The Adventures of Young Judge Erich Asperschlager: Volume Two, The Awkward Teen Years will be out later this Spring.
Our reviews of The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years (published January 4th, 2008) and The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones: Volume Three (published April 30th, 2008) are also available.
"Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Hot on the heels of the October release of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years comes Volume Two—continuing the origin story of the world's most famous archaelogical whipcracker as he fights his way through World War I as a Belgian soldier turned spy. George Lucas, who created the series, envisioned Young Indiana Jones as a way to present history in an entertaining way, and this volume does just that, perhaps even more so than the first.
Where the first volume skewed younger—featuring the ten- and eleven-year-old Indiana Jones traveling around the world with his parents—this second volume is aimed at a teenage audience. It still counts as "family" entertainment, but the depictions of trench warfare are graphic enough (and the Mata Hari half of the "Demons of Deception" episode risqué enough) to be unsuitable for younger children.
Though the episodes range from deadly serious ("Trenches of Hell") to slapstick comedy (the Monty Python meets Kafka "Espionage Escapades"), the series, like the films, strives to capture the fun of an afternoon matinee. The stories move quickly, with plenty of action, adventure, and humor. Where Volume One centered around Indy's relationship with his mother and father, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume Two—The War Years comes closer to capturing the character as he appears in the films (albeit in a more family-friendly way).
Facts of the Case
As The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One came to a close, the fedora-wearing teen had left home, met Remy (a Belgian national who'd been fighting with a band of Mexican rebels), and traveled with his new friend to Europe, where the two joined the Belgian army. As Volume Two begins, Remy (Ronny Coutteure, Arlette) and Indy (Sean Patrick Flanery, The Dead Zone) are in the trenches of France, fighting the bloody battle of the Somme. Their adventures take them to Paris, East Africa (where Indy meets an A-Team-like band of elderly soldier outcasts), into the heart of disease-infested Congo, and across Europe, Russia, and the Middle East as spies working for French Intelligence.
Like the first volume, Indy's adventures feature many famous faces: He meets political and military luminaries like Charles de Gaulle, T.E. Lawrence, and "The Red Baron" Manfred von Richthofen; cultural figures like Albert Schweitzer and Vladimir Lenin; and artists like author Franz Kafka, poet Siegfried Sassoon, and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghelev. Indy's interaction with these historical figures, though fictionalized to serve the stories, are true enough to provide snapshot overviews of their accomplishments and the ideas they represent. They're the backbone of the series' educational undercurrent. In and among the historical figures, viewers will recognize several well-known actors including Daniel Craig, Catherine Zeta Jones, Christopher Lee, Terry Jones (who directed an episode), and Anthony "C-3PO" Daniels.
One of the major selling points of all three Young Indiana Jones DVD sets are the extensive additional bonus documentaries—made especially for the box sets—that tell the real-life stories of the important people, places, and events introduced by the series. Though there aren't as many documentaries in this volume as the first, they're mostly longer, and amazingly rich compared to your average slate of DVD extras. Unlike the first set, the bonus materials for each of these eight 90-minute episodes—mostly hour-long stories stitched together under Lucas's supervision to create these chronological "movie" chapters—are on the same disc as the episodes. It's nice not having to swap out the discs all the time. The additional ninth disc, like the final disc of the first set, has interactive DVD-ROM content: a timeline, "Special Delivery" game, and a historical lecture entitled "War and Revolution."
Most of the pros and cons I mentioned in my review of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years apply to Volume Two as well. Fans who prefer the series as it originally aired—as hour-long flashbacks narrated by an elderly Indiana Jones—are still out of luck. Even for those of us who don't mind Lucas's tinkering, some of the material shot years after the original episodes (to bridge the halves and cover the missing wraparounds) looks out of place—though at least Sean Flanery isn't as obviously aged as the younger Corey Carrier was in some of the volume one episodes.
Depending on your point of view, the bonus documentaries are either a boon or an annoyance. No matter your expectations for Young Indiana Jones on DVD, the bonus material quality is unquestionably good. From the writing, to the footage, to the length (around half an hour each), it's clear a great deal of effort went into these extras. They help make the series the teaching tool Lucas envisioned it to be. Problem is, not everyone who wants to own the series on DVD has enough interest in extensive historical documentaries to spend $100-plus per set, especially considering they lack extras of any other kind. Hoping for commentary tracks, or a making-of featurette? Sorry.
Whatever your feeling about the extras, the episodes themselves are mostly great, especially compared to those on the first box set. With lots more action and suspense, the wartime stories are more "PG-13" than ten-year-old Indy's "PG" mischief. Granted, the action is more goofy than gritty, but the stories are grown up enough to satisfy an older audience.
The episodes themselves look and sound great, thanks to Lucas-brand digital remastering (though there's still occasional image slowdown during scene transitions and some obvious dialogue dubbing). This is a series that looks more cinematic than most television programs, even today. The full-frame image is rich, with a good range of color and contrast. Even in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, the audio is impressive. Directional and special effects are clear, as is the rousing orchestral score. It may not be John Williams, but it's close enough.
Anyone who avoided The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume One, The Early Years because of cost or format shouldn't expect Volume Two to change their mind. For those who enjoyed the first set, Volume Two, The War Years takes the adventure further (and closer in spirit to the original films). The engaging documentaries reinforce the series' educational focus. Whether you're a high school teacher, a parent looking for high quality edu-tainment, or just want a fun overview of early 20th-Century history (and don't mind a little silliness), The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume Two, The War Years is an impressive set.
Not Guilty. Bring on Volume Three!
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Scales of Justice
• "The Somme - Storm of Steel"
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