The Indiana Jones movies aren’t typically very car-centric, as most of them are set in archaeological sites that date back hundreds of years before a car was even conceived. However, you might be surprised to learn that in reality, a humble Honda Civic made a huge contribution to one of the very first sequences in the Indy franchise. The car never actually appears on screen in the 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it provided the sound effects for one the most memorable scenes in cinema history.
I learned of this fact while taking out-of-town friends to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Inside there’s a theater showing the first 10 minutes of Raiders‘, but on a split screen to reveal how foleys use everyday objects to create the sounds in movies (crunching celery for breaking bones, for example). We all know part where a giant boulder chases Jones out of the temple, but as it played the unmistakeable sealed-beam face of a second-generation Honda Civic popped up.
Unfortunately the documentary was made specially for the museum by Skywalker Sound and isn’t online, but an old 1980s documentary showed essentially the same scene. You can see it a the 4:22 mark in the video above.
Apparently, the car belonged to the movie’s sound effects supervisor, Ben Burtt. Initially the humongous rock, made out of fiberglass and wood, posed a problem for Burtt’s team. He described the situation on a Raiders of the Lost Ark commentary track like this:
The giant boulder was a tricky sound to invent because it had to have weight but it also had to accelerate and move very fast, and finding something that big and getting it to move fast was hard.
We had several different sessions where we went out and tried to stage a boulder sound and they were not successful. But on one of the last days we were coming back from the location and we were on a steep hill and we were in this little Honda Civic station wagon on a gravel road on this mountain and we were just coasting down the hill without the motor running. And we realized the car sounded really interesting…
So I hung out the back and put a microphone near the back tire of the station wagon and we just coasted down this road. And as the car accelerated it gave a sense of gathering speed. That ended up being the basis of the giant boulder.
Raiders went on to win four Oscars, two of which were for Best Sound and Best Sound Editing. More importantly, the movie set a new standard in filmmaking and became a cultural milestone. The boulder scene was a standout and would be memorialized in toys and parodied countless times. It would also launch four sequels, the latest of which debuts this Friday, 42 years after the original. So if you’re watching Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny this weekend or catching up on any of the others, you now know how a classic Honda Civic Wagon played a small but important role in the series.