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They say that every hero is only as good as their villain. Well, as a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a 4K release of the entire Indiana Jones series thus far, I would argue that Indiana Jones could be the exception to that rule as a hero who could still generate pure cinematic excitement no matter who (or what) he stands up against. Then again, we would not know for sure as he has never really had any disappointments in his rogues gallery, especially in his first adventure.
In the exhilarating opening scene of 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, just after Harrison Ford’s legendary archeologist character has narrowly escaped death with the famed Golden Idol, he comes face-to-face with his long-time rival, René Emile Belloq - with a tribe of warrior Hovitos - who reminds him “there is nothing [Indiana Jones] can possess that [he] cannot take away” before snatching the priceless bounty. Later, when in Cairo, Jones discovers that the French explorer has been hired by Adolf Hitler to lead the Nazis’ search for the Ark of the Covenant, continuing their adversarial relationship at a grander and deadlier scale than ever before.
The sniveling, power-hungry, and sometimes even charming antagonist is played by Paul Freeman, who would go on to play several more notable villains, such as Ivan Ooze in 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and a foul-mouthed, pistol-packing reverend, eponymously named Phillip Shooter, in Hot Fuzz from 2007. However, decades after director Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of Lost Ark was first released, none have remained as memorable as Belloq. When speaking to CinemaBlend in honor of this new milestone, the British actor revealed why he believes the character has remained so iconic:
The thing about being a villain is you don’t get these scripts that go, ‘This is the villain.’ If you do, it’s a bad script, by the way. You should never say that... It’s a big mistake... to think that you have to signal that. [It is] much more interesting not to signal that [and] to almost go in the opposite direction and say, ‘Well, this guy seems perfectly all right with me.’ Now, you see, I think that would be the definition of real evil when you think, ‘This guy’s perfectly all right,’ and he turns out not to be. Belloq was not an evil villain... Did he do anything evil? I mean, apart from working for the Nazis?
I cannot help but feel that Mr. Freeman has a good point, especially considering how Belloq never seemed to care much about what the Nazis stood for, only thinking about what he could gain for himself from collaborating with them on the search for the Ark. Then, the actor throws me another curveball by pointing out that Indiana Jones’ pursuit of the artifact was personal, too, and not necessarily to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
Perhaps by exposing the similar nature of Indy and Belloq’s motivations for archeology, Paul Freeman has essentially settled the argument regarding the importance of a quality villain to ensure a quality hero. Furthermore, he may have secured his Raiders of the Lost Ark character as the highest quality villain the Indiana Jones movies have seen yet. That being said, if the rumors of Mads Mikkelson playing the baddie of Indiana Jones 5 prove true, we can only wait to see if Belloq will get a taste of his own medicine and have that priceless honor he now possesses taken away.
The 4K Ultra HD Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection - which, of course, includes Raiders of the Lost Ark - is now available.