Making something perfect is perfectly impossible. Even the greatest filmmakers of all-time have off days, when a Pepsi can sneaks into a pre-historic shot. Or when Stanley Kubrick’s initial shot for The Shining’s Overlook Hotel noticeably forgets to include the hedge maze so crucial to that final chase. And don’t even get any movie buff started on the continuity of bite marks. So today, let’s marvel at the mistakes. We’ll be looking at the gafs, the goofs, and every mistake you may have missed for the top-grossing film of 1981, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
When you’re through this list, let us know – did you spot any of these when you watched?
Starting from the beginning…
Tarantulas crawling all over in that opening scene is a nerve-wracking one. But the first of these Indiana Jones mistakes comes when you can see about 3 spiders on his shoulders as he breaks through cobwebs. Then the far shot shows Indy’s jacket glimmering in the light, with no spiders on it. Then we’re back up close and a young Alfred Molina signals that Indy has some free-loaders on his shoulder. And this problematic scene gets even messier when you realize those spiders aren’t native to South America. The filmmakers used Mexican Redknees tarantulas because they are very docile spiders that rarely bite or murder A-list actors, which is much easier for Harrison to handle, no matter the stage in his career.
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Time for some university classroom errors. First off, the girl with LOVE YOU on her eyes swaps seats with the guy next to her in multiple shots. Then the mustached Army Intelligence agent that visits Indy with two colleagues is wearing a light blue late-’70s double-knit polyester suit which in no way resembles anything worn by men in the 1930s.
When Indy takes off from San Francisco, the plane is seen flying out over the completed Golden Gate Bridge. Well, the bridge wasn’t completed until 1937, so it should’ve been under construction. This brings us to the flying montage. The map that sprawls lists several countries by their modern names instead of their 1936 ones. Thailand wasn’t so until 1939. Transjordan did not become Jordan until 1949. And staying with inaccuracies of our flat earth. That strange un-flat globe-looking thing on the desk in the classroom includes some countries in Africa that didn’t exist in 1936 either. So yeah, go back to geography class.
One of the most famous scenes of Raiders is when Indy falls into the Well of Souls and a massive cobra flares its hood – scary for anyone – especially for someone with a paralyzing fear of snakes. Unfortunately, the cobra has a couple of issues. First, like the tarantulas from the beginning, that snake is a Monocled Cobra, which isn’t native to Africa. Instead, it slithers and scares in Southeast Asia. More mistakes from this iconic Indiana Jones scene that has reportedly been corrected in newer DVDs: you could see the snake’s reflection on the safety glass between it and Indy. At least that glass was native to Africa. Also, why is the Well so well-lit? Even after the entrance was re-sealed and there’s just one torch ablaze. Indy might have another mystery to address.
When Indiana Jones is fighting the very intimidating bald Nazi near the moving plane, Indy gets side punched after another punch, but some choreography mistakes see this one force his body to spin toward the punch instead of away from it.
When Marion gets locked in the cockpit of the Nazi plane, the glass door closes and you can see the reflection of the crew, a blue van, a ladder, and a man with a white sleeveless shirt – quite possibly Mr. Speilberg himself.
When Indy ends up underneath the truck you can see the trench that was dug down the middle of the road to provide the stuntman enough room to act safely. This was actually one of the few stunts Ford didn’t do himself.
Some continuity mistakes plague ‘Indiana Jones’
What is a continuity mistake? Well, let’s look at the beginning of the movie when Indy is running away from the South American tribe. One shot has the pursuers mere feet away, when Indy manages to attract the attention of his pilot. Then the next shot has 20 yards back. That breaks the continuity of the scene – and honestly, if blatant and erroneous enough, can certainly take a viewer out of the experience of enjoyment. But the other issue with this scene is when the pilot fires up the plane, Jones emerges from the thick brush – wIth no signs of how Indy first signaled to the pilot.
Before the shoot-out in Marion’s bar, she’s sitting alone at the table staring at the amulet with its gold chain still around her neck. The next second the chain is no longer around her neck but hanging below the coveted amulet. And of course, Steven probably didn’t overlook this. He studied that next shot and decided it didn’t matter if it matched the frame before, the frame was more balanced this way. Fair enough, but does not keep us from mentioning it here.
And before we leave the bar – you know the one in Nepal that is built with thick stone walls, yeah that one – well after the fire, all you see is the burned-out shell of a wood-frame building.
Another goof is when a group of thugs forces Marion onto a truck and inside a large wicker basket. In an attempt to stop them from driving away, Indy shoots the driver, which causes the truck to overturn and explode. But In the before shot, the dead driver accelerates the truck towards what appears to be a dead-end full. But somehow the dead driver made one heck of a maneuver, and the truck explodes safely-ish in an open area.
When Indy finds Marion in the tent he removes the gag. But when he puts the gag back on, some of her hair gets caught underneath – in the next shot, her hair is no longer caught underneath the handkerchief. But to be fair, a kiss on the forehead by Harrison Ford is enough to shock anyone into their hair moving on its own.
Easter eggs and fun facts
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t just mistakes and goofs. There are some very fun references for eagle-eyed fans to enjoy.
An Easter egg is a purposeful detail of the film, usually a small set piece, or a throwaway piece of dialogue – a detail from a previous film of the director, actors, or film company. Pixas does this all the time. And so does Star Wars. Which brings us to the first Easter Egg. In the Well of Souls, you can see hieroglyphics of C3PO and R2D2 on the post next to Indy.
Recall the now infamous scene in which Indy squares up against a flamboyant swordsman and decides to cooly shoot him instead of wasting time, energy, and blood on a duel. Well, that was not how it went down in the original script. Harrison Ford was supposed to use his whip to disarm the guy, but the food poisoning that he and the rest of the crew had at the time forced him to make a different suggestion. After several unsuccessful tries, Ford suggested, quote, “shooting the sucker.” Steven Spielberg immediately took him up on the idea, and the rest is history. The sweat Harrison Ford really does look ill. But it’s so funny how a logical acting choice beautifully aids his character’s development. Genius.
The only one on set that didn’t get food poisoning was Spielberg himself because he only ate the food he brought himself. Which apparently was just a lot of cans of Spaghetti-O’s.
Traditionally when one of his films hitting theaters, George Lucas – who wrote the screenplay for Raiders – typically goes on vacation to get away from all the news. When Star Wars opened in 1977, he met a buddy in Hawaii – that friend was Steven Spielberg, of course, the director of this one. When the numbers came in that Luke Skywalker and company were destroying the box office, Lucas relaxed and was able to discuss other topics with his friend. Spielberg confessed he had always wanted to direct a James Bond-like film, to which Lucas replied he had a much better idea: an adventure movie called “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The conversation reportedly happened while the two were making a sand castle. Creative minds at work.
Just what was that creative mind doing on set between takes? Just relaxing? Nope. Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison wrote a script during shooting breaks while on location. Mathison was there to visit her husband, Harrison Ford, and Spielberg dictated to her a story idea he had. The script that was eventually written was a story about a boy and an alien. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial… good god, Speilberg.
Thank goodness for Star Wars, and thank goodness for that sand castle, as it gave us a true classic. In 1999, Raiders of the Lost Ark was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. It is the only Indiana Jones film inducted. Really? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with Shia Lebouf didn’t make it, huh? Films are chosen for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” And I’d say this certainly merits.
So what do you think? Is this Indiana Jones entry the best film from the ’80s, despite the mistakes? The best of the franchise? Share your favorites in the comments!