Plot: What’s it about?
Movie heroes come and go, but the really great ones stand the test of time. Indiana Jones is one of the latter. Though armed with a whip and a profound knowledge of archeology, Dr. Jones has been on some of the greatest adventures that we’ve ever seen captured on screen. Played with a sly and eager wit by Harrison Ford, his character is what embodies a movie hero. Created from the fertile imaginations of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg, their goal was to create (re-create, actually) the Saturday matinee “B” movies they saw as kids. Though they succeeded, this “B” movie was elevated to “A” movie status while it garnered 6 Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture. Perhaps the most impressive thing (looking back) is the fact that these movies were done without any CGI effects. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but stunts were either performed by actors or stunt men. But what is it about the Indiana Jones movies that makes them so beloved by all? Is it the fedora, the leather jacket, the whip, the gun that when fired makes the coolest sound, the countless string of adventures that one man gets into or is it a little bit of everything? Written by George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg while on vacation in Hawaii, the two have created a hero for the ages. While the films center around ancient artifacts, it also bears a lot of anti-Nazi propaganda. Naturally, this makes sense and we more than know how Spielberg feels about the Nazi’s.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
As the movie begins, we have to realize that just because “Raiders”¦” came first in the series, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it happened first. The two sequels actually happen (in movie time) at different times. “Raiders…” is set in 1936, “Temple of Doom” in 1935 and “Last Crusade” in 1938; though it’s of no real consequence as to which really came first. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” has now been changed to “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”. This comes as no surprise as the later two movies featured the “Indiana Jones and”¦” name before the title. Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is at odds with his old nemesis, Bellog (Paul Freeman). The United States government wants to hire Indy to find the Ark of the Covenant, a precious religious artifact, so that it doesn’t fall in the hands of the Nazi’s. The Covenant, in the wrong hands, would make the Nazi’s unbeatable. Crossing all over the map, we follow Indiana as he meets up with his old love, Marion (Karen Allen), who holds a vital key to locating the Ark. As in the old serials that the movie was inspired by, we meet foes that only exist in Indiana Jones’ world. Whether he’s using his bullwhip to save the day or being dropped into a pit full of snakes; Indiana Jones will make things interesting to say the least.
Ford embodies as much of Indiana Jones as any other movie icon in history. In hindsight we can’t really picture anyone else in the role, though Tom Selleck had the part but couldn’t commit due to his role on Magnum P.I. What makes him so beloved is the fact that he plays it like he plays almost every other role, as the “everyman”. Granted that his presence here is at its best, but this movie established him as a leading man (something that he hasn’t lost, even twenty years later) and that he has equal charm to women and men, young and old alike. If “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was his proving ground, then his future efforts did nothing but reinforce that point.
The Temple of Doom
We then move onto Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This is perhaps the most criticized of the three in that it followed the “sequel” formula just a little bit too closely. The stunts were bigger and the action more in your face and Kate Capshaw had the role of the “desirable busty blonde” that we just knew Indiana would end up with. This time around we find Indiana in route from Shanghai, but as luck would have it, he ends up in Delhi. This time around the artifact are the mysterious Shankara stones that if used properly, could result in someone with a little too much power. That person in search of the power is none other than Mola Ram. Children are mysteriously used as slave labor and it’s up to Indy and his somewhat annoying counterpart (future “Mrs. Spielberg”, Kate Capshaw) to save the day/world. While this was the most unbelievable of the lot, it still delivers laughs and action but being a bit darker than its predecessor. It’s no secret that this movie was one of the factors that led to the PG-13 rating (one which Spielberg was very adamant about). Yes, it’s more violent, yes it’s worse than Part I and III, but it’s still fun.
The Last Crusade
The final installment, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – one that I think is almost as good as the original. Sean Connery shows up as Indiana’s father and we get a bit of a prologue in which we see the late River Phoenix portray the young Indiana Jones. This time the quest is none other than the Holy Grail itself, Monty Python eat your heart out! And once again the Nazi’s play a central part in the story. Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) has hired Indiana’s father, Henry (Sean Connery), to look for the Holy Grail. This also happens to be Henry’s life study and he is the most renowned expert on the subject. But he has disappeared and now Donovan has set his sights on Indiana to take up where his father left off. Joined this time by Elsa Schneider (Allison Doody), the three (Marcus Brody played by Denholm Elliott) take off on a quest that leads them to Italy and the quest for the Holy Grail. Perhaps the best thing here is the casting of Sean Connery who comes off as a great Dr. Jones Sr. their bickering throughout is the heart and soul of the movie and one of the key elements that makes it work. Though the first installment is the one that everyone thinks of when they think “Indiana Jones”, there is some debate as to which one of these two is actually the better movie. Still, it’s a debate for the ages and I believe most would go with the first one.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
It’s now the late 1950′s and Dr. Jones has been forced to help the Soviets recover some ancient artifacts known as the crystal skulls. Jones manages to escape with the crystal skull, which possesses some mysterious powers, and escape to Peru with a mysterious young sidekick knows as Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, looking like he just came off the set from “The Wild One”). We see the re-emergence of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who hasn’t been seen since “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as they try to elude Iriana Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and the rest of the Russian forces. As with the previous three films, there’s plenty of action, plenty of whip cracking (though not so much as before) and plenty of death-defying stunts that feel a little too much this time around. Will Indy be able to keep the crystal skulls away from the Soviets or will their power be turned over the wrong hands?
Indiana Jones, in addition to being one of our favorite movie characters, has been showered with accolades since it came out in 1981. The American Film Institute, incessant upon ranking anything and everything, has seen fit to garner it with a place in its coveted “Top 100″ list (#60) and placed it in the Top 10 in its “Most Thrilling” list (#10) and has ranked Indy as the greatest hero that has ever graced the silver (or any) screen except that of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Not a bad resume, considering that these were supposed to be “B” movies…No matter which way you cut it, Indiana Jones has at long last arrived on Blu-ray.
Video: How does it look?
Nearly a decade ago, Paramount came out with The Adventures of Indiana Jones, the long-awaited debut of the “trilogy” on DVD. Nine years have passed since then and, wouldn’t you know it, a fourth installment has been added. All four films are housed in this collection and all have received brand new digital transfers. The original is now over thirty years old. Looking at some of the supplemental features and then watching the film itself, the 2.35:1 AVC HD image for Raiders looks rich and dense. The colors seem to be more saturated, particularly in the opening sequence. All four movies have somewhat of an earthy tone to them, so the brown hues are dominant. And every movie has its own look and feel to it. One thing I noticed throughout the films was the slightest bit of aliasing. It’s not super noticeable, but I wasn’t quite as taken with the transfers as I thought I would. Now that’s not to say that these films don’t look the best they ever have because the fact of the matter is –they do. The most recent entry, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, does look the best and it undoubtedly benefits from being only four years old. All four films have very rich, robust palettes. The detail has been improved from the previous DVD release (I dug out my old set and did a few comparisons). Truthfully, the average viewer won’t really notice anything wrong, all they’ll know is that the Raiders…quadrilogy is finally available on Blu-ray and they’ll snatch it up. While there are a few times when a bit of grain is evident or a bit of dirt makes an appearance, it’s nothing to get too riled up about. By and large the transfers look gorgeous and it won’t stop me from breaking them out on a yearly basis and watching Indy battle the Nazis (or Russians if I’m watching the final installment).
Audio: How does it sound?
I think it goes without saying that these would contain DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks since DTS is a sound system that Spielberg himself helped pioneer. I have to say that Raiders didn’t sound quite as good as I thought. I’ve heard re-mastered soundtracks from films like Star Wars to Singin’ in the Rain. To me, Raiders sounded a bit on the brittle side. Again, this isn’t something that I’ve lost any sleep over, and the action sequences certainly more than made up for it, but as one of the feathers in Spielberg’s hat, maybe I was expecting a bit more? As the films progress, this isn’t an issue and again, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does sound the best by simply being the newest installment and benefitting from the latest in technology. Vocals sound very strong and prevalent and the surrounds are certainly very active. I cite the ending sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the spirits are let out of the Ark – the 360 degree effect is in full force here as the sound creates a swirling effect that had my head turning. All in all, these mixes are stronger than the previous ones found on the set from 2003 and it was to be expected. While not quite as impressive as I’d hoped, there’s really not a whole lot to complain about – I’m just spoiled.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is a big year for Steven Spielberg as three of his more notable titles have found their way to Blu-ray. Jaws, the Indiana Jones films and E.T. have all made their debut on Blu-ray in 2012. It’s a shame the world ends this year, I guess we’ll never see Schindler’s List in HD. All kidding aside, the majority of the supplements are ones we’ve all seen before, notably on the previously-released The Adventures of Indiana Jones set. But with the addition of a fourth movie and some recently added materials, that might be what’s needed to make the consumer buy this set…again. Well that and the enhanced audio and video. This five disc set is housed in a book like case, with each disc housed in its own compartment. The original movie poster and some production stills are shown in a gatefold format for each movie. The fifth disc is where all the supplements are and there’s quite a few of them, so let’s dive right in shall we?
The supplements are divided into three basic sections: “On the Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Making the Films” and “Behind the Scenes.” Starting off with “On the Set…” we find two documentaries. These aren’t new, mind you, it’s as vintage as you get. By comparing the video quality of these to the final product you can see how good it really looks. There are two documentaries which can be played individually or one after the other. “From Jungle to Desert” starts out in, you guessed it, the jungle for Raiders and then travels to the desert for some of the later sequences. “From Adventure to Legend” takes a look at some of the after effects of the film and its subsequent popularity. We get pretty much all the information we want out of both of these, ranging from what they eat, to the actors looking at storyboards to them shipping in several thousand more snakes for the famous scene. Both of these documentaries are new to this Blu-ray and weren’t on the previously-released DVD set.
Moving onto the next section, we find five more documentaries with a new one that wasn’t included in the DVD set. The aptly-named “The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark” is another vintage featurette is somewhat more of the same that we just saw (assuming you just watched the two new documentaries). We then are treated to “The Making Of…” for each of the four movies, all of which was included on the previously-released set except for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but that bonus content has been taken from the existing Blu-ray and added here. The remainder of the bonus features are all either taken from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Blu-ray or the previous set. All of these are fairly self-explanatory with “The Stunts of Indiana Jones”, “The Sound of Indiana Jones”, “The Music of Indiana Jones” and “The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones.” We do get a look at the melting face from Raiders with “The Melting Face!” “Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies” takes a look at some of the insects/rodents he had to deal with and we’ve got some optional pop-ups if you want to be further disturbed. The same feature is also available on “Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations.” In 2003, the American Film Institute profiled the actresses that were “Indy’s Women” and this is that interview in its entirety. We also get a look at some of his friends and enemies throughout the four films. The remaining features are all taken from the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull set with “Iconic Props”, “The Effects of Indy” and “Adventures in Post Production.” Each film also has its own trailer and teaser trailer with Raiders…having the re-issue trailer to boot. Let’s face it, anything and everything Indy is in this set. Grab your whip and snatch it up!