It has been a great year for Blu-ray releases with Jaws, Singin’ in the Rain, and To Kill a Mockingbird among others, having made their way to high definition. Movie fans have been anxiously awaiting the Blu-ray debut of Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures for several years. In finally releasing the films, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Paramount Home Media have gone all out, collaborating on a full restoration of Raiders of the Lost Ark under the supervision of director Steven Spielberg and sound designer Ben Burtt; digitally remastered picture and sound on Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. They have also included and impressive slate of special features.
On the beaches of Hawaii in the summer of 1977, George Lucas and “director for hire” Steven Spielberg decided to make an adventure movie that hearkened back to the old, cheaply made adventure serials of the 1930’s. George Lucas had a story idea for an adventurous archaeologist named Indiana Jones, and Raiders of the Lost Ark was born.
Indiana Jones has become an iconic figure in film history; Right up there with Luke Skywalker, E.T., the shark from Jaws and Rick Blaine from Casablanca. Perhaps the genius was in making him both an adventurer and a scientist—a stud and a thinker—a winning combination. By being equal parts wits and brawn, Indy broke the mold of the traditional action hero. While John Wayne spent countless films tromping the west and being the strong hero, bookish intelligence was never his thing. Indiana Jones’ obvious intelligence gave the character an extra dimension and believability. By making Indy the prominent archaeologist, Dr. Jones, Lucas made the audience believe that Indy was smart enough to get out of any situation.
The tremendous success of the Indiana Jones films is due in no small measure to Harrison Ford’s underplayed performance as Indiana Jones. Ford doesn’t force anything; He lets the action come to him. In the way the old time stars like Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart often seemed like they were playing parts that were simply an extension of themselves, Ford seems comfortable in Indy’s skin; as though he was always meant to wear Indiana Jones’ leather jacket and handle his bull whip. With history in the rear view mirror, it’s hard to believe Tom Selleck was originally offered the role. Thankfully, he was tied up with a little show called Magnum P.I.
The tagline of the movie poster said it all: “The Return of the Great Adventure.” Raiders of the Lost Ark had action, romance and comedy wrapped up in a tidy package. In a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman with a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Indiana Jones is a mysterious, driven, fly by the seat of your pants kind of guy. Indiana Jones is approached by the United States government about retrieving one of the greatest treasures in history, the Ark of the Covenant. The government is afraid that the Nazi’s, who are feverishly searching for it themselves, will find the treasure before the United States can recover it.
Jones sets out on a mission to borrow an amulet, important in the discovery of the Ark from his ex-lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). As it turns out, the Nazi’s are looking for the amulet as well, and Indy arrives just in time. Marion and Indiana are forced to work together if they are to have any hope of recovering the Ark.
Jones and Ravenwood make their way through frozen Tibetan wastelands South American jungles, and Egyptian deserts in a race to find the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. Indy seems confident about everything; he avoids large boulders, and fights Nazi’s and seems to escape at every turn. One thing that seems to make Indy both human and endearing is his irrational fear of snakes. Here’s a guy who spends his days getting bruised and battered, but it’s the snakes that drive him to distraction!
The supporting cast of Raiders of the Lost Ark is first rate. John Rhys-Davies’ ever-faithful Sallah, Ronald Lacey’s silkily agent Toht and Paul Freeman’s villainous Belloc are all very central to making the story work. Karen Allen is simply terrific as Marion Ravemwood. She more than holds her own with Harrison Ford; I dare say she steals a scene or two. Feisty and resilient, Allen’s performance is reminiscent of the tough ladies of thirties cinema, where the film is set.
With an original score by John Williams, Raiders of the Lost Ark joins a myriad of other Williams scores as one of the most recognizable in cinema history. Williams’ ability to deftly capture the mood of each scene with his mesmerizing score only adds to the perfection of the viewing experience. Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Music, Original Score. Though Raiders only took home for Oscars in the set, effects and sound categories, the film did mark “the return of the great adventure.”
The Temple of Doom
After the colossal success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas teamed up again in 1984, to create yet another Indiana Jones adventure. Maligned by fans and critics alike, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a much darker film than the first, designed to unearth the ugly side in man. Regardless, Temple of Doom still has something to offer and deserves repeated viewings by any Indy fan.
Since Temple of Doom takes place a year before Raiders of the Lost Ark, the second Indy film is actually a prequel to the first. It is a convenient way to explain the absence of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and the Nazi’s from the film without having to weave it into the storyline. As Temple of Doom opens, Jones is in a nightclub somewhere in Shanghai. Predictably, killers are on his tail but he escapes just in time, with a lounge singer named Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and his young sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) an orphaned Chinese street kid. The threesome escape danger in Shanghai, jump out of a plane over India and end up in an Indian village, where a Village leader asks Indy to and return a precious and magic jewel–a stone which disappeared with all of the villages children Touched, Indy agrees to the mission.
Indy and his traveling companions end up at a dinner party at the palace of the maharaja. The dinner scene is lifted straight from a James Bond flick and is one of the funniest scenes in Temple of Doom. All of these men are sitting around enjoying this meal of positively disgusting delicacies and Willie and Short Round are trying not to toss their cookies. While the film slows down with the obligatory seduction scene between Indy and Willie After dinner, Temple’s second half picks up the pace when a series of mines and booby traps are found beneath the palace.
Countless young children work on chain gangs, the maharajah keeps them as slaves by using the negative powers of the jewel and its two mates. After Indy, Willie, and Short Round get a stunning look at the process, Indy tries to steal back the jewel. It’s at this point that some really weird things start to happen. Humans are put into a steal cage and lowered into a subterranean volcano, and strange chants and rituals are practiced. At one point, Indiana Jones is taken over by the power of the jewel and slaps Short Round. (Things get very dark for awhile, but Indy does come to his senses.)
Spielberg and Lucas freely admit that most of the action sequences were leftover ideas from Raiders of the Lost Ark. (We’ll hope that the opening musical number from Anything Goes was just an error in judgment, and not something they had written earlier.) There is a pretty cool chase scene involving the mines miniature railway—the kind of action the audience had come to expect from an Indiana Jones film.
While Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom doesn’t live up to the thrill-a-minute excitement of its predecessor, the film is still a pretty good time. Kate Capshaw isn’t nearly as good as Karen Allen, but she deserves credit for bringing an extreme prissiness to her role. Willie didn’t want to be like Indy nor did she try. Aside from Harrison Ford though, the best performance in Temple of Doom goes to Ke Huy Quan (who would later portray a Goonie), he was Indy’s best sidekick, had the best lines (“I keep telling you, you listen to me more, you live longer!”) and made Jones show a little bit of a softer side of himself. Some excellent action sequences help redeem a storyline that frankly, doesn’t make a lot of sense in some places, and Short Round provides a healthy dose of humor. While Spielberg and Lucas undoubtedly could have done some things better, Temple of Doom is still a strong adventure film.
The Last Crusade
Coming off another smash, 1989’s The Last Crusade took the Indiana Jones franchise back to its roots. Everything about the story and the character is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Set in 1938, Indy is on a quest for the Holy Grail. While Indy certainly knows a thing or two about the Cup of Christ, he isn’t the expert. That would be his father, Henry Jones, Senior (Sean Connery). Unfortunately, the Nazi’s find Indy’s father before he does. Indy must now find the Grail and his missing dad.
The Last Crusade is a father/son buddy picture above all else. The script pairs Indy with his father early enough in the picture for the two to team up for a substantial part of the story. Given their years of estrangement and their very different approaches to archeology, their adventure together is anything but smooth.
Sean Connery brings a welcome sternness to his role, walking the fine line between showing fondness for his son and remaining emotionally detached. Some of the film’s best moments occur when between Henry Jones Senior and Junior as they come to terms with Henry’s lifetime obsession with the Holy Grail, the death of Indy’s mother, and even the young archeologist taking his moniker from the family dog. The Jones family has the same problems as a lot of us!
Even with all the family drama, The Last Crusade offers plenty of action. Indy faces off with a mass of rats (at least it isn’t snakes!), is dragged by a vehicle (a tank instead of a truck), and has to solve elaborate puzzles in order to reach the prize. While there’s no doubt that some of the action feels like a Raiders of the Lost Ark rehash, this film still has plenty to offer.
This third chapter allows for the growth of some of the secondary characters from Raiders, with the return of Indy’s curator friend Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) and Egyptian friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davis). Several new characters were also introduced, Julian Glover as Walter Donovan, a wealthy industrialist, and Alison Doody as Dr. Elsa Schneider, a love interest in the form of a femme fatale. While not quite the non-stop thriller that was Raiders, The Last Crusade goes a long way toward returning the franchise to one of grand adventure.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull marks the fourth installment into one of Hollywood’s most beloved series of films. Even as a big fan of the series, I had my doubts; Indiana Jones first graced the screen back in 1981, some twenty-seven years before this latest installment. Could Harrison Ford, now in his sixties, still play a convincing Indy or had the time come for him to hang up his whip and fedora? Ever the optimist, I thought it could be a total waste of time with Spielberg in the director’s chair, George Lucas as one of the executive producers, John Williams composing the music and Karen Allen’s return as Marion Ravenwood. While the film definitely has its flaws, Indiana Jones is still a delight to watch, even after all these years.
The year is 1957, Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford) finds himself kidnapped by a squad of Russian troops led by the villainous Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) to find a crate deep inside a warehouse in an area known as Area 51. Dr. Jones locates the crate containing the corpse of an alien life form, and barely escapes death after learning that his longtime colleague, George ‘Mac’ McHale (Ray Winstone) is working for the Communists. Under suspicion of traitorous activity from the FBI, Jones is forced to accept an indefinite leave of absence from his professorship. When he meets a young “greaser” by the name of Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) who offers Indiana evidence as to the whereabouts of a mysterious Crystal Skull, detailed in a letter from Jones’ former colleague Professor Harold ‘Ox’ Oxley (John Hurt), the pair travel to Peru in search of the mysterious artifact. However, Spalko and the Soviets are hot on their trail. Complicating matters is the fact that Mutts mother somehow fits into all of this, and she has gone missing. As a matter of fact, she is the one who sent Mutt to find Indiana Jones.
With Indy and Mutt on the run from the Russians, looking for Oxley and the crystal skull, trying to figure out the secrets of the crystal skull, searching for Mutt’s mother, and avoiding the other miscellaneous perils that spring up, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull turns into a complicated mishmash of chases, fights and odd twists and turns. However, the film still works well enough because Spielberg and his crew have stayed true to the essence of the Indiana Jones character.
Call me sentimental, but Indiana Jones still fits like a glove. The movie never misses a beat in its reproduction of the style of the previous films, including Indy’s trademark mannerisms, John Williams’ familiar refrains, and various sound effects. Harrison Ford plays Indy like its part of his being. Let’s face it, the Indiana Jones films have never been about reality; rather they’re fantasy, pulling viewers in with the allure of the lifestyle, exotic adventures and romance.
Admittedly, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is far from a perfect film. Cate Blanchett’s Dr. Spalko is easily the weakest villain in the series. Poorly developed, far from menacing, and completely uninteresting, the character serves as nothing more than a springboard from which the movie dives into its primary plot line. For me, Shia Le Beouf just didn’t cut it. Based on the ending, it’s clear that Spielberg and Lucas intend to bring him back for another film, maybe even the lead role. However, I found his charisma lacking (as I have in some of his other films) and can’t see him as the next Indy. In the end, I guess my feelings about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are somewhat bittersweet. As much as I enjoyed seeing my old movie favorites again, it’s clear a lot of time has passed and maybe Spielberg and Lucas should consider putting a wrap on the Indy franchise before it becomes a joke.
All four films are presented in their native aspect ratios of 2.35:1. Despite its complete restoration, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the softest looking of the four films. Faces are too dark to look truly real. Thankfully, colors are mostly solid. In brightly lit scenes they look very nice. There are varying degrees of inherent print grain throughout the series, which only adds to the texture of the images. Temple of Doom sports a cleaner image, although it’s still on the soft side. Colors are bright, but faces are still on the dark side. The Last Crusade offers up the best picture quality of the set. Colors are bright and faces look natural. The newest of the series, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has looks rather good, but the image appears glossy at times. However, that’s how I remember seeing it in theaters, so perhaps that’s what Spielberg intended. Aside from that, colors, details and black levels are all appropriate.
Paramount has given all four movies a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The first three films don’t provide perfection when it comes to the surround accuracy of rear and side channels, they do provide a welcoming dimensionality that puts you right in the center of the action. Given that the fourth film was released in 2008, the surrounds offer more in terms of total immersion. All four films display nice bass, taut and deep. Front channel spread is excellent, and John Williams’ scores come through brilliantly. Dialogue is clear and concise on all four films.
All four films include English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; English audio descriptions; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The five discs come packaged in a hardcover album with their own sleeves, which itself is incased in a colorful, attractively embossed, stiff-cardboard box. As nice as it looks, I’m not a huge fan of the separate sleeves used for each disc, as it makes getting each disc out without a scratch, a bit of an adventure.
Disc One: Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Teaser Trailer (1080p, 1:03).
- Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:33).
- Re-Issue Trailer (1080p, 1:45).
Disc Two: The Temple of Doom
- Teaser Trailer (1080p, 1:00).
- Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 1:26).
Disc Four: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- Theatrical Trailer 2 (1080p, 1:54).
- Theatrical Trailer 3 (1080p, 1:57).
- Theatrical Trailer 4 (1080p, 1:42).
Disc Five: Bonus Features
On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark:
- From Jungle to Desert (1080p, 29:35): This feature begins with raw location scouting footage, intercut with a Steven Spielberg interview. From there, we are shown chronological behind-the-scenes footage of the making of an assortment of scenes, intercut with remastered clips from the film. Also included are on-set interviews with Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and additional cast and crew; deleted scenes; bloopers; outtakes; and more.
- From Adventure to Legend (1080p, 28:17): A continuation of the previous piece, beginning with a look at set construction and scene groundwork while Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford look at storyboards, in preparation for filming the “Well of Souls” snake sequence. We then move on to the making of the “flying wing” fight sequence, the truck chase, and through to film’s end. Deleted scenes are spread throughout the piece. The segment ends with outtakes and deleted scenes from The Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as well as some short looks at Composer John Williams at work.
Making the Films:
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) (480p, 57:48): The piece promises to tell the story behind the making of a throwback Adventure film from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Things begin with Producer Frank Marshall describing the origins of the project and the Spielberg/Lucas collaboration. Successive discussions involve assembling the cast, the performances and the challenges of each part, the characters, set design and construction both on location and within the studio, working in Tunisia and other filmmaking challenges, developing the “Well of Souls” sequence and adding the snakes to the set, the precision required to pull off the most effects-intensive and physically challenging moments, creating the special effects in the post-prduction process, training Harrison Ford to perform many of his own stunts and whip work, crafting some of the most intensive stunts with the use of Ford’s stunt double, and more.
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (480p, 50:52): A more modern retrospective piece that opens with George Lucas speaking on his idea for the Indiana Jones series, shelved before making Star Wars and later revived. Lucas also discusses naming the lead character after his dog, Spielberg changing the name from “Indiana Smith” to “Indiana Jones,” working with Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, fleshing out the story, financing the film and casting the lead parts (with rehearsal footage of Tom Selleck and Tim Matheson both as Indiana Jones). The supplement goes on to cover shooting locales, costuming and breaking in the wardrobe, Ford’s preparations for the role, and Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography. Also covered is a large assortment of scene-specific chronological insight and commentary, including filming the “spider” shot with Alfred Molina, making the idol-gathering and boulder-rolling scenes, casting the secondary parts, shooting in Tunisia and much more.
- The Making of The Temple of Doom (480p, 41:09): Cast and crew discuss story evolution and the picture’s darker and edgier, darker tone, casting Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan, opening the film with a dance number, shooting in Sri Lanka, editing together the most challenging moments, working with and around the film’s “wildlife,” adding in all the slimy and nasty courses at the dinner sequence, working with the bugs, Spielberg’s fondness for the “spike room” scene, Harrison Ford’s absence from the set following surgery, constructing and shooting on the bridge seen at film’s end, controversy surrounding the film’s PG rating and more.
- The Making of The Last Crusade (480p, 35:03): Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, Connery, and others discuss the plot’s development; the father-son relationship and how it ties to the picture’s themes; opening the film with a young Indiana Jones adventure and establishing character lore; returning characters from the original film and casting new roles; the Indiana Jones team solidarity; shooting in California, Spain, and in Venice during tourist season; working with both live and robotic rats; casting Sean Connery and more.
- The Making of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (1080p, 28:49): Steven Spielberg opens by addressing the fans’ desire for a fourth Indiana Jones picture, the plot’s origins and the 1950s B-movie and 1930s serials combination, the backdrop of the Cold War and the overhanging threat of nuclear war, incorporating a real legend into a fictional tale, Ford’s ability to quickly fall back into the costume and role after nearly two decades away, reuniting the old team, keeping the plot under wraps prior to release, Indy’s unique introduction in the film, casting the lead villain, training Shia LaBeouf to ride a motorcycle and photographing the bike chase sequence, shooting in Hawaii, Karen Allen’s return, set design and construction, crafting the climax, and the movie’s surprise finale.
Behind the Scenes:
- The Stunts of Indiana Jones (480p, 10:56): A brief examination of the major stunt pieces from the first three films, a look at the stunt performers, the inspirations for several scenes, one-upping the stunts from film to film, and Actor Pat Roach’s appearance across all three films.
- The Sound of Indiana Jones (480p, 13:21): A detailed examination of the construction of the sound effects from Raiders of the Lost Ark, including the whip, gunshots, the rolling boulder, snakes, and the end special effects sequence. Also included are looks at the making and recording of the mine cart sounds from The Temple of Doom as well as the sound origins for the rats and the climax effects from The Last Crusade.
- The Music of Indiana Jones (480p, 12:22): John Williams, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas discuss the history and intricacies of the acclaimed score, with details surrounding specific pieces for each film.
- The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones (480p, 12:22): A closer look at special effects construction and integration into the films, beginning with the end effects from Raiders, moving on to examine the mine cart and flooding sequences from Temple, and concluding with the making of the plane crash sequence, the invisible bridge, and the instant human decay shot from Crusade.
- Raiders: The Melting Face! (480p, 8:12): An in-depth look at the making of one of the series’ most memorable special effects.
- Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (480p, 11:46): An overview of the snakes, bugs, and rats that infest the first three Indy films. This supplement includes an optional pop-up trivia track that offers insights ranging from Harrison Ford’s real-life ease around snakes to corralling screen bugs at the end of the shooting day.
- Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (480p, 9:58): A piece that offers audiences an overview of the worldwide locales seen throughout all four films. This supplement also includes optional pop-up trivia that offers further insight into the films, locations, effects, and more.
- Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute (480p, 9:15): For the 2003 DVD release, Actresses Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, and Alison Doody sat down for a get-together with the AFI’s Jean Firstenberg. This supplement is an excerpt from the event in which the ladies discuss their characters and meet with a special guest at the end.
- Indy’s Friends and Enemies (480p, 10:10): A piece dedicated to pointing out all of the side characters in the film. It delves into Indy’s lady friends for the first half and his allies and his enemies in the final five minutes.
- Iconic Props (1080p, 9:52): This supplement focuses heavily on props from The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and concludes with a look at the Ark, which makes a cameo appearance in the film.
- The Effects of Indy (1080p, 22:34): ILM’s Paul Huston begins the supplement with a discussion of The Crystal Skull’s opening shot. The piece than examines the specifics behind crafting computer visual effects and miniature work in the latest Indy film.
- Adventures in Post Production (1080p, 12:36): Regarding Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: This supplement looks at shooting and editing on film, sound design, retaining the series’ iconic theme, and scoring new music.
- Credits (1080p, 0:58).