Just in time for the first days of shooting on the next and final Indiana Jones film, Paramount cashes in on the renewed interest with the long-awaited, at least from this reviewer, release of the first four films in the Indiana Jones franchise on UHD Blu-ray in full ultra high definition complete with HDR and Dolby Vision. OK, I lied about the long-awaited four films. Most of us have long-awaited two out of the first four films, but Paramount gets that. That’s why the original Blu-ray release and again the 4K release doesn’t give you the option yet to just pick the two you want. If you want Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Last Crusade in 4K, you’re stuck with the other two. I’ll take that deal, and you should, too. Here’s why.
Harrison Ford was once the top selling actor in Hollywood. 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?
Raiders Of The Lost Ark:
I simply refuse to refer to this film as Indiana Jones and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Dr. Jones is fresh home from his most recent adventure. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very successful. His fellow archaeologist and nemesis, Dr. Rene Belloq, has taken an impressive idol from him. As he returns to his teaching gig, he attempts to parlay what trinkets he did bring back into a ticket to retrieve the idol. Unfortunately, the feds have other plans. It seems the Nazis are looking for the Ark of the Covenant and are seeking a vital clue from Indy’s old mentor, Dr. Ravenwood. Ravenwood is dead, but his daughter is very much alive, running a bar in Nepal. She has the necessary piece, but Indy’s not the only suitor. Together they go in search of the Ark, attempting to stay one step ahead of the Nazis and their expert, none other than Belloq. It’s a race all over the world, and finally a close encounter with the divine, and perhaps God isn’t too happy with the Nazis. Indy proves a dynamic character, globetrotting and raiding tombs long before Laura Croft got into the picture. OK, she looks a little better. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the mold from which a genre sprang.
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom:
by William O’Donnell
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 its humor 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 the 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 is 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 who 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.ndiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
by William O’Donnell
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 adds 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 humor 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
Not too long after we thought we had seen the last of Indiana Jones following his Last Crusade, George Lucas had an idea. Like The Grinch, it was a wonderful, awful idea. Hard at work in his lair deep inside the Evil Empire, Lucas pounded away at the script that could please only himself. The result was something called Indiana Jones And The Saucermen From Mars. Exuberant over his own misguided genius, he showed it to his fellow Indy masterminds. Predictably to anyone not named Lucas, neither Ford nor Spielberg thought very much of the idea. So then and there, it seemed that both Indy and the Saucermen had died. Decades would pass, and it appeared there was still very much a market for the exploits of Dr. Jones. Talks began as much as 15 years ago. Various scriptwriters took a pass at Lucas and his Saucermen. It wasn’t until all parties agreed to do a fourth Indy, provided they could all agree on a script, that serious work was begun on a new script. The result would become known as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
It’s that classic dilemma of good news and bad news. The good news is obvious. Everyone was signed on board, and Harrison Ford was going to play Indy yet again. There was the excruciating wait until everyone’s schedule cleared to do the film. Finally it happened, and the saga that began with Raiders of the Lost Ark was about to continue, with a brand new script. The bad news is that, although this was a new story, the Lucas Saucermen just wouldn’t stay dead. Fortunately they play a very small part of the story, serving as part of the climax. In case you’re one of the six or seven folks who haven’t yet seen the film, I won’t go into detail on how the Saucermen work into the story.
The story itself is good rollercoaster Indiana Jones fun. Indy has been captured by the Commies. They’ve taken him to Area 51, where they seek his cooperation with an artifact kept there. The ensuing action has our hero narrowly escaping the bad guys and also gives us a quick glimpse of an old artifact we’re somewhat familiar with. After a rather silly additional escape, Indy is being questioned by the Feds. It’s deep in Red Scare days, and Indy is under suspicion. He is let go at the university. Just when our hero might already have too much on his mind, a young greaser named Mutt (LaBeouf) shows up, asking for Indy’s help. It seems his mom and a mutual friend, Professor Oxley (Hurt) have been kidnapped in regards to Oxley’s discovery of a mystical crystal skull. The journey takes them to Peru, where the same Commies are after the skull and have Oxley and Mutt’s mother, Marian (Allen). Indy’s also joined by an old army buddy, Mac (Winstone), who changes sides more times than a tennis ball at Wimbledon. Once the skull is found, it must be taken to a sacred place, where all of the world’s knowledge can be found. Of course, everyone knows the answer is 42. There’s a typical Indy f/x ending after several typical Indy chases.
The cast was a good one. Of course, I don’t need to tell you how important Harrison Ford is to the franchise. He is Indiana Jones, and I really can’t see anyone else in the role. During the television Young Indy shows I never really thought of that character as Indy. I really can’t say how much I hate Shia LaBeouf. Fortunately Spielberg kept him in check. He’s obnoxious and totally out of place in the story. There was speculation that they were passing the baton to the young punk actor, but if you’ve seen the film’s ending, they made it pretty clear that wasn’t what this film was about. John Hurt was wonderful as the often-addlebrained Oxley. I had some reservations about Cate Blanchett as the villain, but she pretty much won me over right away. She underplays it at times, while going over the top at others. She wasn’t really a good enough nemesis for Indy, but that wasn’t Blanchett’s fault at all. Ray Winstone was pretty much the comic relief.
Finally, I was quite impressed with the homage to the past. Very touching moments are given to the Marcus Brody character, a fitting tribute to the late Denholm Elliott. There is a passing reference to Dad Jones, who has also passed on even though Sean Connery is still with us. Connery apparently considered coming out of retirement to play a small part but decided against it. He gave the required “if I was going to come out of retirement it would have been for these guys”. Still, he turned the part down, and the story was rewritten. There is even an homage to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles as Indy tells Mutt the story of being kidnapped by and then riding with Poncho Villa. It was particularly nice to see Karen Allen back as Marian. She was arguably the best of the Indy girls. None of these moments take away from the current story and provide a much needed connection for the rest of us. Well done, indeed.
Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio. The ultra-high-definition image presentations are brought about by HEVC codecs at bitrates between 50 and 70 mbps. 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 these films were carefully preserved, and care was taken with the transfers. Everything is improved over the Blu-ray collection here. Colors really pop where they hadn’t before. The black levels likely demonstrate the greatest leap forward in quality. It’s actually not a surprise that the greatest improvements come from the first three films, with colors popping most in Temple of Doom. Texture is also off the charts. Indiana’s hat looks great. Facial close-ups also benefit tremendously from the 4K releases. There’s so much detail there, and you can almost see Indiana aging from film to film with an extra line here a bit of gray on the stubble there. It’s worth cashing in for these.
The Atmos tracks default to really solid 7.1 mixes. 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. I was greatly impressed by the rolling boulder scene. That’s juiced up a bit, I believe. Dialog is delightfully well placed.
There are no new extras here. There is a fifth disc which is Blu-ray and is the same bonus disc that came with the Blu-ray collection.
They’ve just started shooting on the final Indiana Jones film and the first one since Disney took over Lucasfilm. I have mixed emotions. After watching Robert DeNiro kicking a guy looking like classic Bobby D but moving like 100 year-old senile DeNiro, I hope Harrison Ford can maintain the Indiana Jones stature throughout. I know there’s going to be flashbacks with Ford de-aged, and I hope these guys do better than Scorsese did. These films on UHD are just the thing to get us through the wait. I’m worried Spielberg isn’t directing, but very happy George Lucas doesn’t have anything to do with it. Paramount is doing a great job of bringing their library to 4K. (But where is the Godfather Trilogy? Just saying.) If you have already picked up these films in 4K, “You have chosen wisely.”