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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

Raiders of the Lost Ark's Original Ending Would've Robbed Its McGuffin Of Its Power

This weeks Your Nerd Show Podcast:

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a seminal adventure film famous for being the debut of Indiana Jones. Among its many iconic scenes is the opening of the titular Ark of the Covenant, which features a nightmarish display of the holy relic's power. But the original planned ending for the film robbed the Ark of much of its power and ultimately reduced it to little more than a glorified MacGuffin.

In the third draft of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is not the main focus of Indy's confrontation with the Nazis. Rather, it's an object with mild supernatural abilities that Indy and Marion do not get to witness in full. The main crux of the climax instead was a final shootout with the Nazis as they pursue the duo for the Ark. This original ending would've made the Ark less of an awe-inspiring magical artifact in favor of a more standard action piece, although a future installment would reimagine a key feature of this sequence.

Indiana Jones' Final Showdown With Belloq and the Nazis Was More of a Shootout

Indy's first adventure had less magic and more stunt work when it came time to recover the Ark. In the third draft of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazi's hidden island base was more of an underground lair, filled with an extensive trolley system. Indy would've confronted Belloq and Colonel Dietrich (Known as Shlieman here) in a large cavern with an RPG as they were about to open the Ark. Notably, Toht is absent because he was killed during the truck chase in this iteration of the story. Indy is immediately restrained as the ceremony continues and escorted out of the premises by Dietrich. Belloq and the Nazis present for the ceremony are granted a preview of the end of the world before being vaporized by lightning, leading Indy to break free in the chaos and rescue Marion.

What follows is a hectic shootout between the heroes and surviving Nazis as they fight over the Ark, culminating in Indy and Marion escaping to the island surface in a mine cart as the base is blown up. This original ending would've robbed the story of its impact, as the Ark would've done little to warrant its almighty reputation. With the Nazis ultimately done in by a standard action sequence, it made Indy's journey a battle of strength rather than one of discovery and finding belief. Ultimately, the final film would feature Indy and Marion captured and made witness to the ceremony on the island surface before being forced to avert their eyes as the Nazis are destroyed by the Ark in a spectacular effect sequence. This new ending better captured Indy's character growth, showing him respecting the power of the supernatural after being dismissive of it earlier.

Temple of Doom Would Borrow From Raiders' Original Climax

Raiders of the Lost Ark may have scrapped its action-packed ending for a frightening visual effects tour, but it would help inspire a beloved sequence in the franchise. The film's follow-up prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom would feature many recycled elements from Raiders' early drafts, but its memorable mine cart chase is among the most famous. Where the original purpose was to serve as Raiders' climatic set piece, Temple of Doom's mine cart chase was now an escape sequence meant to facilitate Indy and his friends' escaping from the titular lair of the villains. In this way, it managed to organically serve as a bridge to the film's own climatic bridge battle in the finale.

Indiana Jones' original journey in Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn't always going to be a magical event. It would've simply been a minor detour during a literal rollercoaster ride, but the final film was better off saving the action for its famous sequel. Its ending is made spectacular not because of an exciting shootout or special effects but because it forces Indy to complete his character journey and bear witness to something larger than himself in the process.

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