There are some great shots in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I will inevitably get into a rant about how awful Indy is as a person (probably tomorrow), but importantly, the film never tells us that he is a good person. So, today, I will ignore Indy and look at Spielberg's work. From a great shot with mist and sunlight through the trees in the opening sequence to that warehouse matte painting in the final shot, Spielberg frames things nicely. But, even better--and this probably comes from screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan more than from anybody else--are a couple key moments of foreshadowing and... Whatever you call explaining something ahead so that when it happens we don't need useless dialogue.
And, I don't mean the snake thing. That's basic stuff.
Also, an odd detail I noticed yesterday (and maybe I'd seen it before, but it stood out yesterday): that bit where Sapito gets Indy to throw him the idol and then drops the whip--there are stone walls on either side of them, and a closing door ahead, collapsing temple behind, but there is no ceiling. Spielberg shoots from inside the pit and you can see the canopy of trees above. Indy could have simply climbed the wall to get out. Of course, then Sapito would have still be standing dead over the fallen idol and that ball would have closed up the entrance. And, the Hovitos might not have let Belloq get inside to retrieve the idol.
But, back to the good.
For example, when the Army Intelligence guys come to Marshall College to meet with Indy, he not only explains the Ark of the Covenant to them, he lays out how the map room in Tanis will work later with the Staff of Ra. That way, we get a great scene later with no dialogue (and it didn't even need to cutaway to Sallah above) in which Indy does his best bit as modern archaeologist and not grave robber when he actually pulls out a brush to get the sand off the panel of holes in the floor, inserts the Staff of Ra, and it flares up the location of the Well of the Souls. It's a great scene, evocative of the whole tone of the film at its best, really. Nice musical cues, fantastic set. And, since Indy has already explained what will happen there, and we've already heard the explanation and translation of the headpiece for the Staff of Ra, Indy doesn't need to say a thing.
Then there's Marion's time drinking with Belloq in his tent at Tanis. She hides the knife under the clothes she has changed out of early in their interaction. Then, she drinks, he drinks, they have some laughs, and suddenly she gets serious and pulls the knife. The film has of course already shown that she can handle her alcohol; it is how she was introduced, in fact. First we see of her, she's beating a guy bigger than her at drinking shots. If we're paying attention, we know that she can drink Belloq under the table.
Interesting moment in that same scene at the Raven, Indy is introduced there as a shadow.
(The Raven scene also makes good use shadows to avoid showing some of the violence.)
At the start of the film, he was introduced in silhouette, from behind. We don't see his face until after he has whipped the gun out of the hand of one of his guides. And, then, it's Han Solo and we've already seen two Star Wars films and a Christmas special, and we are in. Charming scoundrel on an adventure--that is practically what film was invented for.
Spielberg also makes good use of closeups, like just now, Indy is chasing the guys who have Marion in a basket and he runs toward the camera, stops really close, looking around, and we're there with him, lost, confused, because--CUT TO--he just reached a plaza full of people carrying baskets.
Indy talks to Belloq, and Belloq is in focus, talking about his pocketwatch, Indy is in slightly blurry closeup, sad, angry, a shadow of a man. Belloq even calls Indy his "shadowy reflection".
Spielberg shoots through screens, from inside pits. He's got insert shots of flying dates, of slow fan blades, guns being pulled, maps being read.
Now, I must complain about one detail of the map room scene : the translator says the Staff of Ra needs to be 6 kadam in height minus 1 kadam for the lord. This difference is why Belloq's men are digging in the wrong place. Sallah says 6 kadam is about 72 inches. That means 1 kadam is about 1 foot. Take one away and the staff should be only 5 feet tall. Harrison Ford (and thus Indiana Jones) is 6'1". The staff he takes into the map room is longer than he is tall. He, too, should be digging in the wrong place.
Even a perfect scene must have its flaws.
Also, regarding that scene. There is a small building in the map room with strings surrounding it, and it says in red NICHT STOREN (do not bother). Having watched this movie for years and years on an old VHS tape, I didn't know that writing was there until last night. Disregarding the staff length mistake, it would make sense that the location that Belloq's men found with their staff would be several feet past the location Indy finds. So, that must be the building their staff lit. So, on the one hand, they protected the model with those strings. On the other hand, they defaced it with red paint.