Since the dawn of Blu-ray, fans have been asking (begging!) for Raiders of the Lost Ark to come to the format. After years of waiting, wondering and wanting, Paramount has delivered -- and then some. Please make a sizable space on your shelf for Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures.
The 5-disc box set includes Indy's four theatrical films and a hearty collection of extras. This is one you're going to want to invest some time in, so let's break it all down piece by piece.
Undoubtedly, the best of the bunch is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Set in 1936, this is the one that introduced audiences to our stubbly, snake-fearing hero, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). He's a professor of Archeology, an adventurer, and a bit of a miracle worker, if you ask me. Soon, he's off in search of the lost Ark of the Covenant, which supposedly holds whatever is left of The Ten Commandments. In between dodging blow darts, bullets and a lot of punches, he meets up with old flame Marion (Karen Allen) and a ton of Nazis seeking the Ark for evil purposes. To try to put this film into a mere paragraph is impossible. It's wonderful. It's also one of the finest films that director Steven Spielberg has ever made -- and considering the guy's resume includes JAWS, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T, and countless others, that really says something.
Three years later, Spielberg re-teamed with Ford for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The film actually takes place a year before Raiders, with Indy seeking out the Sankara Stones. To me, this was sort of a weak follow-up. It's not that I can't appreciate a villian that rips out the hearts of his victims. It's just sort of a letdown, after the original. Teaming Indy up with pint-sized sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) and Willie Scott's (Kate Capshaw) endless shrieking didn't exactly make the film more enjoyable. She may be Mrs. Spielberg, but she's no Karen Allen, people.
The franchise bounced back in a big way with 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Pairing Ford with former James Bond Sean Connery was pure genius -- as was casting the late River Phoenix as the young adventurer. There are no screeching sidekicks here (Connery can hold his own, you know). Instead, Indy joins his father in the search for the Holy Grail. The interaction between the two is pretty great. However, this one put the series back on track, using the same type of action, the same type of storytelling, and the same type of villains that made the first film so great.
After 19 years, Spielberg and Ford decided to see if Indiana Jones had one more adventure in him. Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull didn't exactly get the welcome that the duo was hoping for, but it did score over $786 at the box office. Was it nice to see our hero again? Well, sure. Was it necessary? Absolutely not. The Last Crusade probably should have been the last crusade. However, this film finds Indy as feisty as ever -- especially since he's getting screwed over. Apparently, Indy is a bit of a war hero, but the government has its doubts. If that's not enough a young punk (Shia LaBeouf) needs Indy's help to recover his surrogate father Harold Oxley (John Hurt), his mom (Karen Allen!), and the creepy, supernatual crystal skull, all from a bunch of nasty Russians. Crystal Skull got a bit of a bad rap, in my opinion. What were people expecting after such a long lapse? Still, the vast assortment of characters and aliens didn't mix as well with our old-fashioned hero.
Three of the four films have been remastered, with that loner being 2008's Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. It's a recent film -- one that already had a Blu-ray release. It doesn't need the image upgrade.
Most of that effort went into Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know if Paramount messed this one up, there'd be some face-melting to endure. So, they called in Steven Spielberg to supervise the whole project. The end result is magnificent. The grains of sand in the opening, the chalk residue on the classroom board, the streets and baskets of Cairo, the beads of sweat, and Jones' stubble all look spectacularly detailed. The colors are bright where they need to be and spot-on overall. Is it perfect? Well, no. It's darn close, though. Some of the darker scenes don't look as detailed, but it won't detract from your experience one bit. The film looks like it could have been made earlier this year, which is some seriously high praise for a flick celebrating its 31st birthday. It's an absolute treat.
Spielberg wasn't involved in any of the other transfers, but they are equally impressive. As expected, each one gets better with time. The Temple of Doom definitely has a more lavish image, with its opening club scene, the Thuggee tribe, and lush scenery. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade appears almost brand new in most spots, with a ton of great detail in Jones' suit, shards of glass, the blue skies, and in Sean Connery's beard. The colors in this one are wonderful as well. The last of the lot is Crystal Skull. Being that the film was just released theatrically in 2008, it's no surprise that it has one of the better images. Besides some nice grain, the film also has a lot of detail to ogle. Those faces certainly have a lot to show, whether it's the age lines or Cate Blanchett's peach fuzz. Also, the wider shots look just as nice and there are some very bold colors throughout as well. Overall, the image's best feature is how it has a real 3D-quality to it, with bodies, foliage, monkeys, ants, and general action flying toward the viewer.
Paramount has given each of the four films a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I hate to lump all four films together, but all four are action-packed, with clear, centered dialogue. There's not a bad one in the lot.
If one film deserves to be called out, it's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although it gives me chest pains to say this, the film is 31 years old -- but it sounds absolutely awesome. Like the image, the audio got a remaster, which was supervised by sound designer Ben Burtt. The effort put into this release can be heard in just about every scene, from the blow darts to the Cairo crowds to the climactic unveiling of the Ark.
Each of the sequels packs a nice punch as well. The Temple of Doom starts off with big show tunes and continues that bold presence throughout the entire film. The cart chase, in particular, offers some of the film's best action-packed moments. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade flashes back to the type of action from the original film, but with a few extra sound effects. The thunderous roar of the train, the waves, and the fire will engulf you in yet another one of Indiana Jones' adventures. However, this one adds in a lot of chase scenes, most notably by boat and plane. As you can imagine, both are immersive and should get the room rumbling. And while many people pooh-pooh the most recent film, this track offers another excellent presentation, from machine-gun fire, rockets and Mutt's motorcycle to crashing waterfalls (three of them!) and John Williams' score.
Let's talk packaging for a minute. The actual book-style case that the discs are housed in is pretty nice. However, it could have been better with a few liner notes or set photos. The little sheet that wraps around the actual box is another story. It came flying off with the plastic wrap. It's the back sheet, which just folds over the top and sticks to the front via a little gummy piece at the top. It's not necessary, but since the back info isn't actually on the box, it just sort of leaves you with an extra piece. Why not make a slipcover or something that's easier to keep with the set? Was the $99.99 MSRP not enough to cover the cost?
This gripe is extremely minor, considering the amount of goodies that come with this set. Each of the four films gets its own disc, with trailers on each. However, as the back page mentions, there are 7 hours of special features included on a fifth disc. Fans of Crystal Skull will notice that some of the supplements on that 2008 Blu-ray release are missing here. However, it's still a nice set. It's actually hard to pick a "best" of this lot, since there are so many wonderful items.
First up is "On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark." This is a two-part piece with a lot of behind-the-scenes interviews, outtakes and interactions. There are no new interviews here; instead, it's snippets from the actual film set. It's a really cool little peek at the production. The end features outtakes and deleted scenes from the other three films. It's sort of a weird ending, but it works.
Each of the four films also has its own "making-of" featurette, with Raiders actually getting two installments. One piece is all from the 1980 production, with the second adding in some more recent interviews and info. You're definitely going to recognize some of the content from the above Ark piece (Spielberg likes his Egg McMuffins!), but all of them are fun to watch. All four are pretty comprehensive, with The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull's short being the only one presented in 1080p.
Everything else is lumped under one Behind the Scenes submenu, with snippets about the stunts, the music, the special effects, and the sidekicks. It's everything a fan would want to know and more. Consider getting comfortable for this; it's going to take a while to get through all of the good stuff packed into this set.
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures is absolutely worth the wait. Even if you can't appreciate every one of the films in this package, you're going to want it. Raiders of the Lost Ark is actually worth the price alone. If you look hard enough, you'd probably find a few faults. Those Crystal Skull extras are missing, there's nothing about the TV show, and there are no commentary tracks. It doesn't matter though. This is a good time. All four films look and sound awesome; Paramount couldn't have put out a better set.