Perhaps the greatest testament to the enduring legacy of action hero extraordinaire Indiana Jones is the relentless push to put Harrison Ford back on the big screen, whip in hand. An astounding 19 years after the last film in the series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, audiences will soon be proffered Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the longest title yet for what will likely be the final final chapter.
As part of the rollup to the big event, Paramount began releasing volumes of the spin-off TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles on DVD last October, and now individual special edition discs of the three Indiana Jones movies for the first time. (The trilogy had been issued in a four-disc boxed set back in 2003, with movie-only discs plus a fourth platter with three hours of bonus materials, now gone.) Although many a fan might be tempted to skip the middle film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the new white-boxed Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection is surely the best value.
Inside are three of the most rollicking old-school movie adventures of all time. Raiders of the Lost Ark--topping Jaws and E.T. as my personal favorite Steven Spielberg film--irresistibly blends action and humor in a film as rough-hewn as its protagonist. An unlikely hero to be sure, the unshaven, perpetually sweaty/dusty Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is a college professor of archaeology to pay the bills, coming alive at night, on weekends, and on spring break as a globetrotting treasure hunter. And oh, what booty: The Ark of the Covenant (Raiders), The Holy Grail (Last Crusade) and… striped rocks with diamonds hidden inside (Temple of Doom). Set as they are in the years leading up to World War II, he often butts heads with the Nazis and their accomplices in evil, providing a grander historical context for his gun-toting, whip-cracking, fist-flying exploits.
With a script by Lawrence Kasdan, from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, Raiders began the series with a bang that took audiences by surprise in 1981. Captivating setpieces and breakneck chases were densely packed between smart plot twists, held together by witty, memorable dialogue. Directed with boundless creativity by Spielberg at the top of his considerable game, the movie was delivered under schedule and reportedly below budget, resulting in a lean, fast-paced popcorn flick that left us wanting more.
What we were given three years later was the inappropriately dark, often outright stupid Temple of Doom, but it earned insane amounts of money and set the stage for 1989's Last Crusade, a return to the elusive balance of fun and thrills. With Sean Connery in tow as Indy's dad (his James Bond was a principal inspiration for these films), Last Crusade explored deeper relationships and broader themes in service to the saga's coda.
Or so we thought.
We're given the same transfers here as in the 2003 Indiana Jones Adventures set, and they still look fine. The digital restoration of Raiders addressed problems with both scratching and discoloration, and the most famous revisionist tweak removed the reflective glass between Indy and a giant cobra in The Well of Souls. The movie is a symphony of browns, given just the right warmth and clarity on DVD. Temple of Doom is darker visually as well as dramatically, and shadow detail is excellent, with an overall natural look. The appearance of some bolder colors this time out is also pleasing to the eye. We're able to witness a filmmaking evolution of eight years across these movies, and Last Crusade provides the sharpest, most solid video of the bunch. Mild artifacting is evident in all three, which are presented 2.35:1 anamorphic.
Five years on and well into the high-definition era, one wonders how much better these could have looked with new high-def masters downconverted for DVD. Raiders is also significantly more compressed than before, somehow taking up less disc space than the 2003 DVD despite the addition of the new special features. The minor difference will likely bother no one, and this crowding does not appear to be the case on the other two titles. Although still officially THX certified, the THX Optimizer has been removed.
All of the soundtracks needed to be remixed for Dolby Digital 5.1, as even the most recent film in the set predates the watershed Batman Returns and discrete multichannel surround by three years. Remember though that the first and third films both won Oscars for their sound, and we can hear why. Raiders reveals subtle effects as part of its new mix, with broad dynamic range and ample kick, although the rears are underutilized by today's standards, particularly in the busy climactic scene that unleashes The Wrath of God. Temple of Doom impresses with the squeal of steel wheels and the cave-like resonance of the mine cart chase, while many scenes take on a fuller sense of atmosphere. Of course Last Crusade comes closest to what the home theater crowd expects to hear, with the most surround activity, for weather, voices, and so on. The tank battle exhibits outstanding directional effects and serious low-frequencies, while the period dogfight sounds just plain wonderful.
The animated menus are the same as on the previous release, except for the addition of new "Special Features" pages. Again, each disc is also being sold separately and so some of the content is specific to one movie, some covers the trilogy (or quadrilogy), and some is repeated from platter to platter.
Spielberg and Lucas deliver unexpectedly substantive introductions to each film, more eloquent and elaborate than the all-too-common single-take "We had a lot of fun making this movie, I hope you enjoy it" intros on many other titles. A total of six new featurettes have also been produced, each in the neighborhood of ten minutes long. Raiders kicks off with "Indiana Jones: An Appreciation," obviously taped on the set of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with the cast and crew discussing their fondness for Indy over the years. It's a little fluffy at times but it does illustrate how many people have embraced the movies, for different reasons and in different ways. "The Melting Face!" celebrates one of the movie's most memorable shots, when the Nazi sadist's face literally melts right off of his skull, right down to a modern-day recreation of the effect using the original technology.
Temple of Doom packs "Creepy Crawlies," which delves into the thinking behind the series' tradition of a skin-crawling critter scene, followed by "Travel with Indy: Locations," a travelogue of sorts showing where in the world the films were shot. Both of these featurettes include optional pop-up trivia. On Last Crusade, "Indy's Women" catches up with leading ladies Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw and Alison Doody a few years ago on stage at the American Film Institute, excerpted here with clips and stills. And in "Friends and Enemies," the writers in particular explain the appeal of both good guys and bad across the four films.
Each disc includes a storyboard sequence, with a series of the crude images displayed prominently above a clip from each finished film. An interactive gallery section is also provided, with movie-specific production art and artifacts, studio photography, behind the scenes of the special effects, and both familiar and previously unseen movie posters. Lastly, curious fans can view the trailer for the upcoming LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures and download a free game demo of the PC version via the supplied link.
With Paramount's recent commitment to Blu-ray, and the inevitable release of Crystal Skull on home video, savvy videophiles should "choose wisely." These discs deliver novel goodies that commemorate the classics while whipping us into a lather for the impending sequel. And as ridiculous as this may sound, the box is also less than half the size of the previously released set, and big DVD libraries like mine appreciate the relief.
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