Harrison Ford is the top selling actor in Hollywood these days. He owes this distinction in no small part to a couple of trilogies he did early in his career. While Star Wars might have been a chance for Ford to break out, Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels defined his abilities. Indiana Jones is the perfect hero. He’s strong, intelligent, and above all moral. Unlike the stereotypical hero Jones is also vulnerable and at times flawed. Credit Steven Spielberg for the iconic stature Indy occupies today. Left to his own devices, George Lucas would have given us Tom Selleck as the cigarette-smoking morally bankrupt Indiana Smith.
Raiders of the Lost Ark brought back the cinematic tradition of the 2-reel serials. These shorts would combine with a newsreel, a cartoon, and a feature film to provide a splendid moviegoing event in the early days of talkies. To those of us too young to remember them, the Indiana Jones saga is a time machine to a much simpler day of good guys and bad guys. While even Spielberg himself admits that Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom was inferior to the rest of the trilogy, even this weaker film provided a historic filmmaking moment. Because of its dark nature and gore elements the film did not fit neatly into the PG rating. The filmmakers did not want this “family” adventure labeled with R, so the ensuing conflict brought us PG-13, now the most widely used rating on films. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade dared to show us a much more vulnerable hero with the addition of his father. The relationship is a complicated one, but a relationship every father and son can instantly recognize and relate to. Right Dad?
George Lucas has a problem, and there doesn’t seem to be a support group for it. He simply can’t let well enough alone. His special editions of Star Wars have become comedic fodder. South Park did an episode where the boys steal the master print of Raiders to protect it from Lucas’s attempt to “redo” it. For the most part Raiders is the same, but Lucas simply couldn’t help himself. A few f/x shots were tinkered with to fix flaws noticeable on the original print. The most notable change was the glass reflections from the pane that separated Ford from the real king cobra in the Well of Souls. These corrections are minimal and don’t change the film, thankfully. I am disappointed that the first film was renamed Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark to make it conform to the rest of the set. Does the term classic mean anything anymore?
All three films boast a very well thought out Dolby Digital 5.1 track. While not always very aggressive, this track pays attention to detail. Subtle nuances of the sound are brought to life not by mixing it louder but by placing it appropriately in the mix. This track shows an understanding of what the distinct channels were always intended to be used for. John Williams gives us one of his most inspiring scores, and the production here doesn’t let us down. Don’t you just feel right there with Indy when you hear those marvelous brass overtures? Bass response is superb, and there is no evidence of distortion in any frequency range. Dialogue is delightfully well placed. You’ll hear every word.
All three films are presented in their original aspect ratios of 2.35:1. The enhancement for wide screen televisions is excellent. The prints are immaculate. No evidence of any artifacts or specks will be found. Colors display a vibrancy that defies the age of the films. Blacks are perfectly layered and deep. Flesh tones are reference. The many vistas that provide the backdrop for Indy’s adventure are simply breathtaking. It’s obvious all three films were carefully preserved and care was taken with the transfers. Spielberg fought the DVD format for years, promising that his films should not be released until the specs could do justice to the material. He backed up the promise with a threat that any studio that defied this edict would never produce a Spielberg film again. The wait was worth it. These transfers would not have looked so good two years ago.
The first three discs offer the films. Unfortunately, there are no commentary tracks included. A fourth disc of extras contains all the goodies. “Indiana Jones: The Making of Trilogy” is one of the best behind the scenes features I’ve seen. Devoid of most of the promotional garbage, this is all meat. You can view it in three segments corresponding to the three films or as one long 21/2 hour super feature. All of the pivotal cast and crew members participated. The discussions are frank. I learned quite a few trivial facts about the series. You’ll also get a quick look at a couple of deleted scenes. The bad news is there are no actual deleted scenes available in this set.
The Music of Indiana Jones” is a wonderful conversation with John Williams. He takes us to the scoring sessions and discusses his long relationship with Spielberg and Lucas. “The Sound Of Indiana Jones” covers the Foley aspects of the films, and is mostly technical. “The Stunts of Indiana Jones” was less interesting to me because it’s stuff we’ve all seen before. Trailers for all three films are presented.
Finally there’s a preview/promo for an upcoming Indiana Jones game and a connection to IndianaJones.Com where you will be able to access information on the films as well as news on Indiana Jones 4. I hope this works better than the similar idea in the Jurassic Park set, which was supposed to link you to the actual shoot of Jurassic Park III but never seemed to give anything more than teasers and trailers.
No question; any series DVD collection must have this set. If you’re waiting for something bigger and better… don’t. This is the definitive set and we’re not going to see anything better in this format. I would have liked to have commentaries but Ford is by nature shy and not likely to ever participate in one. The audio/video has already pushed the original to the best it can be. There are certain elemental truths in life: Set carpenters never become leading men, Sequels never hold a candle to the original, The Last Crusade will be the final Indiana Jones, and “X never, ever marks the spot”.