a lively sense of humour make it a joy to re-watch, despite the very real likelihood that the title character has almost no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the story (as per The Big Bang Theory).

And sure enough, despite having seen it any number of times, I usually manage to notice something new when I see it again. I mean, I know R2-D2 and C-3PO can bee seen adoring the wall of the infamous Well of Souls, but I never noticed how often Harrison Ford (and only him) calls it "the Well of the Souls", which, for whatever reason, just doesn't sound quite as ominous.

I know when he meets the army intelligence men at the beginning of the film, he has a book containing an illustration of the Ark of the Covenant which he pops open to show them, and it is a big enough book that it requires a carrying handle and fasteners, so I don't question the presence of the picture. What I do question though, is what the hell book could that be, that a) is so enormous it can be mistaken for luggage, b) has an illustration of a religious artifact from three millennia ago in it, and c) would have it almost in the middle? Perhaps it is alphabetized by culture, and the Ark appears under H for Hebrew.

Most importantly though, where can I get one? Or at least one that looks like it?

We have the trilogy on DVD, not BluRay, but the resolution was still high enough that we could still see Paul Freeman (Indy's rival, Belloq) being a total professional during the scene where he convinces Dr. Jones that he won't blow up the ark, while completely ignoring a fly that crawls right onto his lip, if not fully into his mouth.

One of my favourite things about the movie though, is the brilliant way it handles the disposition of the eponymous, infamous, potentially world-changing artifact. I remember how disappointed I was the first time I watched Raiders, seeing the Ark locked into an anonymous, stencilled crate and wheeled into a warehouse where, presumably, it is never seen again. Being a lot older and (hopefully) a little wiser, I find this resolution satisfying on both a dramatic and a political level.

Dramatically, it closes the file and ends the story without needing to explain why we never heard of the Ark being used to guide the allies to victory in WWII, and makes the tale just that much more believable. Despite the supernatural and fantastic elements of the climax, the warehouse permits us to keep believing that the story of Raiders might really have happened, maybe. We know it didn't, of course, but a little suspension of disbelief goes a long way with us nerds.

Politically, I had never previously considered the wisdom and potential bravery shown by the two unnamed army intelligence officers. More short-sighted or selfish men would have taken advantage of either the tremendous historical significance of 'their' find (hey, after all, they paid for it!) to advance their careers. Misguided patriotism could have led them to believe that the superweapon presented by the ark could not only keep their country safe from Hitler's predations, but make the then-isolationist U.S. a superpower a decade ahead of schedule.

Surely they had superiors asking what had happened to the subject of a search shared by Hitler; certainly some Senator on an oversight committee somewhere was thinking a university in his constituency deserved to host such a famous relic. Were either of these men Jewish? Or Catholic? Did they struggle over the decision to mothball such an artifact? As war engulfed Europe, did they second-guess themselves? After Poland? After France? Following Pearl Harbor?

In the end, it hardly matters; our sense of wonder will be beaten by our innate cynicism three falls out of four, and knowing how hard it can be for for an entrenched bureaucracy to find something it hasn't actively tried to misplace leaves us fairly confident that this artifact will never be seen again. The Ark is not just lost, now; it's been filed. And this is nothing but good news for the rest of the world. Honestly, who would you trust with such power? The state? The church?

No, we can rest easy in the imaginary world where all of this actually transpired; 1-2 wise gentlemen (or possibly their superiors, but I doubt it) took appropriate action and secured the Ark of the Covenant in a numbered but unnamed box, and what do they get for their troubles and foresight? They get labelled as "bureaucratic fools" by a mercenary academic.

I think they deserved better, don't you?

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