Paramount // 1992 // 649 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // January 4th, 2008
"I was born July 1, 1899...I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey at an exciting time: the very beginning of the 20th Century...I'm not sure why, but I've always wanted to see what was out there over the next hill. I like exploring."
In advance of the summer 2008 release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the long-anticipated fourth film in the series, George Lucas is giving fans the similarly long-awaited DVD release of the early-'90s television series Young Indiana Jones, in three massive box set volumes beginning with The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years.
Lucas conceived The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles as a way to fill in gaps between Indy's childhood and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Its first two seasons consisted of hour-long episodes presented as flashbacks, with an elderly Jones (played by George Hall) recounting exciting adventures from his youth. A few years after the series' cancellation, Lucas re-edited those episodes into a series of two-hour "movies" -- removing the Hall wrap-arounds, adding new footage and narration to bridge the stories, and re-presenting the adventures in chronological order.
For many fans, these Young Indiana Jones DVD releases are a mixed blessing. On one hand, the show looks and sounds fantastic thanks to extensive remastering, and the included documentaries created especially for the DVDs -- exploring the real-life stories of the people, places, and events Indy encounters in the series -- set new standards for quality and quantity of bonus content. On the other hand, vocal fans who held out hope that Lucas would go back to the original hour-long episodes for the DVD sets, instead of the re-edited "movie" presentations, are out of luck.
Nostalgia aside, even those willing to accept Lucas's changes to Young Indiana Jones face another hurdle: price. Though you can certainly find it cheaper, the list price for The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years is more than $120 (thanks mostly to the added documentary material).
Still, if you can get past the re-edits (and can afford the price of entry), The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones is highly recommended -- as one of the most cinematic, exciting, and, well, educational family-friendly DVD releases of the year.
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years presents the earliest adventures of The Boy Who Would Be Ford as seven 90-minute "chapters," interspersed with more than thirty-six documentaries, across 12 discs. The first five episodes follow the ten-year-old Indy (played by Corey Carrier, Nixon) on a trip around the world with his professor father Henry Jones, Sr. (Lloyd Owen, Miss Potter), his mother Anna (Ruth de Sosa, Hook), and his proper English tutor Miss Seymour (Margaret Tyzack, Match Point). Their travels take them to Africa, Europe, Russia, India, and the Far East, where Indy crosses paths with historical figures as diverse as T.E. Lawrence, Howard Carter, Teddy Roosevelt, Franz Ferdinand, Giacomo Puccini, Norman Rockwell, and Sigmund Freud.
The final two episodes introduce the teenage Indy (played by Sean Patrick Flanery, Stargate SG-1) who begins his unlikely journey from New Jersey high school student to enlisted Belgian soldier, off to fight in the first World War, by way of Pancho Villa and his army of Mexican rebels. Despite Flanery's appearance, this first volume belongs to Carrier's boyhood Indiana Jones. Those looking for teenage Indy's adventures in World War I and beyond will have to wait for volumes two and three.
George Lucas and producer Rick McCallum wanted The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to be something special -- a television series that would not only answer questions about Jones's past, but take viewers on a whirlwind tour of early-20th Century history. Lucas insisted the episodes be filmed on location -- employing the talents of writers, directors, and actors from all over the world. Attention to detail gives the series authenticity, and the sweeping, cinematic direction makes the experience more visually exciting than most television programs, even today -- supporting Lucas's goal of bringing history to life. In each episode, Indy meets historically significant people, from whom he learns valuable political, cultural, and philosophical lessons. He learns about modern art from Pablo Picasso, about freedom and poverty from a young African slave, and about the chaotic force of revolution from Pancho Villa, and from Irish poets resisting English rule.
Unfortunately, the writing doesn't always match the quality of direction and cultural content. There's plenty of clunky dialogue, and the episodes centering around Indy falling in love tend to drag. The biggest problem is that most of the material on this first set has been written for, and about, a young boy. It's hardly a secret that Lucas has problems with believable boy characters (young Anakin Skywalker, anyone?), and while Corey Carrier acts circles around Episode I's Jake Lloyd, there's only so much he can do with the material, which tends to find Indy getting in some sort of predictable trouble stemming from disobeying his parents and wandering off somewhere (and don't get me started about the episode where an eleven-year-old Jones teaches Leo Tolstoy how to play baseball). There's a small spark of Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones in the boy, but the character we know and love doesn't really begin to show until we meet teenage Indy. Flanery ushers in the series' second, more grown-up, storyline about Indy enlisting in the Belgian army under a false name so he can do his part to fight the German threat. Though Indy the soldier doesn't fully appear in volume one, we get a taste of the coming excitement -- guns, explosions, and fisticuffs -- in the final two episodes.
The biggest difference between The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones and more traditional "complete series" DVD sets is the decision Lucas and McCallum made to highlight the series' educational focus by including 94 in-depth documentaries (each around 20-30 minutes in length) to accompany the 22 feature episodes across all three volumes. The documentaries -- produced by Lucasfilms especially for the DVDs -- provide expanded historical information about the people and ideas introduced in the series, exploring everything from ideas and movements to individuals (including suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, psychologist Carl Jung, and children's author Edward Stratemeyer). More than mere "extras," this first volume's documentaries (as many as seven per chapter) match, if not exceed, the length of the feature episodes they accompany.
The decision to include all these documentaries -- as well as the interactive DVD-ROM timeline, game, and "Promise of Progress" lecture on the set's final disc -- is bold, not only because of the time, effort, and money involved (the project took more than four years to complete), but because there are no other extras: no behind-the-scenes footage; no making-of featurette; no commentaries; nothing that could be called "fan service." That's probably because these sets weren't made for fans. Everything from the complete lack of production extras to the focus on companion documentaries and the high price tag suggests these sets were made with public school budgets in mind. It's hard to fault Lucas for the decision. Heck, if I was in junior high, I'd enjoy watching The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones in history class (assuming I knew who he was). It just means this set is a tough recommendation for your average DVD consumer. There's no reason to expect fans of the show won't like the documentaries (they're really quite excellent); I'm just willing to bet some of them would rather have the option to purchase the sets without the documentaries, for half the price.
Of course, for some people, not getting the show they remember might be reason enough to dissuade them from buying the box sets. As Star Wars acolytes can tell you, Lucas's willingness to re-edit, reshoot, and generally fiddle with his work long after release doesn't always sit well with fans. On the other hand, I watched some of the original wraparounds recently. They haven't aged well. While the newer material (shot to transition between stories and cover the missing elder Jones narration) isn't perfect -- in part because Carrier and Flanery look older -- leaving old Indy on the cutting room floor was a good decision. It maintains momentum and helps The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones feel more like a movie serial than a television show.
Visually, this is an impressive set. The remastered full frame picture is beautiful, with deep blacks, bright whites, and strong colors. The noir-style matches the look and feel of the original movie trilogy, with lush cinematography that makes the series look better than most early-'90s television -- and a good many films as well. For the most part, evidence of digital tinkering is hidden. The only obvious visual problem I encountered is a tendency for the picture to "drag" slightly during scene transitions. This barely perceptible slowdown -- whether left over from the original production, or a byproduct of the remastering process -- doesn't necessarily hurt the experience, but it is strange.
Though I was worried the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack wouldn't be able to cut it, I shouldn't have been. Everything, from the John Williams-inspired orchestral score to the explosions, comes across clear through both channels, and well-placed directional effects take full advantage of the format. As in the movie trilogy, music is a huge part of portraying Indiana Jones's adventure roots, and the rousing score does an excellent job of setting the tone.
The 12 discs in this handsome set are housed in a six-panel fold out made to resemble Indy's journal, housed in a cardboard slipcase with art and photos from the series.
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years is an exemplary DVD release, provided you know what to expect. As entertainment, the family-friendly stories are fun, even though they skew a bit young for everyone to enjoy. It's also an impressive educational tool, balancing Hollywood-filtered history with the facts.
Still, a little more fan service would have been nice, especially for those nostalgic folks who'll likely never get the DVD release they want. The only other knock against Volume One is the cost. Compared to most DVD releases this is an expensive set -- but if you can afford it, the extra material makes it a worthy investment, especially if you've got kids, teach kids, or just love history.
I don't have a bad feeling about this. Not Guilty.
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: 649 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Archaeology: Unearthing our Past"
* "Howard Carter and the Tomb of Tutankhamun"
* "Colonel Lawrence's War: T.E. Lawrence and Arabia"
* "From Slavery to Freedom"
* "Theodore Roosevelt and The American Century"
* "Ecology: Pulse of the Planet"
* "American Dreams: Norman Rockwell & The Saturday Evening Post"
* "Art Rebellion: The Making of the Modern"
* "Edgar Degas: Reluctant Rebel"
* "Braque & Picasso: A Collaboration"
* "Giacomo Puccini: Music of the Heart"
* "It's Opera!"
* "The Archduke's Last Journey: End of an Era"
* "Powder Keg: Europe 1900 to 1914"
* "Sigmund Freud: Exploring the Unconscious"
* "Carl Jung and the Journey to Self Discovery"
* "Psychology: Charting the Human Mind"
* "Seeking Truth: The Life of Leo Tolstoy"
* "Unquiet Voices: Russian Writers and the State"
* "Aristotle: Creating Foundations"
* "Ancient Questions: Philosophy and Our Search for Meaning"
* "Jiddu Krishnamurti: The Reluctant Messiah"
* "Annie Besant: An Unlikely Rebel"
* "Medicine in the Middle Kingdom"
* "Eastern Spirituality: The Road to Enlightenment"
* "Thomas Edison: Lighting Up the World"
* "Invention and Innovation: What's Behind a Good Idea?"
* "The Mystery of Edward Stratemeyer"
* "Wanted: Dead or Alive -- Pancho Villa And The American Invasion Of Mexico"
* "General John J. Pershing and his American Army"
* "George S. Patton: American Achilles"
* "Easter Rising: The Poet's Rebellion"
* "The Passions of William Butler Yeats"
* "Sean O'Casey vs. Ireland"
* "Ireland: The Power of the Poets"
* "Winston Churchill: The Lion's Roar"
* "Demanding the Vote: The Pankhursts and British Suffrage"
* "Fighting for the Vote: Women's Suffrage In America"
* Interactive Timeline
* Historic Feature: "The Promise of Progress"
* Revolution Interactive Game
* Official Site