So here we are again with a second collection of episodes from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television series. This is the middle of a three volume set and concentrates the stories around World War I and II. It can hardly be a surprise that Young Indy kept himself quite busy during these war years in Europe. He was a pilot, secret agent, and even ballet dancer all for the cause. The set has as an appropriate subtitle: The War Years. Except for the bountiful features, the information from the first set is still valid and repeated here for the sake of convenience.
Like most folks I was skeptical. Could Indy be played by anyone other than Harrison Ford? What about those pesky network budgets and censors? As the series played out I made another discovery. Indiana Jones was now an American icon. He was our James Bond, and just as 007 had survived many incarnations, so too could Indy. As long as the actor remained faithful to the part and the production lived up to tradition, Indy could live far beyond Harrison Ford. As Temple Of Doom proved, even with Ford, quality is never certain. The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones was certainly different, but I have to say that I did experience some of that spirit of high adventure I did back in June of 1981.
A couple of things you need to know about this set. First the name change. The original series was called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The reason this set is not a traditional season set is because it does not present episodes in the order they were aired. The reason for the name change is that this is not exactly the old television series either. Each film in the set is made up of two episodes from the series blended into one new interwoven adventure. This was done some time ago when this material was first released on VHS years ago. The format takes a little getting used to, but the edits are carefully done and, for the most part, these newer versions run pretty smoothly.
Most of the time Indy is played by Sean Patrick Flannery, who doesn’t have the same flare River Phoenix had as a young Indy in The Last Crusade. He’s not always as assertive as we’ve come to expect from our Indy, but he does manage to get himself into a lot of jams. This series ends up involving Indy in many historical events that, while it stretches credibility beyond belief, offers some very interesting backdrops for adventure. The series was shot in locations all over the globe, from Africa to Europe and here in the United States. The show always attempted to educate by including many references in each episode. The time period settings were always very well done, particularly considering the budget restrictions. Many of the shows are more mystery than archeology, again expanding the types of adventures Indy can have. There are the expected romantic leads that are played out in true Indy fashion. Lloyd Owen played Indy’s father Henry Jones, but man, I think Sean Connery spoiled that part for anyone who might attempt to come after him. The fact remains that the spirit of Indiana Jones lives in these episodes, remarkably more than you would expect from a television series and other actors in the Indy role. The pace is a bit slower for an Indy adventure with a lot more talking heads. Even the attempts to bring in so many historical figures get stretched a bit, but the effort is a good one and long overdue in getting the DVD treatment.
Each episode of the series is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. I would have loved to see these things wide, and sources tell me they were filmed in such a way that wide presentations are entirely possible. For now we have these versions, and except for the format, they are rather nice presentations just the same. Colors are vivid when need be and appropriately subdued when called for. There is at times some grain that is easily forgiven. Black levels are rather nice, particularly for television transfers. I could find no significant print flaws or compression artifact. Bit rates almost never fall below a solid 5 mbps. Now the bonus features are a different story. Some of this footage goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and is by necessity quite rough in every aspect. Take the “better to have rough footage than nothing at all” attitude here, and you’ll be fine.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track here is pretty much a utility effort. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it never really shines. The Indy overtures come through fine but with none of the largesse and brilliance an Indy adventure deserves. Dialog is clear and easy to understand, and frankly, I think that was the only intent with this release. Likely the VHS mixes were used, so anything more was not originally considered. Consider this typical 1990’s broadcast quality. Nothing more. Nothing less.
All I can say is WOW! This 9 disc set is packed with stuff. If it were packed any tighter it would likely explode on the shelves. The documentaries are newly created pieces just for this release. The discs are a bit more orderly in this set, as each contains a film and the appropriate features. I like this system better and it’s very convenient.
I will break down each disc for you and talk about this wealth of extras in some detail.
Episode: Trenches Of Hell: This film combines the episodes Somme 1916 and Germany 1916. As a soldier in the Belgian Army, Young Indy finds himself at the horrific Battle Of Somme. Captured Indy works to escape the POW camp with the French leader Charles de Gaulle.
The Somme – Storm Of Steel: Without question the yearlong Battle of Somme was the bloodiest campaign in the history of warfare. Over a million people died during the battle. Once a flourishing ancient forest, the Somme Valley was reduced to a wasteland by the time the fighting ended. In this piece, startling and vivid vintage footage combines with modern historians and their recounting of the battle that would often come to define the First World War. This feature runs about 26 minutes.
Sigfried Sassoon – A War Poet’s Journey: Sassoon began his public life as a front line soldier in World War I. His experiences made him a powerful anti-warfare voice through vivid poetry. His words became his own weapon of sorts against the brutality he witnessed firsthand. Here historians and modern poets attempt to bring this man to life, often in his own words, in a 30 minute video journey.
Robert Graves and The White Goddess: Graves was a popular and quite prolific writer. By age 46 he had penned over 50 books. The idea of The White Goddess was his rather extensive search for meaning. His quest took him all over the world and exposed him to all manners of legends and cultures. Part poet, part philosopher, he was often described as mad. At 19 he was a soldier in World War I. Left for dead, it was his rebirth that caused him to reconsider the world around him. Here in this 30 minute feature poets and historians recount stories of his life and discuss the inspiration modern poets still find in his work.
I Am France – The Myth Of Charles de Gaulle: The future president of France is examined in this half hour feature. The piece brings us to his days of exile in England while France was occupied. His radio addresses and nationalistic spirit served to keep the idea of a free France alive in the minds of his fellow countrymen. De Gaulle was a bit of a thorn in the side of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and created a bit of a sticky situation. While he was the self-proclaimed leader of France, there was still a legitimate French government fighting the occupying Nazi forces. The piece looks at the myth and legend of the man as well as a short biography of his life.
Episode: Demons Of Deception: This film combines the episodes Verdun 1916 and Paris 1916. Indy falls for the infamous Mata Hari and begins to feel badly about the images of war he’s seen so far. We get a bit of insight into the film Indy and how some of his later ideals were born.
Into The Furnace – The Battle Of Verdun: Along with The Battle Of Somme, Verdun was a bloody year long struggle. The battle was often called “The Meat Grinder” because of the death toll it took. This piece is really a companion piece to The Somme feature, as these battles were intertwined. You get a rather nice perspective here as the film considers pre-war France and follows the cultural changes of nationalism that occurred.
Marshal Petain’s Fall From Grace: From national savior to being tried for treason, the rise and fall of Marshal Petain is a fascinating story. Told here in this 30 minute feature, it also can be viewed as a companion piece to Somme and Verdun. Petain was a hero during these definitive moments to France. It was his drive for appeasement, however, that would cause many to believe he delivered France into the hands of invading Germany.
Flirting With Danger – The Fantasy Of Mata Hari: Accused of spying for the Germans, exotic dancer Mata Hari was certainly one of the most colorful World War characters. There is still a great deal of debate over her guilt. Some believe she was merely living out an elaborate fantasy. This 30 minute documentary looks at these possibilities and the larger than life spy. You’ll get some nice stuff on the evolution of the art of intelligence gathering as well.
Episode: The Phantom Train Of Doom: This episode was not a combination of others, but rather had the same name in both formats. Indy engages with the famous Guns Of Navarone in Africa in 1916. Man, but this kid gets around. This episode might well be the closest to the Indy of the films, as there is plenty of exotic travel, including a hot air balloon and a hidden treasure, of sorts.
Chasing The Phantom – Paul von Lettow Vorbeck: In the wilds of Africa, Paul von Lettow Vorbeck attempted to find glory during the War. The African colonies had agreed not to bring the European war of their mother countries to Africa, but Vorbeck saw a chance to make a name for himself here. He disappeared into the African wilds right under the nose of a large British contingent after picking them off as they disembarked from their ships. The film delights viewers with the tale of this elusive fighter who would use anything from Killer Bees to the vast lands for his advantage. A different type of war was fought in Africa, and this half hour feature does a splendid job of bringing it to you.
Dreams Of Africa – The Life Of Frederick Selous: Selous was a larger than life figure who even captured the imagination of American adventurer Teddy Roosevelt. He first explored Africa as a lost teen and learned to parlay with native kings and tribes. He gained a reputation as a great hunter. This 25 minute feature examines the man and the continent that he tamed.
At Home And Abroad – The Two Faces Of Jan Smuts: Smuts was the only man to sign the treaties that ended both World Wars. He was the founding father of South Africa. In public he was a champion for democracy, but the government he helped to establish in South Africa was anything but free for many of its citizens. This feature attempts to resolve this contradiction in terms.
Episode: Oganga The Giver And Taker Of Life: This film combines the episodes German East Africa 1916 and Congo 1917. Young Indy’s attempts to save a dying child put him in a bit of a moral quandary. He also meets up with Albert Schweitzer and helps at his famous hospital.
Albert Schweitzer – Reverence For Life: This 30 minute documentary visits the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Schweitzer. His work as a humanitarian in Africa echoed a philosophy he would eventually become renowned for.
Congo – Curse Of Riches: The first democratic government in Africa came to the Congo but was short-lived. The nation’s elected leader Mumumba was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The 32 minute feature looks at how Belgium eventually lost its hold on the nation and the suffering its people have endured because of its plentiful natural resources.
Waging Peace – The Rise Of Pacifism: Henry Ford chartered a large ocean liner to Europe filled with many of America’s most prominent citizens in an effort to promote the idea of peace in Europe. We all know how that worked out. Still, I am a little concerned that the feature might be promoting that appeasement in Europe wasn’t the bad idea it was. No question the European arms race was one factor leading to war, but it was far from the tipping point.
Episode: Attack Of The Hawkmen: Another episode consistent with the original series broadcast. Of course, Indy wouldn’t be able to resist the new invention of flight. He becomes a pilot for the French Secret Police. His dreams aren’t even spoiled when he’s gunned down by the famous Red Baron. This one is adventure of the finest kind. Plenty of airborne hijinks.
War In The Third Dimension – Aerial Warfare In World War II: It was during the first World War that flight was discovered in a small Carolina town in America. It is quite amazing how swiftly this new technology made it to the art of war, changing forever the entire face of modern warfare. This all too short 27 minute feature is a great start, and taken with the next two offers a comprehensive look at the birth of aerial warfare.
Blood Red – The Life And Death Of Manfred von Richtofen: From Snoopy with his imaginary flying doghouse to images of biplanes in old war films, everyone knows who von Richtofen was. Perhaps you know him better as The Red Baron. There is plenty of mythology connected with the name, and this feature does a good job of bringing the amazing pioneer fighter pilot down to Earth.
Flying High For France – The Lafayette Escadrille: Before America officially entered World War I, there were many young men fascinated by the new ability to fly and its potential for glory for the first men to do it. Many volunteered and went to war in support of France on their own. They became known as The Lafayette Escadrille. This 26 minute feature examines the colorful figures that paved the way for today’s fighter pilots.
Anthony Fokker – The Flying Dutchman: If the Red Baron was Germany’s ace pilot, Fokker was the Allies’ ace plane builder. While not a pilot himself, Fokker designed and built some of the most deadly fighter planes of the time. This 27 minute piece looks at the man and his planes. When I was a kid I flew Cox gas engine models, and my favorite was a Fokker Tiger. I still remember the flaming jaws covering the front of the plane.
Episode: Adventures In The Secret Service: This film combines the episodes Austria 1917 and Petrograd 1917. On special assignment Indy finds himself in the middle of the Russian Revolution.
Karl – The Last Hapsburg Emperor: In Vienna, Karl I, after 650 years of his family’s rule, ends the dynasty. Coinciding with the end of the war, Karl’s act would end the last monarchy with any true authority in Europe, and the world for all intents and purposes would be changed forever. This is a key documentary in that it is a very important step towards the Europe we know today. Kingdoms and empires were finally dying along with their divine right rulers. Plenty of historical perspective and vintage footage makes this one quite compelling.
The Russian Revolution – All Power To The Soviets: This 34 minute documentary deals with the birth of the Soviet Union. This nation’s bloody rise would hold the world in its grip throughout most of the 20th Century. The Cold War it would bring to America would drastically shape our own culture. The film begins with the Romanov Dynasty and how it lost its grip on power. The film gives you a look at how this class warfare would give rise to “The Great Experiment” that would industrialize Russia and shake the world.
V.I. Lenin – History Will Never Forgive Us: Stark vintage footage makes this one a no for the kids. Lenin’s rise was a bloody one, and the footage is vivid and disturbing, but also necessary to show the bare facts of his incredibly brutal man. A hanged man piece is particularly disturbing.
Episode: Espionage Escapades: This film combines the episodes Barcelona 1917 and Prague 1917. This might well be my least favorite episode of the entire series. It contains a lot of relative hijinks and takes away from the atmosphere of the series in general. With the help of Picasso, Indy outwits the Germans, pretends to be a ballet dancer, and finally there is an amusing search for a telephone.
Impresario – Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes: Look. Ballet is really not my style, and certainly not anything I’m looking for in an Indy adventure, so I might have slept through some of this. If the review cuts out for a …………………………..
Ballet – The Art Of Dance: The name says it all. What time is it now?
Franz Kafka – Dark Truth: Kafka was obviously influenced by the horrors he witnessed in his own life. Like so many Europeans during the War years, he was exposed to unthinkable brutality. His work is both compelling and repulsive. No question he remains a huge influence on writers and filmmakers today. This 31 minute documentary will give you more than a surface examination of this complicated and disturbed man.
Daredevils Of The Desert: This film combines the episodes Palestine 1917 and new footage created for the expanded version. Indy’s helped by another exotic dancer as he makes his way across the desert to assist an Australian contingent.
Lines In The Sand – The Middle East And The Great War: Today after 9/11 there is even more reason for us to attempt to understand the Middle East and the struggles that have gone on there for thousands of years. It was the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the way in which the empire was split up that has caused peoples to be thrust together under one flag but not necessarily one culture. If we’ve learned any lessons from the World Wars, it is how perilous drawing arbitrary political borders can be. If you really want a better understanding of this conflict and its origins, this 35 minute feature is an excellent start.
Colonel Lawrence’s War – T.E. Lawrence And Arabia: A repeat from the first volume.
Historical Lecture – War And Revolution: An hour talk from H.W. Brand on the shaping of Europe through war and revolution in the 20th Century.
There are some interactive timelines and a game, but again I had a lot of trouble getting them to work on two different PC’s. On one the DVD-ROM elements froze up my system more than once. Frankly, none of this stuff seems worth the trouble. You get plenty of value from the documentaries and episodes.
Taken as a whole this collection will be a wonderful little history of the 20th Century when all three sets are completed. Again I am taken by the sheer volume of documentaries, and while the subjects are not near so eclectic this time around, they are well done indeed. The simple truth is there is no reason to stop at the first set. And I almost forgot, there’s a little Young Indiana Jones stuff thrown in there to give the whole thing some entertainment value as well. I almost feel like this is really a set of documentaries and the television show is the extra features. I’ve spent about 45 hours on this set, and I must say, “It’s been an experience.”