Aside from nazi face-melting, shooting an overly confident swordsman, an awesome truck chase and a hidden room full of snakes. Raiders had one of the most iconic scenes in any film ever. Of course, I’m talking about the boulder chase scene from the opening. Right here, I’m going to take a look at some of the behind the scenes info on that very classic scene and the whole opening part of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as explore just where the idea came from. Just in case you need a reminder…
I love the entire opening to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The mysterious (and cool) way that Indy is introduced for the first time, the many traps the hidden Peruvian temple, the spiders and that golden Chachapoyan Fertility Idol, Alfred Molina doing that nervous finger rubbing thing as Indy attempts to swap his bag of sand for the idol. Those opening few minutes are brilliantly crafted and set up the character of Indiana Jones perfectly. Then, of course, it all leads up to that awesome boulder chase. I still remember watching that for the first time as a kid, holding my breath, excited and worried that Indy wouldn’t make it. Yeah I know it’s obvious that the main character of the film wouldn’t die in the opening 10 minutes, but 7-year-old me didn’t understand that back then.
I think that the entire opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark could be one of the finest movie introductions ever made. The way it creates a mystery and introduces Indiana Jones is perfect. You know exactly the kind of character he is and you understand him instantly, all from that mini-movie opening. Re-watching the film (several times) for this whole multi-part celebration, I got to thinking just how the whole scene came about. Digging through interviews and making of documentaries, I unearthed some really interesting titbits that I’d like to share with you guys.
That iconic, and now, Indy franchise staple opening shot where the Paramount logo turns into a mountain was a last-minute idea. Steven Spielberg sent producer, Frank Marshall all over the island of Kauai, Hawaii where they were filming at the time, in search of the perfect mountain peak. Marshall had to not only find the right mountain, but also photo it from every possible angle, so Spielberg could pick his favourite and match it to the Paramount logo. Something that would be done with CGI these days. Also, those opening few moments of Indy and his men walking through the jungle and up to finding the hidden temple were shot in ten different locations around Hawaii. Ten locations just for the opening 2-3 minutes of the film. The temple itself was filmed in Elstree Studios, London… Only 7,280 miles away from Hawaii.
You know Barranca, the guy who pulls a gun on Indy, for Indy to then whip the gun out of his hand, before making his brilliant (out of the shadows) first appearance? Well originally, that was written to be much more violent and graphic. Instead of just whipping the gun away, Barranca was supposed to become entangled in the whip, with his own gun pointing at his head. Indy then jerked the whip, for the gun to go off, making Barranca shoot himself in the head. Pretty brutal stuff and it kind of made Indy look like a bit of a ruthless murderer. The scene was changed for the better I feel. But, what is it with Harrison Ford being made to look like a cold-blooded killer in George Lucas flicks, for the scene to be changed later?
The part when Indy and Satipo (Alfred Molina) are in the temple and Satipo gets covered in spiders was originally a bit dull. The spider wrangler used all male spiders and they just sat on Molina, motionless. Spielberg became increasingly annoyed as the real spiders looked very fake on film. So, Spielberg spoke to the wrangler and asked if there was anything that could be done to entice the spiders to move. There was, the wrangler added a female spider to the mix and well…
“Suddenly all hell breaks loose. They’re running onto my face and Steven is going, ‘Shoot! Shoot! … Alfred, look scared!’ and I’m all, ‘I’m scared! I’m scared!’”
– Alfred Molina
On his way to the famed golden Chachapoyan Fertility Idol, Indy was supposed to take other treasures from the temple. I don’t know if the scene was shot and then cut or not, but it’s not in the film, yet it was in the script. Also, when Indy gets back to America and Marshall College, Indy does give those other treasures he stole to Marcus Brody, as shown in the film. So he did take them then.
Speaking of the golden idol, it features a very hard to see effect in the film. The idol has eyes that actually watch and follow Indy as he approaches the plinth and takes it. The eyes worked via an internal mechanism which were moved using a radio control. The following images show the internal workings of the idol and Spielberg himself operating the radio control to move the eyes. If you go back and re-watch that scene, you can just about see the eyes move…. very, very slightly. Easier to spot in the 4K remaster.
The famed boulder itself was originally much bigger. Envisioned to being sixty-five feet wide, it was downscaled to twenty-two feet and made of fibreglass. Steven Spielberg liked the idea so much that he extend the scene too. Originally, it was just going to roll down the ramp, Indy ran away and the boulder gets stuck immediately after. Spielberg not only extend the scene so Indy had to run further, but also made the ramp that the boulder rolls down about fifty feet longer, just to give it more screen time. Plus, that really is Harrison Ford outrunning the boulder too, he did most of his own stunts in the flick… And he had to do that particular running away from the boulder scene ten times. The scene was not only shot twice, but it was shot twice from five different camera angles. With each camera angle shot done separately, equalling ten different times Ford had to run away.
“He won ten times and beat the odds. He was lucky and I was an idiot for letting him try.”
– Steven Spielberg
Also, the boulder was originally going to crush Indy’s iconic hat. In the original script, the hat comes off as Indy is running away for the boulder, with no time to get it back, Indy keeps running and the boulder rolls over his hat, then Indy was going to be in the rest of the film hatless. Spielberg disliked Indy losing his hat, especially in the opening few minutes, so he suggested that they let Indy keep his now trademark fedora. Just think, if it had not been for Spielberg, then Indy would never have been known as ‘the man with the hat’ and he would’ve lost one of his most famous pieces of apparel before it became so iconic.
And finally, for perhaps, the most surprising things about the opening scene of Raiders and even Indy himself. It/he was inspired by a cartoon duck. Now, Indy was born from many different inspirations when George Lucas came up with the idea for the character. 1930s matinée serials and and pulp magazines. Real archaeologists such as Hiram Bingham, Roy Chapman Andrews, and Sir Leonard Woolley… And a little bit of James Bond too. However, one of the biggest inspirations was Scrooge McDuck, uncle of Donald Duck. See, when Carl Barks created Scrooge in 1947, he was seen as a bit of an adventurer himself. One such adventure, from The Seven Cities of Cibola story, published in 1954, shows just where George Lucas got the idea from.
There’s the idol itself. Not gold, but made of emerald in the Scrooge McDuck story. Oh, and it is also noted that it is booby-trapped and that moving the idol will trigger the trap… Which would unleash a giant boulder. Thankfully, Scrooge releases the danger and the idol is left in place, so the giant boulder trap isn’t triggered. Saving everyone involved. Then…
The Beagle Boys (Scrooge McDuck’s nemesis) turn up and take the idol for themselves. Of course, the booby trap is triggered and the giant boulder is unleashed, rolling through the temple as The Beagle Boys make a run for it. So there you go, one of the greatest scenes in a film was inspired by a Disney character… Kind of strange now that Disney owns the Indiana Jones IP and is now (technically) a Disney character himself. There are other Scrooge McDuck adventures that also inspired George Lucas. The 1959 comic, The Prize of Pizarro, for instance. In this one, Scrooge, Donald and those annoying kids have to get through a booby-trapped hall that shoots arrows/spears at them, before they are chased away by natives…
In fact, if you go and look at some of those old Scrooge McDuck adventure comics, there are loads of scenes that have clearly been ‘borrowed’ for Indy. I don’t just mean Raiders of the Lost Ark either. All of the Indy films have clearly been using Scrooge McDuck and his adventures as an inspiration for decades now.
Phew, this has been a pretty big celebration of Raiders of the Lost Ark reaching its 40th anniversary, but there’s still more to come. Next, I tackle a rather ‘risqué’ question that seems to crop up about Indy as a character every now and then… Is Indiana Jones a paedophile?