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Peter T. Chattaway

Indiana Jones and the Deadly Blather

Notes on the devolution of a franchise.

Didn't any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?" So said Indiana Jones to a couple of bemused military intelligence agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, easily the top-grossing film of 1981 and one of the greatest action movies ever made. And thus producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg seemed to make explicit what had only been implicit in the handful of films that they had made over the previous few years—films that had captured an entire generation's spiritual imagination.

Lucas, of course, had helped to revive interest in the power of myth with his space-opera throwback, Star Wars (1977), and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980); the latter was particularly heavy on the spiritual development of its hero, Luke Skywalker. Some Christians, keen to capitalize on the franchise's popularity, even went so far as to draw extensive analogies between the first movie and the biblical narrative; the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was betrayed by his disciple, and died, and continued beyond death as a counsellor to Luke was, of course, key to their interpretations. [1] Spielberg, for his part, had directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, re-edited and re-released in 1980), a film about aliens that spoke very strongly to the longing for enlightenment from above; in both images and dialogue, the film even made indirect references to the story of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai. [2]

Now here they were, collaborating on their first movie together, a tongue-in-cheek ode to the Saturday matinee serials of their youth—and it was all about the Ark of the Covenant, the gold-plated chest within which the Israelites had stored the tablets of the Law, and above which the spirit of God himself was said to reside. There was no need for allegory here; this movie really was bringing a piece of the Bible to life. Even better for an 11-year-old Bible geek like me (I would begin my first subscription to Biblical Archaeology Review just a couple years ...

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