Raiders of the Lost Ark turns forty today. Hard to believe, sometimes. I still remember watching Siskel and Ebert gush over the movie. Youthful though I was--twelve--Harrison Ford had already become my favorite actor because he was Han Solo. Who knew Indiana Jones was just around the corner.
To commemorate the movie's anniversary, I decided to do something I had never done before: read the novelization by Campbell Black. Yeah, I had the book back in the day. Yeah, I remember cracking it open. But I also know I never finished it. Heck, I don't even remember getting that far into the book before stopping it. I have no memory why. Unlike Star Wars--where I devoured every morsel of news, read every book, and bought every comic--I don't remember doing the same thing with Raiders. It is possible I didn't continue with the novelization because of the differences. Now, forty years later, those differences are fantastic.
Raiders is one of my Top 5 all-time movies. I have no idea how many times I've seen it, but those clips in the Siskel and Ebert segment are all familiar. It's probably one of your favorite movies, too. I can "see" the movie in my head when I listen to John Williams's brilliant score. But the novel was a nice breath of fresh air.
Early Days of the Canon
Campbell Black is the pen name of Campbell Armstrong, a Scottish writer, who wrote over twenty-five novels. Few pieces of information exist on the internet about him, but his bibliography notes Raiders was this third, and final, movie novelization.
In the one interview he did for TheRaider.net, Black comments that he "wrote Jones as I saw him. An adventurer, yes, but I always felt there was a slight melancholy side to him. I don't think Lucasfilm really approved of this, but from my point of view I couldn't write the novel if I had to base it on the character in the script - I found him shallow and shadowy, all action and no thought, and I wanted to add some kind of internal process to him, which I think I did. Up to a point."
As much as I enjoy the extensive universe other writers created with Indiana Jones (and Star Wars, too), there's something special about a single writer, very early on, looking at stills and the script and crafting a story as he sees it. No canon, no interlaced movies, no franchise, no established backstory, just a script and one writer's ideas on how scenes of a movie can be stitched together into a coherent novel.
Like Alan Dean Foster, who ghostwrote the Star Wars novelization, Black must have had access to an earlier script because the differences between the movie we know so well and the events in the novel are sometimes striking, but that's what makes the experience so rewarding.
The Movie is Not the Novelization
I'm not sure what happened to my original copy of the novel. I had the version with black on the cover. The paperback I read this week was published in 1989, after Last Crusade, so it has a white cover. Soon after I started reading the South America prelude, I took a pencil and began annotating the differences.
In a movie, editors can make cuts and swipes and change scenes. You can do the same in a novel, but Black provides a lot of connective tissue between scenes. Just how did Indy get to Nepal? Well, Black describes in detail all the travel and driving Indy did, even throwing in a new character, Lin-Su. Granted, he doesn't do the same for the journey from Nepal to Cairo, but who cares.
I enjoyed the languid pace of the novelization. As much as I enjoy the movie and all that it delivers, there's something to be said for the same story delivered via text over a number of days. What Black does is what novels do well: get into the heads of the characters. We hear the inner thoughts of Indy, Marion, and Belloq. They all prove quite compelling in Black's hands, adding layers and nuances to each character.
Belloq, for example, proves himself more competitive and mercenary than Paul Freeman portrays him in the film. With Freeman, you could almost side with Belloq in his quest for the Ark and the secrets it holds. In the novel, he's depicted very much as borderline insane with his single-minded devotion to getting the Ark and using it before Hitler gets his hands on it.
Speaking of Belloq, something occurred to me that I never considered in forty years. It's regarding the headpiece to the staff of Ra. Belloq gets his version of the headpiece because the words are burned into Toht's hand. With that, Belloq makes his calculations. Indy, however, needs the Imam to read and interpret the words on the headpiece. Did Indy not know that language?
This is what you want to know, right? Well, let me get to it.
- The pit over which Indy and Sapito swing is actually obscured. Sapito nearly falls into the pit because he steps into the cobwebs covering the pit.
-Indy takes a swig from a flask as he reaches the idol. [Love this]
There are a few scenes not at all in the movie. They are from the point of view of Dietrich, the main German officer as played by Wolf Kahler. Dietrich never trusts Belloq and we get many internal thoughts from the German. It also explains how Belloq came to be employed by Hitler. Later, during the Cairo scenes, we get a few more scenes from Dietrich's POV, irritated at Belloq's pomposity.
It is certainly implied that Indy is a womanizer, all but taking an undergrad per semester. This is part of the apparent--but never explained--backstory with Indy and Marion. Based on the book, she might as been as young as sixteen when the mid-twenties Indy had a relationship with her.
-There's a nighttime scene between Indy and Marion and whether or not they they'll hook up. It includes their actual first kiss and we get the skeevy take from Indy about how well the woman kisses versus the child from his past.
-The Imam who reads the markings on the headpiece is the one who puts into Indy's head the idea that no mortal should look at the contents of the Ark. It is the Imam's warning Indy remembers at the end.
-There is no scene between Belloq and Marion where she puts on the dress and tries to drink him under the table. In its place is Marion's seemingly being under Belloq's spell. They actually kiss and she all but succumbs to him.
-Belloq actually sees all the lightening that floods the sky when Indy and his friends open the Well of the Souls.
-Toht is in the car that flies off the cliff. He dies here and doesn't get his face melted at the end.
-Black describes how the Germans discovered which pirate ship is carrying the Ark.
-We learn how Belloq arranged for him to open the Ark before delivery to Berlin.
-The scene where Belloq challenges Indy to blow up the Ark isn't here.
The novelization is a nice addition to the wonderful movie. There is a place for both. Campbell Black's novel is a good story and a worthy addition to the canon we now have, even if much of what he comes up with (how Indy got the bullwhip) is overridden with subsequent movies and books. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and actually might continue with the novelizations of the next three films.
I went and located my copy of the comic adaptation and many of the scenes mentioned here are in there. Perhaps the Marvel comics folks and Black read from the same script.