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BLU-RAY Comprehensive Review - Well Worth It, With One Great New Extra Feature
on September 12, 2012
Swinging onto Blu-Ray at last, INDIANA JONES: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES is undoubtedly going to rank as one of the fall's must-have format releases. Paramount's five-disc set includes the HD debuts of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" on Blu-Ray with a fourth disc of extras and a fifth ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") that some fans likely feel is best left as a beverage coaster. It's a great package that starts with new AVC encoded 1080p transfers and remixed DTS MA soundtracks of each film -- and by this point, is there any reason to re-analyze Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' legendary Saturday Matinee adventures? Each entry in the original Indy trilogy is immeasurably entertaining on its own respective merits, though fans can still quibble about which one is best.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK thankfully still retains its original on-screen title (despite its packaging as "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark"), and remains a classic of the action-adventure genre. With a smart Lawrence Kasdan script (from a George Lucas-Philip Kaufman story), classic stunts and Spielberg working at the peak of his talent, "Raiders" is pure and unadulterated fun, with Ford introducing us to the centerpiece role of his career and Karen Allen easily providing the best female love interest of the series.
Paramount's AVC encoded transfer of "Raiders" is much more "contrasty" than I've seen the movie before - and not quite as green and "lush", especially in the early jungle sequences -- but it's also clear this new HD scan is light years ahead of any prior video release in terms of detail. I can't recall how the film originally appeared in theaters so it's entirely possible the color scheme is also more faithful to cinematographer Douglas Slocombe's theatrical version than the prior DVD releases - certainly it's an excellent transfer overall, with fine detail visible throughout. The DTS MA soundtrack is forceful and superbly engineered, offering a broad stage for John Williams' legendary score and crisp sound effects. Three original trailers are the disc's sole extras - a short teaser (selling the film on the merits of Spielberg's past blockbusters), full theatrical trailer, and a 1983 re-release trailer (from the "Superman" trailer voice-over guy) are each presented in AVC encoded 1080p.
The first sequel (technically a prequel, even though it's a standalone adventure), INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM was controversial in its day (along with another Spielberg production, "Gremlins," it helped create the PG-13 rating, which was initiated before the summer of '84 was out), and even now it's a nasty, violent ride compared to the other Indy adventures. The script by Lucas pals Willard Huyuck and Gloria Katz ("American Graffiti") is silly and more excessive than either "Raiders" or "The Last Crusade," and Kate Capshaw's whiny Willie Scott is a comedown from Karen Allen's Marion -- so much so that it's tough for "Temple of Doom" not to be compared unfavorably with its predecessor. Still, the movie's final third is a blast, and John Williams' majestic, triumphant score may be his most inspired of the series: his themes for the Indy-Willie romance, Short Round's Theme, the mine cart ride, and the regal music that accompanies our heroes through the jungles of India are simply spectacular, and when combined with the original "Raiders March," create a phenomenal underscore that effortlessly carries the audience past the sequel's lesser aspects.
Opening with the glorious musical staging of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" (a lavish set-piece many critics rightfully noted was one of the highlights of the entire picture), "Temple of Doom" is the most colorful of the entire series in terms of its appearance, and the Blu-Ray's impressive HD transfer looks so natural that viewers can more easily spot discrepancies in the original cinematography (particularly during the climactic rope bridge sequence) they may not have noticed before. The soundtrack is again impressive, and both the original teaser and what appears to be an early (and underwhelming) theatrical trailer (running just a minute and with a 1983 copyright) included for extras.
The problems with the second film were rectified with the 1989 blockbuster INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, which on a surface level sounds like a "Raiders" rehash but adds a warm, richer emotional component through Sean Connery's magnetic performance as Indy's father, Dr. Henry Jones. Connery is magnificent and his interplay with Harrison Ford is amusing and poignant, giving the movie an added human dimension absent from the amusement-park action of "Temple of Doom" and matching the level of character development found in "Raiders." John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott return from the original, and the movie entertainingly reprises the quest-styled plot of "Raiders" as Indy tries to track down his father, who was lost while searching for the Holy Grail. While "The Last Crusade" may lack the freshness of the original, it's right up there in terms of my personal fondness for the material - Connery and Ford are so good together that the film's strengths are only magnified on repeat viewing, and the lengthy opening sequence with River Phoenix as a younger Indy is a sheer delight, with a buoyant John Williams score to match.
Paramount's 1080p transfer is in line with the "Raiders" and "Temple of Doom" discs - displaying crisp detail and a thankful lack of DNR - while the DTS MA soundtrack is again effectively engineered. Both the film's original 1988 teaser (showing the crew at work on the sequel) and full theatrical trailer are included as well.
Shortly after INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL was released, I received an email from a reader saying that I was unfairly harsh on the belated - and thoroughly unnecessary - fourth installment in the series. Frankly, after reading my original review over again, I actually don't think I was hard enough on it!
Ranking as one of the most disposable films in director Spielberg's canon, this lightly entertaining but forgettable fantasy is compromised by a leaden David Koepp script nearly completely devoid of interesting characters, wit or innovation. While Harrison Ford still fits comfortably into his iconic role - with Indy coerced into helping a group of nefarious Russians search for an ancient relic that possesses a supernatural power - the film rolls snake eyes in terms of Cate Blanchett's villainess (one of many thankless roles), Indy's relationship with a young greaser (the continually charisma-challenged Shia LaBeouf) who needs his help finding a lost archeologist (John Hurt, playing what was likely Sean Connery's role) and his kidnapped mom -- who turns out to be none other than Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, wasted in a few minutes of screen time) herself.
The film overdoses on plot exposition (the mid-section of the picture is crushingly dull, bogged down in endless babble about the skull and its power) and fails to give its terrific cast much to do. Ford is as amiable as ever but even he seems a little ill at ease with some of the leaden dialogue, which doesn't exactly crackle the way Lawrence Kasdan, Jeffrey Boam or even Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz's work did in this film's far superior predecessors.
Recalling the sluggish pacing of "The Lost World" (I cringe even writing that statement), little in Spielberg's direction clicks either: would-be comedic moments fall flat, while action scenes tend to exhibit a "been there, done that" feel at every turn. The infusion of CGI - heavily used in the movie, as it turns out -- is also in stark contrast to the prior films in the series (as is Janusz Kaminski's overly stylized cinematography, which does no favors for the picture either. It's amazing how claustrophobic and unappealing this movie looks, the bulk of it all too obviously having been shot on soundstages). Finally, the picture also greatly misses Sean Connery's warmth and humor as Indy's dad -- so much that it's unsurprising the few times "Indy IV" manages to strike an emotional chord is in its pair of direct references to Indy's late father (Connery was contacted to appear in the film but ultimately passed on it -- a wise maneuver in hindsight, particularly considering how well the third movie turned out). In the end, "Crystal Skull" commits the worst sin of all: it's completely forgettable. Five minutes after the film was over I struggled to recall the specifics of the plot or individual sequences in it, feeling as if the series truly finished with the ride off into the sunset at the end of "The Last Crusade." Everything about this entry, ultimately, screams too little, too late.
Paramount's HD presentation of the fourth film is on par with their prior Blu-Ray, boasting a clear 1080p AVC encoded transfer and DTS MA soundtrack. Three trailers (marked trailers 2-4) in HD round out the disc.
Trailers aside, all the supplements are included in the fifth Bonus Features disc, which one imagines will remain exclusive to the box-set, offering a satisfying mix of previously-released content and one significant new addition. Here's a breakdown:
On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark: The set's big new extra is this hour-long compilation of behind-the-scenes footage from the production of "Raiders." Taken mostly from 16mm handheld camera sources with some never-before-seen outtakes from the picture mixed with candid interviews from the cast and crew - and even a few deleted scenes - fans should love this piece, which gives viewers a real, honest sense of the day-to-day shoot, both on-location and at Pinewood Studios in the UK. (HD)
Making The Films: The original 1981 "Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark" from Howard Kazanjian and Phillip Schuman (57 mins.) is presented here along with Laurent Bouzereau's retrospective documentaries for "Raiders," "Temple of Doom" and "Last Crusade" from the 2003 DVD box-set, each offering a 40-50 minute segment devoted to each picture (all of these segments are in standard-def). The 28-minute "Crystal Skull" Making Of, meanwhile, is presented in HD (a much longer version of this Making Of was included in the original, two-disc Blu-Ray/DVD release of the film).
Behind the Scenes: A number of featurettes from the 2003 DVD Indy box-set include a John Williams interview in "The Music of Indiana Jones," plus "The Stunts of Indiana Jones," "The Sound of Indiana Jones," and "The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones." Brought over from the 2008 DVD release are "Raiders: The Melting Face!", "Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies," "Travel With Indiana Jones: Locations," "Indy's Women: The American Film Institute Tribute," and "Indy's Friends and Enemies." Reprieved from the original "Crystal Skull" release are "Iconic Props," "The Effects of Indy" and "Adventures in Post-Production." Note that these "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" featurettes are presented in standard-def (the original Blu-Ray of the film offered these same segments in HD) while several other "Crystal Skull" featurettes from the prior release aren't included here at all.
Completists who enjoy "Crystal Skull" may want to hold onto the original BD release of the film for its more extensive supplements - otherwise, this set contains basically all of the extras from the prior Indy DVD releases, sans storyboard galleries.
Ultimately, Paramount has delivered a great-looking, and sonically superior, Blu-Ray set that pays tribute to the work of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Douglas Slocombe, John Williams and all the other master craftspeople involved in the production of the Indiana Jones series. Highly recommended, just as one would hope!