Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Blu-ray)

For those of you out there who have passed on purchasing Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures on Blu-ray to avoid the decidedly mediocre Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the opportunity to buy the titles individually is coming. On December 17, 2013 Paramount will make Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade available as standalone Blu-ray’s. While The Complete Adventures set comes laden with various extras, the individual releases have been stripped of most of those goodies.

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.”

Framed in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer appears to be the same one used for The Complete Adventures set. Though it was restored before its initial release in September 2012, Raiders appears a bit on the soft side, and in dimly lit scenes faces are too dark to appear truly realistic. Thankfully, colors are mostly solid. In well lit scenes, faces look perfectly appropriate. A layer of inherent print grain is present throughout, allowing for a filmic appearance. Detail is solid, and contrast is even.

Paramount has given Raiders a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Given the fact that the film is more than thirty years old, it’s not that surprising that the mix doesn’t provide total surround accuracy to the rear and side channels. However, it provides nice dimensionality, putting you in the center of the action. Front channel spread is excellent, and John Williams’ score come through brilliantly. Dialogue is clear and concise.

The film includes English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; English audio descriptions; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

The following extras are available:

  • Teaser Trailer (HD, 1:03)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:33)
  • Re-issue Trailer (HD, 1:45)
  • Digital Copy (available via iTunes)
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