Posted in: Disc Reviews by William O'Donnell on September 26th, 2012
The first word that springs to my mind when considering this box set is “essential.” I try to use that word without all of the marketing baggage that comes with it, conjured up by countless previous DVD releases of other films that have claimed to be “essential.” This set lives up to that term perfectly. Raiders of the Lost Ark alone is an incredibly important film (as my review below explains in a gushing fanboy-ish manner) and the entire series is a must have for any true fan of American cinema. This transfer to Blu Ray is a very successful one, making this the ultimate collection to purchase.
Raiders of the Lost Ark:
Raiders is one of those magical films that managed to transpose the love Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have for TV adventure serials from the 30s and 40s onto their audience by having us develop an identical infatuation with their film. This film is fun-filled adventure in its purest form. The villains are huge but believable, the hero is brilliant but rugged, the girl is tough while alluring, the set-pieces are glorious to behold, the action is intense and creative…I could go on and on and the list would never be lacking in enthusiastic adjectives.
To keep this praise-train moving: This film is the sort that still has enormous impact no matter how many times it has been viewed over the years. Those who have seen it in the double-digits (or perhaps even triple) still get tingles when the whip starts flying before we even see Indy’s face at the film’s opening scene, get shocked deaths that occur by the Ark of the Covenant’s opening, are delighted by John-Rhys Davies as Indy’s pal Sallah, and laugh out loud when Indy cannot be bothered to get into a sword fight…so he just shoots his would be opponent.
Spielberg’s technical prowess, and visionary skill behind the camera is in full force here. Mind you, much credit for the amazing visuals and incredible transitions goes to his legendary Director of Photography Douglas Slocombe and his go-to editor Michael Kahn. Individually, these men have created masterpiece after masterpiece and their combined efforts here set a high water mark for any and all filmmakers after it.
If this film wasn’t so exhilarating to behold, it’d be downright exhausting. The action never relinquishes for long and each sequence has something fantastic for the viewer to witness. Never have I encountered someone who scoffed at the idea of seeing this film. It is a classic that needs no defense nor can be harmed by any sort of criticism at this point. An invulnerable landmark in the history of American Cinema.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:
This film is a bit of an odd paradox for viewers. There are some moments that are cringe inducing (largely circling around the embarrassingly bratty character of Willie), and others that are so iconic that they’ve been regularly referenced since the film’s debut (the heart ripping sacrifice being the one that stands out strongest in my mind). This film feels much more dumbed down from Raiders in it’s humour and exposition, and yet it is considerably darker, having earned a PG-13 rating in the US instead of the standard PG rating the rest of the series gained (save for Raiders, which was not exactly all sunshine and lollipops…lest we forget the face melting, or the Nazi blended by a propeller).
One subject I must get out of the way first is the performance of Kate Capshaw. I know I’m not the first to be critical of this, and I’ll avoid the usual practice of blaming her inclusion on Spielberg’s crush on her…but it is just a shame that she continuously interrupts the fun with her unconvincing, scenery munching performance. Beyond my opinion of her acting ability (or lack thereof) her character’s relationship with Indy doesn’t make sense. Willie is thrust into his world rather randomly and does nothing but cause annoyance and get him into further trouble. The audience has no reason to believe their romance and therefore cannot completely buy him risking his life so many times to save her.
To compensate for any doubts we have about Indy’s motivation for saving Willie, we have, by contrast, a strong, believable connection between Indy and his young pal Short Round. There is a bond and trust that goes through a much more mature arc than what happens between Willie and Indy. It is established that they are great friends, have saved each other in the past and continue to do so in this adventure, and have to overcome a potentially lethal betrayal when Indy is possessed by Thuggee cult.
The best part of Indy and Short Round’s relationship is the fact that it is always integrated into the adventure, and never distracts from the pacing of the film. Perhaps this is the best way for me to explain my disdain for Willie versus my appreciation of Short Round. At every turn Willie is simply tacked onto the action whereas Short Round is mixed in. When the group is escaping a fight in Shanghai, Willie is screaming while Short Round is their getaway driver. When the group are trying to escape the Temple, Willie is going to be a sacrifice for the sake of a sacrifice to Kali, while Short Round is amongst the enslaved children and defeats the guards in order to free them all. And when it comes to breaking the curse that has possessed Indy while Willie is in trouble, it is Short Round that finds the way to break the spell over Indy, and others, who are under Thuggee control.
Outside of Indy’s companions, the adventure is a still a wild and entertaining one. If you can look past the gore and the screeching of Willie, you can have a fun time with this ride.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
Who could have fathered Indiana Jones? Who gave him that voracious curiosity and sense of adventure? Sean Connery gives us a wonderfully charming performance as Dr. Henry Jones Sr. (yes, the evidence of Indy’s true name is revealed in this film) to answer these questions and help set them all on a quest for the Holy Grail. Henry is not an adventurer like his son, which only ads to the comic effect when he sees his boy in action for the first time. This pair along with the return of Indy’s pals Marcus Brody (played by late Denholm Elliot and Sallah (played by John-Rhys Davies) make for one of the most delightfully unlikely band of adventurers in cinema.
Next to Raiders, Crusade has the richest mixture of witty humour and playful action spliced into the desperate situations and immensity of the villain’s evil. This film hits all of the right notes and feels like the pure Indiana Jones sequel that fans both craved and deserve. There are even times where the fun factor surpasses that of Raiders (which almost feels blasphemous to type).
The Nazis are the villains once again, which only helps to link this film closer to Raiders than Temple, and their evil presence is amplified by stationing them in a haunted-looking castle and showing examples of their book burnings. I know that there is a historical significance to using the Nazis as villains but there is also a sense of ease since they are such a natural choice for villains. For some reason, my long term memory recalls the Indiana Jones series as being rather family friendly and yet there are some absolutely horrifying deaths in all of the films (particularity the first three). Is there some sort of sordid comfort we take since some of these horrible things happen to Nazis? As if they have it coming and it can never be too gruesome for them? I suppose the answer lies with each viewer and how much blood they recall. Food for thought.
The way this film evokes feelings of Raiders, the arc we see of Indy as a young man to building an amazing new bond with his father, even the way our heroes ride off into the sunset….this really felt like the curtain call for Indiana’s adventures. As we know now, that was not the case…
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
There are certainly times when creative restriction can be a good thing. There were ideas that could not fit into Raiders that were recycled used to great effect in Temple (such as the mining car chase scene). Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are very imaginative fellows but they are also the type of people who need to be told “No” once and a while (prime example, each episode of the “new” Star Wars trilogy needs to be re-thought).
This film has the inherit benefit of being a part of a magnificent series. It is able to reference past films with joyful nostalgia without getting to cheesy or reliant on said references. Dr. Jones gets his class interrupted by the Dean, There are journeys all around the world and the chase scenes are incredibly inventive and exciting. Some of the references are embodied in the return of characters, the most significant being Indy’s love from Raiders Marion Ravenwood returning to spark up their romance again.
The dynamic between Indy and his estranged son “Mutt” (played by Shia Lebouf) functions very well in this film for it plays like a friendship first, where the lessons taught from father to son are incidental, never forced. Their banter in a diner covers plenty of exposition while almost being as fun as Short Round and Indy’s card game from Temple.
The technology placed in the film, both human and alien, takes away some of the historical charm that the previous films displayed. It’s one thing to see a temple fall apart like it does in Last Crusade, but another to see it shredded by the centripetal force created by a flying saucer (boy, if you have not seen this film, did I ever spoil things for you).
Many fans, including myself, were quite hot and cold on this film. On one hand, there are many familiar elements at play that make this quite and entertaining adventure (such as the globe-trotting, grave searching). On the other hand there are many moments that are so outrageous that our suspension of disbelief is shattered (this includes “Nuking the fridge, swinging with the monkeys, and the psychic alien climax). In the end, this still feels like an Indiana Jones film which is about all we could ask for from Spielberg and co.
Here is another take on this film from our site:
1080p HD presented in Widescreen 1.78:1. The cleaning done on these films is magnificent. Alas, the picture quality gets progressively better, which only makes sense for younger films to appear cleaner than older ones. Raiders and Last Crusade are the only films that showed any noticeable flaws (such as a touch of fading around the edges, bits of blurriness or some slight haziness around the darker tones) but these are only during a couple scenes in each of the films and would only be noticed by those looking specifically for them.
The cleanliness of each frame is truly uncanny, especially for films that are over 30 years old. The transfer to Blu ray can be truly hit and miss when it comes to restored films, but this set is a “hit” to say the least. Fans and collectors alike will certainly see this as the ideal set to buy.
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English plus Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 available in Spanish, French, and Portuguese for each of the films. Subtitles are available in the same.
This is a Lucas/Spielberg production…the sound was not going to be neglected. John Williams’ score is as triumphantly boisterous as we could ever hope it to be. Because of the efforts made for clarity, there are some moments (most noticable in Raiders) where the ADR dialogue (dialogue recorded after shooting, synced up with the actor’s mouths) is a bit too apparent when it should be seamlessly mixed with the other sounds and visuals. Like my lone gripe in the Video section, this would only be detected by those seriously looking for such a slight waver in consistency.
There are a few features that have been transferred over from previous DVD releases of the Indiana Jones trilogy. With some new material added, and the fact that this includes all four films, this is the most complete feeling set to date.
The first four discs contain the feature films. The only special feature on those discs are the original Trailers of each film.
On the Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark:
From Jungle to Desert & From Adventure to Legend: This is a two-part gander at the composition of the first film in the series, linked together with deleted scenes and silly outtakes. Essentially, this is a platter of clips that do not appear in other “Making Of” style features that appear in this box set. It is always interesting to see Spielberg be hands-on with his actors, and let us see how his imaginative brain works. Though he has his critics, his technical skill is hardly matched and this helps demonstrate just how much of a visionary he is when it comes to understanding visual storytelling.
Making the Films:
Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): A decently lengthy behind-the-scenes look at the creation of this classic film. This particular feature takes less for granted and explains the basic of film making a bit more thoroughly then other features do (such as explaining what a storyboard is for example). Though there is a narrator doing some explaining, it eventually resembles a series of home movies that speak for themselves as we watch.
Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark: This is a modern, retrospective look at the production. Every interview, save for a very dour Harrison Ford, is done with great enthusiasm. The first film of the series gets the most attention, as it rightly deserves.
Making of Temple of Doom: Another retrospective feature that goes to great lengths to cover all of the key actors and scenes. The playful flintiness is all-too apparent in clips with Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg (who would go on to marry in 1991).
The Making of the Last Crusade: As is the case with all of the other Making Of featurettes, this is loaded with clips that are extended upon in other, more topically specific areas of the Special Features disc, be it Effects, Sound etc. It is delightful to see that after all of his blockbuster hits, Spielberg can still have some nerdy jubilance in his town when expressing how much he wanted to get “James Bond” to play Indy’s father. Hindsight is indeed 20/20 for the makers of the original trilogy and in these Making Of features we see how Last Crusade is viewed as vastly superior to Temple (although, the same can be said about all of the other films…perhaps even Kingdom as far as Spielberg’s opinion is concerned).
The Making of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Being the most recent film, the behind-the-scenes look is much more guarded and staged. All of the features have ample self-praise but this one feels more like the fluff pieces injected into all typical Making Of mini-documentaries.
Behind the Scenes:
The majority of these are recycled from the most recent Trilogy release, therefore it the Fourth film does not get a lot of coverage, and when it is referenced it is usually just a compilation of teaser images.
The Stunts of Indiana Jones: One of the few special features that will make your jaw drop. Honestly, this is a must-see feature. The chase truck chase in Raiders alone is a masterpiece in outrageous stunt-work.
The Sound of Indiana Jones: The masterful work of Ben Burtt. There is a definite art to sound creation. Foley Artists always have the most humourous stories to tell when it comes to their work. Nowhere else will you hear of someone getting inspiration by running their finger through their wife’s casserole, but here Burtt uses that as inspiration for the sounds of hundreds of snakes in a pit for Raiders.
The Music of Indiana Jones: John Williams’ career speaks for itself, but it is always a delight to relish in his achievements. The iconic theme is one that can never escape your head once you’ve heard it.
The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones: There is some repeated footage of the process that went into particular effects (such as the lightning that comes from the Ark of the Covenant), but we get new looks at some storyboards, concept art and animatics that are not shown on any other special feature. As well, there are some truly amusing demonstrations of test footage made for larger effects, such as a miniature version of the Mine care chase in Temple of Doom, created with dolls which lead into the stop motion animation used in the actual film.
The Matte paintings (paintings used to create a background scene) are wonderful. The forced perspective trick used to create the “leap of faith” in the Last Crusade is nothing short of a triumph.
Raiders: The Melting Face!: The clever craftiness behind the infamous melting face at the climax of Raiders makes this a must see for any person getting into special f/x. This effect is recreated especially for this featyre, to explain the layers (literally, layers of gelatin) that went into creating this, and the steps taking to make the melting convincing.
Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies: There were always scenes in each film included to give the audience the willies. The snakes, the bugs, the rats. This film covers all of these less than desirable little performers from the first trilogy, which is extra suiting since the ants in the fourth film are entirely CG created anyhow.
Travel with Indiana Jones Locations: Though most of the locations used for filming this series were stand-ins for other parts of the world, that did not make them any less glorious to behold. Be it witnessing Tunisia, Hawaii or Venice…this feature will doubtlessly instill a sense of wanderlust if the films haven’t already.
Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute: This feature stands out as it was clearly not made for any particular set. All three of Indy’s ladies (Krista Allen, Kate Capshaw and Alison Doody) are interviewed before a live audience. They recall their times on set fondly.
Indy’s Friends and Enemies: A profiling look at a few of the significant supporting characters of the first three films. This is a bit of a hasty feature. The characters are so strong in these films that they deserve more attention (which, thankfully, they do receive in some of the longer Behind the Scenes features elsewhere on the disc).
Iconic Props: C’mon…need I saw more than the hat and the whip? Yes? No? Well, this feature covers those two incredibly iconic items, as well as a few other choice relics that helped to make this film series so memorable.
The Effects of Indy: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the only film in the Indy series to mix CGI with practical effects. This is a disheartening fact for some purist fans of the original trilogy. There are still kudos warranted for the very talented people at Industrial Light and Magic who can create things on screen that were unheard of in cinema before. This feature looks only at Kingdom and their effects accomplishments (again, mostly with CGI).
Adventures in Post Production: This is a focus on Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and people such as Editor Michael Kahn and more focus on Sound Editor Ben Burtt and the great lengths he went to in order to catalogue all of the previous sounds plus all of the new ones he created to give the f/x life in this last installment of the series. Much of this is touched on in the “sound of” featurette as well.
As I mentioned before, this box set is an undeniable “must have” for any film fan to possess in their personal collection. The film series is classic, the HD production has enhanced the presentation in trademark Lucasarts style, and the hours upon hours of Special Features that are provided are exhilarating to view. Join this adventure as soon as you can!
Indiana Jones has been covered by us previously. To see other reviewers’ take on previous collections of these films, follow these links: