Steven Spielberg appeared at the Arclight Hollywood multiplex Tuesday evening to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Cinerama Dome, one of the most recognizable cinematic landmarks in Los Angeles.
The legendary director kicked off the festivities with a lively Q&A session, followed by a screening of his seminal swashbuckler Raiders of the Lost Ark, the action-adventure classic that introduced audiences to globetrotting archeologist Indiana Jones.
Spielberg reminisced about the difficulties he and George Lucas encountered while trying to convince studio executives to finance their $20 million homage to the Republic serial-adventures of the 1930s and 40s. “I’m not sure any of them had even seen a serial,” Spielberg said.
The film, a modern masterpiece despite the lingering aftertaste of 2008’s unnecessary Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, remains the purest distillation of its genre, forever embodied in the bullwhip-wielding, fedora-topped presence of Harrison Ford. Ford seems almost impossibly young and dashing in his first turn as Dr. Jones, blending bare-knuckled bravado with a bookish charm that seems appropriate given the character’s second home in academia. He’s also much more idealistic than many of today’s brooding antiheroes, with his noble “It belongs in a museum” mantra and apparent faith that the U.S. government actually intends to let his university study the ark after discovering its terrible power.
Spielberg praised Ford’s willingness to capture Indy’s rough-and-tumble physicality, revealing that the actor insisted on doing almost all of his own stunts. “He’s not a superhero, and Harrison understood that,” Spielberg said.
When Raiders of the Lost Ark received a special Imax release last year, it contained a blessed lack of technical tinkering, boasting only a painstakingly restored picture and a fully remastered soundtrack. The same held true for this screening. Though parts of the film look as though they could have been shot yesterday, there is no visible CGI or Star Wars Special Edition-style “enhancements,” unless, as Spielberg quipped, “George has gotten to it without me knowing,” Spielberg said.
The majority of the beautiful matte paintings and practical effects, especially the iconic opening sequence, have aged remarkably well. The violence, including decapitations and face-melting holy fire, still feels jarring given the film’s now laughable PG rating.
The rest of cast is uniformly excellent. Karen Allen exudes feisty nerve as Marion Ravenwood, a consummate foil the sequels would later struggle to match. Other acting highlights include John Rhys-Davies as the jocular Egyptian excavator Sallah, Paul Freeman as Indy’s unscrupulous archrival Belloq and Ronald Lacey as a ghoulish Gestapo interrogator.
The sold-out event, the first in a monthlong series of screenings, also marks the 61st anniversary of Cinerama technology, the widescreen process that projects 35 mm (an early version required three projectors running at once) and 70 mm films on gigantic, deeply curved screens. This format, a precursor to modern Imax, was used to inject a sense of immersive spectacle and realism into outsized epics such as How the West Was Won and The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Based on the geodesic dome concept developed by architect R. Buckminster Fuller, the Cinerama Dome remains a popular venue for event screenings, including the premieres of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Star Trek IV: The Journey Home and, most recently, Edgar Wright’s apocalyptic pub-crawl comedy The World’s End.
So, will the Cinerama Dome be around to entertain moviegoers for another half-century? In the words of Dr. Jones himself: “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”