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|Kevin Krock, editor|
While the Indiana Jones trilogy might seem a bit removed from my typical DVD review fare, like Playhouse Disney and The Lion King, these three classic action movies have been on just about everybody's Most Wanted DVD lists since the inception of DVD. I know they were on mine. And, I am sure most of you have seen one or more of these movies in a theater or on a television set at some point over the last 22 or so years.
Much like the original Star Wars trilogy, I grew up watching these three movies, and my old VHS copies have become pretty well worn over the years. For well over three years, I have been patiently waiting to not only get pristine digital audio and video transfers of the movies, but all the cool behind-the-scenes bonus material.
After a lot of waiting and speculation, Paramount finally announced the trilogy box set a number of months ago, and since then, the DVD community has been anxiously awaiting their release.
Initial reactions to the press release ranged from excitement to disappointment. Most folks were thrilled to have the movies cleaned up and remastered, but on paper, the bonus material looked like a bit less than what many videophiles imagined, hoped, or expected. It looked like a pretty darn good set to me, though.
Since I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, and the Indy movies are a bit too intense for them, I have not had much of a chance to pop my old videotapes in and watch them for a few years. Fortunately, the wonderful portability of DVD allows me to watch them on my laptop while they are distracted with a Disney Sing-Along or something on our TV.
As the first notes of the Indy theme struck my headphones and I sat back an watched, I remembered just how much fun it was to watch them again, and I look forward to the time I can share these with my adventurous boys. Likewise, families with older, adventure movie-loving children are bound to get as wrapped up in them as you probably did when they were originally released.
If it has been a while since you have watched any of these, though, and you cannot remember which movie is which, here is a quick summary of each one.
Disc 1 Raiders of the Lost Ark
Set in 1936, the Third Reich and the U.S. Government are on a search for the legendary Ark of the Covenantthe resting place of the Ten Commandments. The Ark supposedly has the power to wipe out entire armies, so the two warring governments race to discover the Ark and use it to their own advantage. The U.S. Army Intelligence enlists Dr. Henry Indiana Jones, Jr., a professor of archeology at a small New England college, to track down one of the world's greatest artifacts.
As Indy travels to Nepal and then to Egypt, he meets up with old allies and enemies, and discovers that his longtime nemesis and fellow archeologist, Belloq, has been hired by the Nazis to track down the Ark. As the search heats up and the two get closer to the Ark, Indy becomes hunted by Hitler's men, and the race becomes a matter of personal life or death.
Disc 2 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Actually set the year before Raiders, Temple of Doom opens with Indy inside Club Obi-Wan in Shanghai as a brawl breaks out. After narrowly escaping with his unwilling companion, American singer Willie Scott (played by Kate Capshaw, now Mrs. Spielberg), the two meet up with Indy's 11-year-old sidekick, Short Round, and continue to escape from the Shanghai mob boss, Lao Che, by hopping onboard an awaiting plane. Unfortunately for Indy and the gang, the plane has to be ditched near a remote Indian river, and the trio end up in a village where their children are mysteriously disappearing.
As told by the local shaman, the village has been under a curse since its sacred Shankra stone was stolen, and he begs Indy to track down their stone. After making their way to the sinister palace of the Maharajah of Pankot, Indy begins to unravel the dark and evil plot of the Thuggee cult and its High Priest, Mola Ram. With subplots involving child slave labor, human sacrifices, and supernatural evil, this is definitely the darkest and scariest movie of the trilogy (and in fact, served as the impetus for Motion Picture Association of America to add a new PG-13 rating), but it definitely has its memorable, adventuresome scenes, like the mine car chase and suspension bridge standoff.
Disc 3 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The third chapter in the Indy trilogy opens with a wonderful segment revealing how the young Indiana Jones fell in love with archeology and adventure, as well as where he developed his hatred of snakes, learned to use a bullwhip, and got his chin scar. It also introduces us to the tensious relationship between Indy and his father. The rest of the movie takes place in 1938, where Indy is hired by multi-millionaire Walter Donovan to track down the location of the legendary Holy Grail, the cup Christ used at the Last Supper.
As Indy begins his search, he finds that the only way to find the Grail is to also find his missing and long-estranged archeologist father, who is the world's foremost Grail expert. Through a series of world-hopping twists and turns, Indy and Dr. Elsa Schneider, Donovan's alluring colleague, find his father and the rest of the clues to find the Grail, but they quickly find themselves chased by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, a group vowed to protect the Grail at all cost. To top it off, not only are the Joneses searching frantically for the Grail but the Nazis are once again racing against them to find the ancient and powerful relic.
There is just something about seeing Harrison Ford in that leather jacket and fedora with his trusty bullwhip at his side that just sucks me in every time. When I start watching any of these movies, I find myself transported to a different time and place, and they are just plain fun to experience. Granted, the trilogy is not for the squeamish or gun-shy, but if you and your older children are looking for classic serial-style adventure movies, you cannot go wrong with the exploits of Dr. Jones. Plus, after watching these, your children will better understand where the cool Disney attractions and shows at Anaheim, Florida, Paris, and Tokyo came from.
Generally, my rule of thumb is that you can't go too wrong when a DVD set includes a whole disc of bonus material, and for all but a couple of minor points, this set delivers enough bonus material to satisfy just about every Indy fan.
Forming the bulk of the bonus material is a 126-minute documentary on the making of the trilogy. As shown in the side-bar, the documentary can be viewed in smaller chunks focused on each of the movies, but to get the full effect of the trilogy's progression from the initial inception through the final premiere, you should just saddle up and watch the whole thing at once. Over two dozen new interviews were conducted for the documentary, and some of the cast and crew were interviewed for the first time since the films were originally released. The documentary covers just about every aspect of the making of all of the films, and each movie section includes never-before-seen footage, outtakes, screen tests, drawings, and photos carefully culled from the Lucasfilm archives. It is a truly impressive and comprehensive documentary, and it definitely deserves a viewing or two.
In addition to the full documentary, there are another 47 minutes of goodies spread across four featurettes. These focus on specific aspects of the production, such as the stunts, sound, music, and special effects. They perfectly compliment the documentary, and many of my specific how'd they do that? questions that were left unanswered during the documentary, were answered in these featurettes.
All four of these were quite interesting and a lot of fun to watch, and I particularly enjoyed The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones. It always amazes me how much effort and ingenuity went into making the scale models, matte paintings, and spectacular sets before the days of computer generated imaging (CGI). Then, top those goodies off with the theatrical teasers and trailers for each of the movies, and you have a bonus disc worthy of the Indiana Jones moniker.
Would I have added anything to the disc? Well, there are a couple of other minor things that would have nicely rounded out the set and made it a bit more complete for me. Considering the immense restoration effort that was undertaken on these three movies, there is no mention or demonstration of the restoration process or improvements. While the process is virtually identical to that performed on Snow White, I was hoping to see something about the unique challenges the restoration team encountered, such as removing a serious scratch on about 30-some-odd-thousand frames.
Also, it would have been fun to see a featurette on the cultural impact that the Indy films have had since their release. Both of these are relatively minor, and who knows, maybe we will see them when the HDTV version of the trilogy is released way off in the future. For now, though, I am a pretty happy Indy fan.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
As I mentioned earlier, all three of these movies underwent digital video and audio restorations, and the results are stunning.
Starting with the anamorphic widescreen video transfer, the images are sharp, detailed and incredibly clean (over 100,000 pieces of dirt per movie were digitally removed), and the colors are beautifully saturated and natural throughout all of the films. The bright reds, greens, and blues in a number of scenes are solid and do not show signs of bleeding or anti-aliasing (pixilated blurring around the edges of two overlapping, high-contrast objects), and the numerous dark scenes show an impressive amount of depth and subtle shadow without any noticeable digital artifacts. These movies should look fabulous on just about any home theater, and they sure made me wish I had a bigger TV!
While the audio transfers might not jump out at you quite as much as the restored video transfers, the remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtracks are very effective and nicely staged. The jungle ambience, gunshots, richochets, and shooting poison darts surround you, and the booming explosions, revving truck engines, and supernatural rumbles shake you. As for the dialogue, it is clear and sounded good on everything from my laptop to my Dolby Digital audio system. The music is also nicely spread around the sound field, and when the theme music kicks in, it envelops you and becomes the icing on the cake.
Finally, each disc has an interface perfectly themed to the content of the disc. The disc menus contain a combination of computer animated movie props along with stylized clips from the movie, and each screen has musical cues from the movie on the disc. For example, the bonus disc features an animated clap-board with behind-the-scenes video clips, and each selection plays an animated transition to the next menu. Overall, they are nicely done and enhance the DVD viewing experience.
The Final Evaluation
Having these movies on DVD has been a long time coming, and it is a pleasure to have them now. The video and audio transfers present these classic Spielberg and Lucas movies in the best way currently available for home viewing, and the three-hours-plus of archive bonus material should satisfy most Indy fans. While the bonus material disc may fall short of a few fan's expectations, this set should tide the rest of us over for a very long time.
Just keep in mind that these movies are only available in the box set, and they will not be released as individual movie discs, at least for the foreseeable future. So, is the four disc set worth spending your hard earned money? Even for those of you interested in only one or two of the movies, the bonus disc and those movies make the set worth strongly considering, especially if you pick it up at a discount store or on sale. For the rest of us Indy fans, this impressive set is a must for your home video collection.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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