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The Stephen Spielberg/George Lucas Indiana Jones collaboration produced four films over a 27-year span. Unlike the old “to be continued” adventure movies, these thrillers are linked only by their titular hero, portrayed by Harrison Ford. As this series evolved, the good-versus-evil sagas featured increasingly fantastic story lines and special effects. The supporting cast of sidekicks and villains provides numerous cameos for a talented group of actors, the love interests change, and the ultimate goals move ever more skyward. For the Indy faithful, any unevenness in plots, casts, sets, and pacing will not matter once the memorable John Williams score starts to emerge from their speakers. Paramount Studios, in response to the growing clamor of an enormous fan base, now issues this five disc set with Blu-ray premieres of the first three films and a special features bonus BD.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Set in the pre-World War II era, ROTLA pits Indy against the Nazis in a parable of light versus darkness. The legendary ark of the covenant will give its possessors the greatest power on Earth. Abetted by Marian Ravenwood (Karen Allen), our hero goes head on with archaeologist Rene Bellocq, (Paul Freeman) a French turncoat working for the Germans. Along the way, museum curator Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), and local excavator Sallah (John Rhy-Davies) provide some comic relief as Indiana Jones’s aides de camp. The finale in which the ark is revealed to the evil German Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler) offers some effects that were truly spectacular for their times.
The Temple of Doom (1984)
A dark film by any standards, TTOD got a mixed reception from critics and audiences. Indy volunteers to recover a sacred stone that will restore the health of a poor village. This time, his lady luck is singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw AKA Mrs. Spielberg). They team up with cute child sidekick Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) to battle the wicked Thugee priest Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) who delights in tearing hearts out of living victims. After many literal thrills and spills, good triumphs and the village is saved. The tunnel chase scene provides much-needed magic moments in a film whose pace is considerably slower than its counterparts.
The Last Crusade (1989)
Okay, we’ve had the ark, the sacred stone, now (drum roll), the Holy Grail. Fortunately, this film returns to the successful formula of Raiders and restores our faith in the Spielberg/Lucas team. TLC opens with a prequel of young Indy (River Phoenix) and gives us the low down on how he got his name, scarred chin, skill with a whip and fear of snakes. The gimmick here is the surprise reappearance of Indy’s dad, Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) amid the backdrop of World War II. There is a superb female foil, Dr. Elas Schneider (Alison Doody). Sallah and Brody also return to spice up the proceedings. Through innumerable trials, and with the help of an invisible bridge of faith, the grail is finally revealed. At film’s end, TLC’s baddie, Nazi sympathizer Walter Donovan (Julian Glover), shows us that all that glitters is not gold.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Nearly twenty years pass, and the Indiana Jones franchise is literally resurrected like the prairie dogs who open the film by emerging from their burrows. But sometimes it may be better to let the dead rest in peace. We are transported to the 1950’s cold war era, and now threats to life and liberty come from Soviet agents. Indy must solve the riddle of ancient aliens hidden deep in the South American jungle. This time, our hero is aided by Mutt Williams (Shia Leboeuf), who turns out to be Indy’s long-lost son courtesy of Ms. Ravenswood (Karen Allen). En route, he is enlightened by the demented Professor Oxley (John Hurt) and pursued by the ultimate villain, Russian Colonel Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Special effects are more spectacular here, particularly, the “Close Encounters” finale that must have brought a smile to fans of that other Spielberg classic. A bit lacking in inspiration and quite a reach for the physical abilities of senior citizen Ford, TKOTCS provides as a gateway for young viewers who may now want to get acquainted with its predecessors.
The restoration work on the three original films is, in a word, astonishing and well worth the wait. These 1980’s films may not look like they are fresh off the press but the images are strikingly crisp. ROTLA is particularly good thanks to painstaking 4K scanning and remastering. Of course TKOTCS, being a much more recent film was already a visual spectacular, benefiting from two decades of advances in cinematography. Colors are gorgeous, critical to films set in many exotic locations worldwide. I have seen much newer releases that do not look nearly as fresh. The 2.40:1 aspect ratio yields the movie theater experience as intended, black bars above and below notwithstanding.
You want to see these films for sight and sound. The surround effects, bass, and overall immersive quality of the oldest and newest entries more than justifies the sound engineers’ efforts. Dialogue, occasionally victimized in the older members of the series has gotten much clearer. There are still occasional anomalies in sound perspective between dialogue and soundtrack, but these are relatively few. Now we get all of the many throw away lines, including those intended to make us smile.
Besides giving us the goodies in the original DVD repackaging, an extra disc yields all of the following:
- On the set with Raiders of the Lost Ark:
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark: premiere documentary.
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- Behind the Scenes:
- The Stunts of Indiana Jones
- The Sound of Indaiana Jones
- The Music of Indiana Jones
- The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
- Raiders: The Melting Face!
- Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlers
- Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations
- Indy’s Women:L The American Film Institute Tribute
- Indy’s Friends and Enemies
- Iconic Props: Crystal Skull
- The Effects of Indy: Crystal Skull
- Adventures in Post Production: Crystal Skull
- Theatrical Trailers (and Teasers) for the films
The Definitive Word
When I was a kid, I went with my friends every Saturday to our local movie theater to see the serial adventures of Frank Buck, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and the like. Each episode left us hanging on to see how our heroes would fare the following week. Perhaps the Indiana Jones tetralogy only approximates this level of suspense since each film is completed in a single sitting. The pace, however, is very much in the manner of the movie theater serial, with chase scenes galore. We also get a surfeit of snakes, creepy crawlers and other vermin. The synergy between soundtrack and picture has been well restored in the older films, and creates the excitement that theatrical audiences must have felt during their original release. For the most part, the writers and directors have kept the interlacing humor alive that offered occasional but much needed comic relief. Like the George Lucas Star Wars collection, it is difficult to maintain creative genius at a consistently high pitch throughout. With many more hits than misses, this new high-definition release of the Indiana Jones adventures scores high marks. Compared with original video issues (which I have on DVD), these new ones look and sound as good as we ever hope to get. For those who loved the originals, this is a must revisit. For those who missed them the first time around, get on board for the one of the greatest adventure series of these or any other times.
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