I have seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at least 40 to 50 times. I wore out the old VHS copy that my parents had, then stole and wore out my grandmother’s copy. Any time the film shows up on cable, I drop whatever I’m doing and however long is left. I know the entire movie backward and forward. I say all this to make it clear that it is very difficult for me to have some kind of new experience with this film. Thankfully, this Labor Day, the Michigan Theater allowed me the chance to view this film differently than I ever had: on the big screen.
It’s very hard for me to view and write about “Raiders” critically. The film is too important to me, and I don’t want to try and break down something that I have loved since the moment I saw it 12 years ago. I dressed up as this movie’s main character for Halloween three years in a row; how am I supposed to analyze it?
I tried desperately to view this through the lens of my now 20-year-old mind, yet the film never let me. I was totally engrossed yet again, and I felt just as giddy watching it as I did when I was eight years old. So, this will not be a review of the film — what more could I say that hasn’t already been said about this 40-year-old masterpiece? Instead, I want to talk about what the in-theater experience brings to a grand blockbuster like this.
It didn’t seem like seeing it in theaters should be that different of an experience besides better sound and a bigger screen, but those aspects enhanced the film significantly and unexpectedly. It raises the stakes of the film to its deserved levels. “Raiders” is a globe-trotting adventure film with literal end-of-the-world consequences to its main conflict; it is a huge film that needs a huge presentation.
Nothing gets the blood pumping like John Williams’s booming score rocking on a theater-quality sound system. It’s a bombastic film that demands your attention at all times, and seeing it in the theater keeps the viewer much more engaged than if they were watching at home (even if someone’s phone goes off during an important chase sequence).
The communal aspect of seeing the film in the theater also adds to the experience by enhancing the emotions Steven Spielberg (“Jurassic Park”) cultivates in the audience. When the action sequences commence, you can feel the tension collectively building in the audience. When the horror elements appear, your fear feeds off of everyone else’s. When the people around you burst into laughter at Indy shooting the show-off swordsman, it somehow makes the joke feel funnier than the first 50 times you’ve seen it.
You begin to feel a sense of bonding with this large group of people you don’t know. After so much time spent being closed off from people outside of my immediate circle, it felt good to once again be a part of a larger community, even though I knew I’d never actually meet any of these people.
The debate between watching movies at home versus watching them in a theater has been ongoing for a while with the advent of huge streaming services, but it’s really been at the forefront of the discourse surrounding popular films of late due to the ongoing pandemic.
Studios like Disney and Warner Brothers have been struggling to decide whether or not to release their huge multi-hundred-million dollar blockbusters on their respective streaming platforms due to many potential audience members’ valid concerns about returning to movie theaters. Financially, it may very well be the right move for them, but after seeing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the big screen for the first time (after catching it again on cable just three weeks ago), I can say that these huge films need to be seen in a huge theater.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is a very special film to me, but I’m not the only one. Going to the theater and sharing the experience of viewing something everyone around you loves can be a powerful community-building activity. Coming out of the Michigan Theater on Monday night, I heard a multitude of conversations radiating with joy and excitement around a film almost all of these people had seen before.
That is something that only viewing films with a group in a theater can bring.
Daily Arts Writer Mitchel Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.