Chief Justice Michael Stailey is a teacher...part-time.
Our reviews of The Adventures Of Indiana Jones (published November 11th, 2003), Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (Blu-Ray) (published October 14th, 2008), Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull: 2-Disc Special Edition (published October 14th, 2008), and Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection (published May 13th, 2008) are also available.
You call this archaeology?!
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Blu-ray) is my HD Holy Grail. Of all the film franchises, in all of Hollywood history, the adventures of Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is the Pantheon of my collection. We have effectively reached cinematic Nirvana…and Paramount did not let us down.
Facts of the Case
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Four adventures—two great, one passable, and one I never need to see again—all presented in glorious 1080p high definition Blu-ray with overwhelmingly impressive audio soundscapes, which is why we're investing in this set to begin with. And it's well worth your investment. Sure, there are bonus features, which I will detail in a minute, but as Indiana Jones fans, we long to own copies of these films in the greatest possible visual and audial form modern technology allows. Well folks, this is it.
The crown jewel of this collection is Raiders of the Lost Ark, as it should be. One of the finest action-adventure films ever created receives a Steven Spielberg overseen shot-by-shot digital restoration and my God does it look fantastic. My first experience with Raiders was walking into a massive theatre in suburban Chicago showing the film in 70mm, just as the sun sets above the Well of Souls, with Indy shown in silhouette. My grandfather was taking us to opening weekend of the new James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, showing on the theatre's opposite screen. However, the air conditioning was broken and the theatre was hotter than hell, so the manager suggested we go in to see Raiders and sit through the next showing to view the film in its entirety. He promised we would not be disappointed, and we weren't. In fact, I can close my eyes and recall walking into that theatre with amazing clarity. I went on to see the film three times that summer and it's been at the top of my movie-going experiences ever since.
Presented here in 2.35:1/1080p, you have never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark look so good. Yes, the image quality varies from scene to scene, due to the source material and the pressure the production team was under to complete some of these shots. For example, while the opening title sequence has always looked soft and slightly off focus (even the recent IMAX presentation suffered these issues), here it's as clear as can possibly be. I say "possibly" because once Indy and Satipo (Alfred Molina, Spider-man 2, in his feature film debut) get inside the Temple, the image quality skyrockets. Even the moss on the temple walls begins to glow. Amazing. Throughout the picture we move from interior to exterior, light to dark, and the level of film grain varies accordingly, but never does the level of detail waiver. You'll be able to read the labels on the bottles in Marion's bar, count the threads on the rugs in Cairo's marketplace, and decipher the hieroglyphics in the Map Room and Well of Souls. Even the detail on the Ark itself is staggering.
The audio is even more impressive. ILM sound designer Ben Burtt is God's gift to cinema, so it's not surprising that he and his team have come up with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that makes it seem like you're experiencing an entirely new film. Separating channels, isolating effects, and creating an immersive sound field amps everything about the adventure. Most importantly, though, it gives John Williams score all the room in the world to breathe. In watching Jaws on Blu-ray, I was taken aback by how much John's music influenced the emotional impact of the scene. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Indiana Jones films. The themes have long since been etched onto our cerebral cortex, but hearing them like this gets the synapses firing in all sorts of new and exciting ways.
Moving onto Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I've taken a lot of heat over the years for not liking this film. But I stand by my position, which is validated by Spielberg himself who unashamedly states this is his least favorite of the original trilogy. He never fully understood the plot, built his shooting script around set pieces leftover from Raiders (James Bond opening, mine car chase), didn't storyboard nearly to the extent he did on the previous film, lost Harrison to a herniated back, and was forced to shoot off the cuff action sequences until he returned. Lucas himself admits the script got away from them, as they shot darker and darker sequences, only realizing how far off track they'd gone when they entered the editing room. Granted, they didn't want to simply remake Raiders of the Lost Ark and I fully appreciate the effort in avoiding that, but their choices sucked a lot of fun out of what could have been a very different picture.
That's not to say there aren't exceptional moments in Temple of Doom. The Thuggee boss fight, shot almost exclusively with stunt man Vic Armstrong (save for the cutaway closeups), is awesome. The mine car chase, mixing live-action, miniatures, and matte work, is seamless and amazing to watch; the first half succeeding without any music from John Williams! And the bridge fight with Mola Ram and his goons is priceless; again shot in different locations (the gators were filmed in Florida), using practical effects, from different perspectives, by guys who were deathly afraid of heights. Brilliant.
Again presented in 2.35:1/1080p, we don't get the detailed restoration that Raiders was afforded, but it works just as well. Steven, George, and their team had learned so much in three years that their visual storytelling techniques couldn't help but show an improvement. The matte overlay of Indy, Willie, and Shorty exiting the tunnels into this massive Jules Verne like cavern, prior to reaching the Thuggee ceremonial chamber, is staggering in HD. Cinematographer Dougie Slocombe was an old school DP who filled every frame with more detail than the eye could possibly hope to take in, and Elliot Scott's production design here is wildly impressive. The color palatte is rich, the depth of field is massive, and the level of detail—especially during the gross-out dinner sequence—will make you a believer in Blu-ray, if you aren't already.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio also impresses, and how could it not? There is so much going on in this film that the ambience is a character in and of itself. Whether it be the children working in the mines, the fiery pits of Khali's sacrificial platform, the activity in the village of Mayapore, or the jungles of India, your ears will never be bored. Even John Williams score, which relies on fewer themes and more incidental cues, envelopes the room as we descend deeper and deeper into the madness transpiring beneath Pankot Palace.
But out of darkness comes glorious light, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. My love for this film knows no bounds. While Raiders will forever be the masterpiece, the sheer love and joy that emanates from every frame of this picture never fails to warm my heart. While I hate to add to the pervasive Lucas-bashing that has dominated recent years, if it weren't for the insistence of Steven Spielberg and Sean Connery, we would have seen a very different film than the one we have here. First and foremost, thank God for Poltergeist (a movie that scarred me forever), because this story was originally set in a haunted castle, which Steven did not want to do. Then we have the Grail as a metaphor for the relationship between Henry and Indy, rather than an emphasis on it being a prize to be won or lost. It's the layers of complexity the story offers that makes it all so enjoyable. For example, shifting from a WWII adventure, to a western, and ultimately ending with a supernatural thriller. Then having the Brotherhood of the Grail as a wild card; juggling two champagne villains in Elsa and Donovan, each with their own base human flaws; while having Sean Connery play the female sidekick role, and Delholm Elliott as comic relief, it's all icing on an extremely well-crafted cake. But give credit where credit is due, George was the one who pushed for the opening Young Indy sequence with River Phoenix and it is by far the best five minute set piece in the entire film. The man has great ideas, as long as he lets other people help bring them to life.
Another mind-blowing 2.35:1/1080p presentation makes Last Crusade sparkle. Again, no major restoration undertaken, but damn if that opening sequence doesn't convince you how good this film looks, nothing will. The exterior shots are teeming with life, which is amazing given how many things can possibly go wrong on a shoot as long and geographically diverse as this one. The Turkish marketplace, the Austrian castle, the Berlin book burning ceremony, the Venice palazzo, the Jordanian cliffs of surrounding Petra, all brilliantly displayed. In fact, I only discovered one flaw in the print, and it appears to be a freak focus pull while Sallah, Henry, and Indy are in the Jeep racing through the streets of Turkey. Not much you can do about that 23 years after the fact. Actually, I take that back. There is one other thing that sticks out in all three of the trilogy transfers and that's the somewhat rudimentary visual effects of ILM which look oh so hinky in HD. I know, for their time, these things were cutting edge, but some of the matte overlays, explosions and superimposing shots call attention to themselves far too much for my tastes. Then again, given how engaged we are with the story, these momentary realizations are quickly forgotten.
When it comes to the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, John Williams owns it. Yes, there is a massive amount of impressive sound design work taking place, especially when we get to the tank sequence, but the music employed here is beyond reproach. I may even go so far to say, track for track, this is John Williams greatest film score of all time. I can listen to this, on its own, in an endless loop and never get bored. Hell, I used to put this on when reading X-Men comic books in college, just to give the stories a little extra oomph. The themes, the reverence, the joy, the love, it's all here in spades. It's no wonder Steven wanted this film to be the swan song to an incredible journey, because that's exactly what it turned out to be. Indy, Henry, Marcus, and Sallah riding off into the sunset to the "Raiders March," knowing full well they have once again saved the planet from the terror of the Nazis, rediscovered the power of a father/son relationship, and given audiences worldwide reason to cheer.
But then they had to go and ruin it all by giving us Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I wrote a full and unwavering review of the original two-disc DVD release, detailing every facet of my hatred for the film's very existence. While I despise the overused phrase "fan service," that's exactly what this is. There's no reason for this story to have ever been told. Lucas claims to have wanted to use Indy to craft a love letter to the B-movies of the 1950s. Why? Where's the value in that? Had they produced Indy films in the 1990s, moving our hero into the US involvement of WWII or the Korean War, then perhaps this story would have been easier to stomach. But as an expositional setup, with a turncoat friend we have no personal or emotional ties to, and a dump of information alluding to Indy's covert military service, it's a mishmash of nonsense that holds no water. Yes, there's a nice callback to the Pancho Villa episode of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, and the Peruvian graveyard sequence earns its place in the franchise, but everything else is so forced, so tired, and so unnecessary. Cate Blanchett playing Rocky and Bullwinkle's Natasha Fatale, Shia LaBeouf doing a lame James Dean/Marlon Brando impersonation, the Tarzan monkey swinging montage, the painted-into-a-corner inexplicable alien climax, and the fridge…oh god, the fridge.
Look, I'm getting worked up unnecessarily here. The bottom line is watching Crystal Skull makes me feel embarrassed for Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg. Why tarnish a fantastic franchise by trying to recapture lightning in a bottle? That never works. They used the same massively talented and dedicated crew for the first three films. That's why it all worked so well. Trying to reverse engineer that 18 years later only makes everything feel like one of those bad TV series reunion episodes like Rescue from Gilligan's Island. Sure, it's great to see Harrison and Karen Allen together again, but do we really need three shout-outs to Marcus Brody? And why is Marshall College suddenly based in New York when, in the first three films, it was in San Francisco? I don't want to despise anything about Indiana Jones, but this film comes close to doing that for me…so I'll stop talking about it.
Given that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull received a Blu-ray release in its first home video incarnation, nothing here has changed. It looks and sounds like what an exceptional modern HD release should look and sound like. The 2.35:1/1080p widescreen presentation and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track offers fantastic detail, a wonderful color palate, rich dialogue, and excellent separation of ambient environmentals. High marks all the way around. John Williams score offers little to marvel at, compared to any of the previous films. There are Russian and Peruvian influences which are fun to listen to, but nothing of any serious replay value. But a beautiful and meticulously detailed piece of ill-advised cinema is still ill-advised cinema. It made a lot of money, but didn't do much of anything for this Indiana Jones fan.
Okay, I promised a look at the bonus features, and that's what we'll do. Remember the DVD box sets released in 2003 and 2008? Well, almost all of the extras populating this release are ported over from those sets, as well as a few pieces from the Crystal Skull release. Unfortunately, for as much as there is here, there's just as much Paramount decided to leave behind, which is frustrating. Look, I know they were likely trying to save space, but if you're going to do a Complete Adventures release, you might as well do it right.
In any case, let's start with the new stuff…
* Trailers (HD) NEW!—Each of the first three films sport newly remastered Teasers and Theatrical trailers, all of which are vintage gems. They did leave off one previously released trailer for Temple of Doom, which is weird. Maybe somebody screwed up the remastering process.
* On the Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark (HD, 59 min) NEW!—Vintage behind-the-scenes footage cut into a great little making-of documentary for the original film. I didn't think I'd learn anything beyond what I already knew, but damn if this didn't enlighten me on all sorts of things. It also includes some never before seen alternate takes and deleted scenes woven into the discussion.
* The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (51 min) NEW!—Well, vintage in its origins, but new to the fans, this detailed documentary has been sliced and diced for all manner of Indy-related featurettes over the years, but now you get to see it in its entirety. Director Phillip Schuman's Emmy Award-winning TV special takes a workman-like approach to documenting this ambitious filmmaking process, and comes across like a CBS new special—somewhat dry but extremely informative.
That's it for the new material. Not overly exciting, but then Paramount has never been known for its bonus material production efforts.
Of the material ported over from the excellent 2003 The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Complete DVD Movie Collection, we get…
* Making Raiders of the Lost Ark (51 min), Making Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (43 min), and Making Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (35 min)—Originally released as Making the Trilogy, these three mini-docs provide wonderful insights and fond remembrances of the filmmaking process and the headspace the creative team was in at the time. It's a great time capsule worth your time and attention.
* The Stunts of Indiana Jones (11 min)—A nice peek behind the curtain giving props to the stunt team and 2nd Unit director Mickey Moore.
* The Sound of Indiana Jones (14 min)—Exploring the sound design of ILM and Ben Burtt.
* The Music of Indiana Jones (12 min)—Discussing John Williams career defining work with Steven and George.
* The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones (12 min)—More ILM visual goodness which populated the series.
When Crystal Skull was released in 2008, Paramount tweaked the previous box set and gave us Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventure Collection, containing all four films and some new bonus material included here…
* Raiders: The Melting Face (8 min)—The work that went into creating these iconic effects.
* Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (12 min)—Snakes, to bugs, to rats. How much more torture can George and Steven conceive?
* Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (10 min)—A look at the globe-trotting locales used in each of the films.
* Indy's Women: The American Film Institute Tribute (10 min)—A nice AFI Q&A with Karen, Kate, Allison, and a man in a hat.
* Indy's Friends and Enemies (10 min)—A look back at the wonderful supporting characters who colored Indy's world.
Scraping just a few pieces from the individual DVD/Blu-ray releases for Crystal Skull, we get these features…
* Making Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (10 min)—Jettisoning a whole ton of bonus material from the original DVD and Blu-ray release, we're left with one featurette "The Return of a Legend," retitled to fit the them of the previous installments.
* Iconic Props (HD, 10 min)—Less than memorable pieces used for the final film.
* The Effects of Indy (HD, 23 min)—An ILM tutorial on the work they did for the fourth film.
* Adventures in Post Production (HD, 13 min)—The painstaking process of cutting and flavoring Crystal Skull.
If, at some point, Steven ever changes his mind and decides to begin recording commentaries for his films (which I doubt), we'll likely see another collection like this. And if, God forbid, Steven and George decide to make a fifth film, we'll most assuredly be revisiting these opinions once again. Although, I'll let someone else write that review.
So there you have it. Paramount's Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Blu-ray). One collection, missing quite a few previously released bonus features, but gilded with four astonishingly beautiful transfers of three films that have earned a prominent place in an movie fan's Blu-ray collection. Just be aware that the cardboard sleeves the discs are housed in can be a bit tight, so make sure you have clean hands before attempting to extract them. Otherwise, you're going to spend time cleaning fingerprints off before putting them into the Blu-ray player. Oh, and feel free to use Disc Four as a drink coaster.
A modern day cinematic ark of the covenant. Class Dismissed.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
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• IMDb: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Review content copyright © 2012 Michael Stailey; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.