The creators of Jaws and Star Wars now bring you the ultimate hero in the ultimate adventure.
My face is hidden behind my hands. I peek between my fingers at the shelf…there it is, the rusty-red, leather like box. There they are…the whip, the fedora, Harrison Ford's cocky grin, and the glorious yellow-orange words "Indiana Jones." I hide my eyes and peek again. It is still there. "This is really happening," I tell myself, "Indiana Jones is here on DVD!"
Facts of the Case
These three films detail the adventures of Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), professor of archaeology and procurer of rare antiquities. We are first introduced to Indiana Jones in the field; instead of dusting off old bones and sifting through dirt, Indy is fending off attackers with a bullwhip and a glare. Not your average professor.
Soon he is asked to retrieve the lost Ark of the Covenant—before the Nazis do. To accomplish this delicate task, Indiana must confront scads of Nazi soldiers, a pit full of snakes, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), and other treacherous obstacles. But the most dangerous thing in Indiana's way is the Ark itself.
The second film is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. In The Temple of Doom, Indy strikes out against an evil Indian cult. Never fear…Indy is a seasoned professional with effective people to assist him. In this case, his allies are a four-foot high twelve-year-old named Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) and prissy nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw). Together, these three intrepid warriors fend off the powers of voodoo, throngs of possessed Indians, and an ancient S and M deity.
Finally, Indiana takes part in The Last Crusade for the Holy Grail. Indy couldn't care less for religious hocus pocus, but the Nazis are back and they have Indy's dad (Sean Connery). To help his father, Indiana must do no less than locate and retrieve the holiest of cups. [Editor's Note: I think he may have also defeated a rabbit with nasty, big, pointy teeth, but I'm not too sure.]
There is simply no way to be objective: I'm "as giddy as a schoolboy," when I ran around the yard with a yarn whip and plastic pistol. As he did for many young movie buffs, Indiana Jones ignited my childhood imagination. This monumental DVD release does the same for my adult imagination. The Adventures of Indiana Jones has been the holy grail of DVD collectors since the inception of the format, and now it is finally here! The feeling of unquenchable euphoria alone makes the boxed set worth owning.
There is high potential for letdown with a release of this magnitude. Indiana Jones fans can breathe a sigh of relief: this boxed set is rock solid and shouldn't disappoint you.
The most vital aspect to any boxed set is the quality of the films themselves. Careful attention to detail is evident in these DVD transfers; massive cleanup and restoration makes them sparkle. I will nitpick momentarily, but rest assured the transfer is of exceptional quality.
Before we get into the technical nitty gritty, I'll say a few words about the films themselves. Indiana Jones is a familiar popular icon, and with good reason. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's homage to the pulp adventure genre is playful, energetic, creepy, and melodramatic. These films capture the essence of adventure, carefully balancing epic artifacts and outrageous action with humility and tongue-in-cheek barbs. Vital to this charismatic groundedness is the leading man: Harrison Ford's star power is well-earned. When the camera catches him in quiet moments of triumph (such as when he successfully grasps a life saving vine) we are privy to his anti-heroic humanity. How often do you see a film where the payoff for escalating romantic mood is a snoring hero and a frustrated woman?
Perhaps the greatest boon to this series is the traps avoided. The action is phenomenal, but it fits in believably with the storyline. Indy could have easily been too stoic, too skilled, or too boring. Fortunately, the filmmakers kept enough perspective to make Indy fresh and approachable throughout the series.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was as tense, funny, and absorbing as I remember. There are so many classic action moments in this film that it is difficult to name them all. The quiet moments work as well, such as Indy drowning his sorrows in the bar, or waking up because the engines have stopped, or boldly bringing his own digging crew into the center of a Nazi dig. Perhaps more vital to the film is the tenor of respect for the Ark of the Covenant, a spiritual center that elevates the stakes. Roger Ebert believes that Raiders is young Spielberg's F.U. to the Nazis. It is obvious that heart and soul fuel the action set pieces.
The Last Crusade recaptures some of the magic of the original film. The action is once again nicely integrated with a good story. Sean Connery is brought aboard to add a little father-son rivalry. The Nazis are back and as bad as ever. The romantic interest is both stunning and interesting. The film takes some poorly-guided swipes at Marcus Brody and Sallah, perhaps in an attempt to take the edge off of The Temple of Doom. It also bogs down a bit in the search for the Grail valley. Otherwise, The Last Crusade is a worthy entry into the series.
You've probably already formulated your own opinions of the series. The real question before the jury: does the boxed set do Indy justice? I'm pleased to say yes.
First of all, we finally get to watch this thing in the intended widescreen aspect ratio. No more Pan-and-Scam to ruin the picture. Aside from the giddy thrill of it all, aspect ratio is the second best reason to get the boxed set. Compositions which full screen cropping destroyed are back in full force.
The Indiana Jones franchise has gathered its fair share of blooper watchers over the years. Perhaps the most famous is Harrison's reflection in the glass when he is confronted by the fanged maw of a cobra. Less well-known are various supports used to pull off stunts like the truck chase and the temple boulder. These gaffes have been digitally removed from the films. Both Lucas and Spielberg have been guilty of greater revisionist transgressions; I hardly noticed these missing blunders. And Paul Freeman still swallows a fly. Yummy!
The picture is amazing, clear, and detailed. They spent an inordinate amount of time and energy excising the print of dust and scratches. You may think that a given, but rest assured it is not. Spielberg, Lucas, and Paramount are all aware that this trilogy will sell like hot cakes regardless of the care they put into it. Fortunately, they put their good names on the line and delivered a great transfer.
The image quality is not perfect. There is some edge enhancement, but it is neither assertive nor detrimental to the enjoyment of the films. The detail is impressive. There are instances of oversaturated color, most noticeably blues in The Last Crusade and red in The Temple of Doom.
The two biggest flaws in the image (most noticeable in Raiders) are crushed blacks and 3:2 pulldown errors. The crushed blacks render the image too dark, so that you must strain to catch shadow detail. This leads me to question whether Raiders was supposed to be darker than we're accustomed to seeing it. In any case, the over dark scenes are watchable and brief, so this does not negatively affect the experience. Perhaps more distracting are the incorrect flags that lead to 3:2 pulldown errors. Incorrect flags make it seem like the camera is moving in and out of focus, or make people transform from normal to skinny and back. The misflags seem to be worst in the tarantula nest in Raiders, making Alfred Molina oscillate. Every studio is guilty of incorrect flags, and most people will not notice them because new DVD players correct for improper flags. Those such as myself who watch movies via home theater PC will notice many more problems.
Those issues aside, the set is impressive in visual clarity. Flesh tones are healthy and vibrant, perhaps slightly reddish but natural. You can watch individual beads of sweat pour down Indy's face, see the wrinkles in his leather jacket. Both contrast and color are nicely rendered. Viewers can look forward to an impressive theatrical experience.
The same is true of audio clarity. Purists may rue the missing original audio mix, but I found the 5.1 mix to be quite faithful to the distinct audio footprint of the original. The sounds of Raiders and The Last Crusade have been burned into my brain through repeated viewings over the years, and this mix sounded very familiar. The thrum of the zeppelin engines sounded right, as did the crowd cheers and snake slithers. Indy's authoritative whip cracks and gunshots are enhanced. I was pleased that some effects retained their 2.0 flavor, such as Marion's disorienting echoes in the basket game. Overall I appreciated that the mix had punchier bass while retaining the clarity and dynamic quality of the original audio.
The three DVDs are pretty close in technical quality when contrasted with each other. Raiders has the aforementioned crushed blacks (or purposful dark tone…hard to say which). Raiders and The Last Crusade both suffer from bad flags that make the focus seem to shift. The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade have minor oversaturation issues. The Temple of Doom suffers from hokey blue screen work that impacts the visual score. These annoyances aside, the image quality is better than you could hope for! The audio is of consistently high quality on all three discs.
Williams' score shines in this mix. The score to Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my all time favorites. The playful antics of the winds in the bazaar sequence imbue peppy menace into the action. I love the brassy thrill of Indy's theme as well as the gentle swell of Marion's. The crowning jewel (aside from those obvious triumphs) is "The Map Room at Dawn," a haunting piece that builds a sense of mystery and excitement.
I've read and heard complaints that neither Spielberg nor Lucas provide feature commentaries. After viewing the thorough featurettes included here, I cannot understand the complaining. Both Spielberg and Lucas give succinct, meaningful new comments regarding all three films (along with many other cast and crew members). Archival footage of the filming and auditions is shown, including a reading between Tom Selleck and Sean Young. I was dreading a rehash of the '80s media onslaught detailing the effects behind the film. I was pleased to find an almost completely fresh retrospective look at the films.
The extras all reside on one DVD, anchored by a lengthy three-part featurette describing the production of each film. Each part feels like a self-contained documentary, but all three together give satisfyingly whole insight into the trilogy. I love Raiders of the Lost Ark the most, so I enjoyed learning things I didn't know about the film. It was refreshing to hear the apologetic tone in the second part, and to learn some of the creative challenges confronting the team. The highlight of the third part was watching Ford, Connery, Lucas, and Spielberg clown around.
The other featurettes focus on certain aspects of the production. You will recognize the production values: these featurettes are done in precisely the same way as the main featurettes, including the same mix of old footage and new interviews. I enjoyed the "stunts" one the most, but all are of high quality and worth watching. Williams' fans will appreciate hearing his take on the scores. The neatest tidbit on the sound effects featurette was learning the critical role that a Honda Civic played in the soundtrack of Raiders. (Spoiler: Every time I hop in my Civic, I'm going to pretend I'm driving a giant boulder.)
Aside from the "exclusive web content," which I never count as an extra, we have a surprisingly complete and varied stable of teasers and trailers. One of them was based solely on the technical aspects of producing an Indiana Jones film.
The menus are interesting. Each film has a different opening animation couched in a desaturated, Photoshop-esque blur. These animations fade to an animated map. The neat thing about these menus is that the options are available to you at any time. You can choose to watch the animations, or just hit play.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'd hoped to never watch The Temple of Doom again, but of course I had to for this review. I distinctly remember a pervasive sense of frustration and overkill from seeing it in the theaters. Unfortunately, most of the negative qualities I remember from childhood are still there. The Temple of Doom shouldn't offend you, unless you happen to be Chinese, Indian, or female. (Small demographics, all.) After seeing the 1000th "skinny Indian in a loincloth with bulging eyes" and hearing the 1000th stapes-shattering shriek from Kate Capshaw, I'd had my fill and more. Everything that was refined, honed, realistic and subtle about Raiders was coarse, disingenuous, and unbelievable in The Temple of Doom. In Raiders, Indy walked through a tarantula nest in an abandoned temple. Fine. In The Temple of Doom, Indy walks through a chamber filled with mantises, beetles, worms, millipedes, moths, slugs, snails, and puppy dog tails. It makes no sense at all, and is there to say "look, we can be even more creepy, even at the expense of believability!" How about "Short Round, the 10 second mystic healer" who thwarts the sway of a thousand-year old deity with a well-placed torch? "Snap out of it Indy!" Well okay, if you say so. (Incidentally, thousands of Nazi soldiers being goaded by the Fuhrer's priority mission are threatening. Twenty Indians chanting under a red light and screwing up their eyeballs is not.)
The Temple of Doom exhibits the worst symptoms of sequel syndrome. It borrows phrases and riffs from the original that lack any spark. It tries too hard to outdo Raiders while simultaneously trying to be Raiders. The effects didn't play well either. The blue screen work is way obvious. Lighting is used as a pedantic mood hammer. Was that a rubber chest? Is it really that easy to pry someone's heart out of their ribcage?
I will say this: the opening sequence is more thrilling that I remember. As a self-contained action vehicle it works. Kate Capshaw is alluring when she is allowed to act.
Fear not, I perceive the flaws in my beloved Raiders as well. Let's take weight for example. Does a bag of sand outweigh a solid gold idol? According to the periodic chart of elements, gold is some heavy stuff. If so, how can Indy and Sallah lift the Ark out in the first place…even if you buy them lifting the heavy stone covering it? It must be Indy's superhuman strength, because later we see him kick out one of the temple bricks, a piece of sandstone about as big as Indy himself.
Four DVDs…four annoying popups of Interactual spyware. I do not want this program on my PC! Please stop auto invoking the installation every time I put in the DVD! Would it be too hard to create a "NEVER INSTALL" option?
As judge of these proceedings, I have strained to maintain composure and provide an objective view of this boxed set. However, in my personal opinion this set is a must own. If you call yourself a DVD collector and don't have this set, I'd have to look askance at you. If you don't buy it for yourself, do it for the children. Think of the children.
For unleashing these films upon the public,
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