The Adventures of Indiana Jones review by Mike LongI love reviewing DVDs, and I pride myself on being a consumer advocate. That is, I try to give you, the reader, a heads-ups on certain DVD titles so that you can make an informed decision when it's time to make your next purchase. But, there are those moments where I know I'm wasting my time reviewing certain titles. Case in point, The Adventures of Indiana Jones. You know you're going to buy it, so I'll just give you a rundown of what's included in this great set.
This handsome 4-disc set kicks off with the 1981 classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. This film introduces us to the swashbuckling hero "Indiana" Jones (Harrison Ford), a college professor in archaeology, who is much happier searching through ancient tombs than teaching class. The story takes place in 1936, where the U.S. government approaches Jones to learn why the Germans are digging in the desert outside of Cairo. Jones realizes that the Germans are searching for the Lost Ark of the Covenant - the golden chest which holds the remains of the Ten Commandment - which is said to hold great power. Jones is soon off to Nepal to retrieve an important artifact from an old friend, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who then joins Indiana as he moves on to Cairo. Once there, Jones teams up with his old friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) to infiltrate the German dig and try to beat them to the Ark.
What can I say about Raiders of the Lost Ark which hasn't already been said? (Let me tell you, not much.) The creators of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, two films which embraced technology and the future, take a giant step backwards here, making a film which is a homage to the Saturday-matinee serials of the 1930s and '40s. Yet, somehow, the whole thing works. The lynchpin of the film is, of course, the character of Indiana Jones himself. The idea of a man who is both a scholar and an adventurer has just the right balance of reality and everyman-fantasy to make him incredibly popular and likable. Indy is smart, tough, and good with the ladies. Of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great adventure film as well. Granted, the film comes off as a bit slow, when compared to today's films, but that's OK. The movie has great characters and the many action set-pieces are still classics, most of which we all know by heart. Raiders of the Lost Ark laid the groundwork for future films like Stephen Sommers' The Mummy and remains an icon of action/adventure films.
As Raiders of the Lost Ark made a bajillion dollars, a sequel was inevitable (that and the fact that a trilogy was loosely planned from the beginning). So, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg teamed up once again for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. From the outset, they wanted this to be a darker film and they certainly succeeded. Temple of Doom is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, as it takes place before the events of the first film. The film opens in a Shanghai nightclub, where Indiana is swindled during an artifact trade. A fight ensues, and he escapes the club, taking singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) with him. They meet Indy's young side-kick, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) and flee Shanghai, only to have their plane crash-land in India. There, they find a village where the children have been enslaved by an evil cult. Indiana, Willie, and Short Round get caught up in this affair, and Indiana takes it upon himself to challenge the cult and save the children.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is certainly a dark film, and you may remember that its horrors lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating. This film is generally regarded as the worst of the trilogy, and is simply considered bad by many. Is it that bad? Well, yes and no. As with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom contains some great action set-pieces. The opening fight scene and the mine-car chase are fantastic and show that Spielberg and Lucas haven't lost their touch in creating exciting action sequences. Heart-ripping scenes aside, the problem with this entry is the story. Indiana Jones is simply too much of a bad-ass here, and we never get that balance between archaeologist and adventurer. Indiana and his cohorts are simply tossed into a bad situation which they must survive. Yes, Indy often uses his wits along with his brawn, but the character loses much of his, well, character. The film is further hampered by the annoying performances of Capshaw and Quan, who only drag the film down. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is better than most films out there, but it's still misguided.
Although Temple of Doom made money, the critical reaction and the fervor over the violence gave Lucas and Spielberg pause when considering a third film in the trilogy. So, it was five years before we got Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In this entry (which opens with a flashback scene, showing how a young Indiana (played by River Phoenix) got his start in adventuring), Indiana Jones receives word that his father, Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery), has been kidnapped by the Nazis. The elder Jones carries a diary which contains many archaeological secrets, but the Nazis are after the location of the Holy Grail. Indiana heads to Europe to rescue his father, and soon joins forces with the lovely Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). Once Indiana finds his dad, this quarreling duo find themselves on the run across the continent to escape from the Germans and protect the secret of the Grail.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a shockingly mediocre film, especially when compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's clear that Spielberg and Lucas made a concerted effort to return to the roots of Raiders, and thus, much of the movie feels forced. While there is clearly a cohesive plot, at times, the movie feels like a series of unrelated action sequences. And while these sequences are good, such as the boat chase and the tank chase, by this point, the audience needs to see something different, and this film doesn't really deliver in that department. (Also, bringing back Sallah and Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) from Raiders of the Lost Ark seems to say, "See, remember the first movie? Huh?") What Last Crusade does have is the dynamic between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery as the constantly bickering Jones'. These two work very well together and their scenes truly bring the film to life. And who can forget the line, "We named the dog, Indiana?"? Last Crusade may not have been the closing to the trilogy that Indiana Jones fans wanted, and the film does have its problems, but the performances are priceless.
I know what you're thinking, "We've all seen the movies. Tell us about the DVDs." Well, as with my assessment of Raiders of the Lost Ark, there won't be much to say here either, save for near perfection. The Adventures of Indiana Jones boxed-set has been whipped up by Paramount Home Entertainment. All three films have been letterboxed at 2.3:1 and the transfers are enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. (A separate, full-screen set is also available, but seriously, who wants that?) If you've been waiting for perfect versions of these films to become available, your wait is over. The images are incredibly sharp and clear on these THX certified discs. It's clear that the teams at Luscasfilm and Paramount painstakingly went over these films and cleaned them to perfection. The only grain that I saw was during the opening credits to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Otherwise, the pictures are crisp and free from defects. The colors are fantastic and in the dark scenes, as in Temple of Doom, the action is always visible. There is some slight haloing at the bottom of the screen at times during the films, but there are basically no artifacting issues. The discs each carry a staggering Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. I know that many were concerned over the lack of DTS support, but trust me, these tracks rock. The dialogue, effects and music are always clear. The surround sound effects are plentiful, showing off a very creative sound design, and the bass response had the cats under the bed for days. I don't think anyone really expected anything less than perfection with this set, but it's still a pleasure to experience the brilliance put forth in these transfers.
All of the extra features in this set are contained on the fourth disc. Yes, that's right, there's no audio commentaries on the movies themselves. But, that's OK, as you'll learn plenty through the featurettes. There is a separate "making of" feature for each film. These segments contain tons of behind the scenes footage, as well as old and new interviews. Raiders of the Lost Ark (50 minutes) explores the origins of the trilogy (the first film was brainstormed in 3 days) and how Raiders got off the ground. The best part of this segment are the screen-test with Tom Selleck and Sean Young (yes, you read that right) and Karen Allen and Tim Matheson. Tim Matheson as Indiana Jones? I don't know if that would have worked, but I would be so there! We also got to see Spielberg yelling at a snake. In Temple of Doom (41 minutes), George Lucas openly discusses the choices which made the film so dark and how once they started down that path, the film just got darker and darker. And if you didn't like Kate Capshaw to begin with, you'll really hate her after hearing her bizarre comments about the film's production. Finally, The Last Crusade (35 minutes) reveals that Lucas wanted to make a "haunted castle" picture, but Spielberg didn't like that idea. (I wish that he'd given that more thought.) Not surprisingly, this segment focuses greatly on Sean Connery's involvement with the film.
Along with these "making of" segments, we get four more specialized featurettes. "The Stunts of Indiana Jones" (11 minutes) is made up almost entirely of behind-the-scenes footage, as it takes a look at how the most famous action sequences from the trilogy were created. Sound designer Ben Burtt discusses "The Sounds of Indiana Jones" in a 13-minute segment. He reveals how they got the sound for the whip and wait until you learn where the sound for the boulder from the opening of Raiders was obtained! Composer John Williams is highlighted in "The Music of Indiana Jones" (12 minutes), where he discusses his ideas for the music and how they fit each character. The many special effects from the trilogy are explored in "The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones" (12 minutes). Many of the famous names involved with the films, such as Dennis Muren and Richard Edlund explain how the finale of Raiders and the mine cart chase, among many others, were created. The extras are rounded out by trailers -- three for RaidersTemple of Doom (1.85:1, 5.1 sound), and two for The Last Crusade (Teaser, 1.85:1 (great behind-the-scenes stuff); theatrical, 1.85:1).
10 out of 10 Jackasses
The Adventures of Indiana Jones
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