Paramount // 1993 // 660 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // April 30th, 2008
Before the world discovered Indiana, Indiana discovered the world.
With Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull mere weeks away, the final push to bring fans of the series to the edge of hysteria is underway. The month-long blitz begins with The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume Three, The Years of Change, the final seven feature-length "chapters" of the George Lucas-created early-'90s television series.
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One focused on the ten-year-old Indy's travels around the world with his parents. Volume Two saw him fighting with the Belgian army and working for French intelligence during World War I. Volume Three begins near the end of the war, with our not-quite-as-young hero (Sean Patrick Flanery, Suicide Kings) joining the French Foreign Legion, facing off against Dracula, searching for the Treasure of the Peacock's Eye, working as an American translator during the Paris Peace Conference, headed home to face his father, learning about Archaeology and jazz in prohibition-era Chicago, working with George Gershwin on Broadway, and finding out that making movies in Hollywood isn't as easy as it looks.
Like the previous volumes, this final set features a host of companion documentaries, produced especially for the DVD and exploring in detail the famous people, places, and historical movements young Indy encounters during his adventures.
By now, anyone who was a fan of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles knows all about its controversial journey to DVD. For everyone else, I'll catch you up: The show originally aired on ABC during 1992 and 1993 as hour-long episodes told in flashback by a 93-year-old Indy (played by George Hall). Later -- after the series had been cancelled by ABC and moved to the USA Network for its final twelve episodes -- George Lucas re-edited the episodes into a series of two-hour "chapters," excising Mr. Hall and putting Indy's adventures in chronological order. When it was announced that the series was going to see a DVD release, many fans crossed their fingers in hopes that Lucas would give them the show they remembered instead of the re-edited episodes. Those fans were disappointed. Lucas and producer Rick McCallum also decided to use the DVDs to highlight the educational aspects of the series -- trading fan-serving behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentaries, and interviews for an ambitious series of high-quality bonus historical documentaries that not only eclipse the running times of the episodes they accompany, but are also the reason the sets are so prohibitively expensive.
Alright, now that everyone's caught up, let's get to the real question: are these sets worth the money? At a time when multi-disc TV series seem to top out at 60 bucks, is there room for a DVD box set with an MSRP of nearly $130? How about three? Deals and price-drops aside, is it fair to ask consumers to shell out more than $300 for a television series more than a decade old?
The answer is, it depends (don't you hate that?): If all you care about are the Young Indiana Jones episodes, then it probably isn't worth it. But if you look at the three volume set as an educational investment (as Lucas is undoubtedly hoping a lot of high school history teachers will), it's hard to beat. By bringing Indy into contact with an impossible number of historical luminaries, Lucas and McCallum provide the framework for a fascinating whirlwind tour of the early 20th Century.
The best thing about Volume Three is the variety. While the first two volumes took place almost entirely overseas, this third set brings Indy back to the United States for some of the most memorable and over-the-top episodes of the series (just wait 'til you see Indy fighting bootleggers with Eliot Ness and Ernest Hemingway). It's a welcome change from the relentlessness of World War I. Most fun are the showbiz-centric final three episodes that take place in Chicago, New York, and Hollywood, respectively -- giving Indy the chance to meet people like jazz great Louis Armstrong, the Algonquin Roundtable's "Vicious Circle," Tin Pan Alley tunesmith George Gershwin, and mad genius director Erich von Stroheim. One episode, "Mystery of the Blues," even has wraparounds with a '50s-era Jones played by Harrison Ford (worth watching despite a goofy scenario featuring a stolen Native American pipe and an improbable ending).
The 30-plus included documentaries, too, cover a wide range of subjects, including the life of Ernest Hemingway, the Atatürk Revolution, Woodrow Wilson, the Treaty of Versailles, rocket pioneer Robert Goddard, racial tension in America, and director John Ford. As with the first two volumes, the production values and in-depth information are spectacular. These documentaries are more than extras. At around 30 minutes each, they could easily warrant their own DVD release. The set also includes a disc devoted entirely to the lecture "New Gods for Old," an interactive timeline, and a "Hunting for Treasure" game.
The 2.0 soundtrack doesn't have quite as much to do in this set as it did in the explosion-heavy second volume, but the audio is effective enough to assuage those rankled by the lack of surround sound. The remastered visuals are on par with the first two sets, by which I mean they look good most of the time, despite occasional slowdown during image transitions. There is, however, a persistent light line running along the leftmost edge of the picture. It's doesn't ruin the experience but it's a minor distraction, especially for the widescreen TV crowd.
Besides issues of price -- which I harped on above and will likely revisit before this review is over -- the biggest problem with Young Indiana Jones is that it skews younger than the movies. The goofy plots and cheesy dialogue are fine, so long as the adults in the room know what to expect.
One thing those adults should be aware of is that Indy's non-stop pursuit of the opposite sex might be a little more "educational" than expected. I get it. He's a good-looking young man in his early 20s and he likes the ladies. In "Scandal of 1920" he really likes the ladies -- three of them, in fact. Sure, Indy running from rendezvous to secret rendezvous is handled in a funny way, but the tomcatting still feels out of place in a family show (and don't even get me started on his making googly eyes at Edith Wharton).
When George Lucas began this project, he planned for Young Indiana Jones to take viewers from Indy's childhood up to about the first film. Unfortunately, the series only made it about half as far as he envisioned.
Though each volume has its strengths, The Years of Change has so much variety, I have no trouble recommending it to anyone willing to pay for the privilege. There are significant differences between this series and the movies, but Lucas and McCallum have done a commendable job of making history entertaining, and the added documentaries are more than enough to justify the educational value of these sets. You'll have to decide for yourself whether they justify the price.
Review content copyright © 2008 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 660 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Unhealed Wounds Ð The Life of Ernest Hemingway"
* "The French Foreign Legion Ð The World's Most Legendary Fighting Force"
* "The Secret Life of Edith Wharton"
* "Lowell Thomas -- American Storyteller"
* "For the People, Despite the People -- The Atatürk Revolution"
* "The Greedy Heart of Halide Edib"
* "The Ottoman Empire -- A World of Difference"
* "Dracula -- Fact and Fiction"
* "Bronislaw Malinowski -- God Professor"
* "Anthropology -- Looking at the Human Condition"
* "New Guinea -- Paradise in Peril"
* "The Best Intentions -- The Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles"
* "Woodrow Wilson -- American Idealist"
* "Gertrude Bell -- Iraq's Uncrowned Queen"
* "Ho Chi Minh -- The Price of Freedom"
* "Paul Robeson -- Scandalize My Name"
* "Robert Goddard -- Mr. Rocket Science"
* "Jazz -- Rhythm of Freedom"
* "Al 'Scarface' Capone -- The Original Gangster"
* "Prohibition -- America on the Rocks"
* "On the Trail of Eliot Ness"
* "Louis Armstrong -- Ambassador of Jazz"
* "Ben Hecht -- The Shakespeare of Hollywood"
* "Hellfighters -- Harlem's Heroes of World War One"
* "Tin Pan Alley -- Soundtrack of America"
* "Wonderful Nonsense -- The Algonquin Roundtable"
* "Broadway -- America Center Stage"
* "Erich von Stroheim -- The Profligate Genius"
* "The Rise of the Moguls -- The Men Who Built Hollywood"
* "Irving Thalberg -- Hollywood's Boy Wonder"
* "The World of John Ford"
* Interactive Timeline
* "Historical Lecture -- New Gods for Old"
* "Hunting for Treasure" Interactive Game
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review - Volume One
* DVD Verdict Review - Volume Two