With the upcoming release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, many have been revisiting the four original Indy flicks. They are all a joy, even the controversial Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and will remain culturally relevant for years on end. There is another piece of Indiana Jones media unseen by most, and it stands as one of the most fascinating, if not bizarre, products of our time. When Steven Soderbergh got his hands on Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know audiences would be receiving something off-kilter.
Steven Soderbergh Released His ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ Cut on His Blog
Of course, the most famous Steven associated with the inaugural Indiana Jones film is director Steven Spielberg. It is widely understood that he is one of the finest filmmakers in the history of cinema, and his naturalistic sense of where to place the camera and how to cover action scenes is well documented. The crown jewel of the director’s abilities as an exhilarating and genius filmmaker, and there is plenty to choose from, is arguably Raiders of the Lost Ark. To best exhibit just how immaculate Spielberg’s direction is, Steven Soderbergh asks his viewers, on his blog, to focus on staging.
A term originating from theater production, staging, as Soderbergh describes, “refers to how all the various elements of a given scene or piece are aligned, arranged, and coordinated.” Thanks to the component of film editing, a filmmaker can manipulate what the viewer is watching and subsequently their imagination. Soderbergh values proper staging substantially, with the same importance as good writing and acting. “I operate under the theory a movie should work with the sound off, and under that theory, staging becomes paramount,” writes Soderbergh.
What Makes Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ Cut Unique?
This is where his project takes the stage. Uploaded on this page of his blog is a file comprising Raiders of the Lost Ark in its entirety. Soderbergh claims this is an educational exercise. While certainly protecting him from copyright infringement, this experiment is genuinely effective in opening up the viewer’s mind to think like a director. Essential to thinking about film through scene blocking, Soderbergh removed all the sound in the film and converted the picture to black and white. Removing facets of the story and the usual bells and whistles traditionally attached to a motion picture, the director is looking for the viewer to contemplate “why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order?” Soderbergh’s earnest commitment to this project is perceptible and admirable for any cinephile.
To clarify, there is in fact sound in this cut of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Instead of the iconic John Williams score, or any line of dialogue or Foley sound, the critically acclaimed Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score from The Social Network plays through the entire film. The riveting score for the film by David Fincher about the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook would seem completely antithetical to a globe-trotting adventure for treasure in Raiders, with its electronic sound mixed with strings and heavy bass evoking a sense of anachronism. The duo’s compositions for another Fincher film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, are also employed. Soderbergh never offers a blatant rationale behind the use of Reznor and Ross’ music, but he claims that the score is “designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect.” However, when emphasizing the importance of film staging in his blog post, he quotes Fincher, who supposedly once said, “There’s potentially a hundred different ways to shoot something but at the end of the day there’s really only two, and one of them is wrong.”
Diverting from any traditional sense of film scoring, The Social Network score uncannily meshes well with Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are many emotionally enthralling compositions, such as a spellbinding remix of “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” but the score primarily can synthesize in the background. For as jarring as the score’s integration into Raiders is, it hardly protrudes the film, whether we’re seeing the Cairo market chase or Indy talking to Marion. The score contains a soothing, yet urgent quality, that focuses the viewer on the narrative. The aforementioned “Hall of the Mountain King” remix complements the climactic scene of the film’s opening, with Indy escaping with the Idol. When Indy is defending himself against his dreaded snakes, the track “Magnetic” is a perfect mood-setter for the intensity of the stakes and danger. The mysterious “Painted Sun in Abstract” creates an ominous shadow over the relationship between Indy and Marion when they first reconvene at her bar.
The black-and-white photography is quite seamless. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe‘s work is just as sharp. As Soderbergh intended, the stripping of color aids in the immersive viewing experience as a document of learning about filmmaking. The new aesthetic of this cut of the film is closer to resembling the classic pulp serials that were essential to the creation of Indiana Jones. No matter what kind of movie is at hand, black-and-white cinematography is almost always slick.
What Does Steven Soderbergh’s Project Say About Steven Spielberg’s Direction?
Steven Soderbergh underwent this exercise to highlight the importance of staging in film, and by proxy, showcased the incredible prowess of Steven Spielberg’s abilities as a filmmaker. Words can be overrated, as a good artist can express ideas, emotions, and stories through facial expressions, camera movements, editing, and of course, staging. Some of the more intricate plot details aside, one could watch this cut of Raiders for the first time and comprehend the basic synopsis of the story. It helps that Spielberg is exceptional at showing and not telling. The director’s proficiency in blocking and framing scenes never makes the viewer feel lost in the action or unaware of the setting’s surroundings.
Because of the experimentation that no one expected, and the demonstrative aspect of the film’s technical perfection, Soderbergh’s black and white, Reznor and Ross scored cut of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a worthy Indiana Jones text. Throughout his career, Steven Soderbergh went in various bizarre directions, never hesitating to make an indie shot on digital cameras immediately after directing a star-studded blockbuster. The filmmaking styles of the two Stevens appeared to be incompatible, but there is no denying the power of the remarkable film that kicked off a franchise that remains relevant today.