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Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Blu-ray Review)

19 Sep, 2012 By: John Latchem

$99.99 five-disc Blu-ray set
Not rated.
Stars Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Connery, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, Kate
Capshaw, Jonathan Quan, Alison Doody, Julian Glover, John Hurt, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent.

Conceived as an homage to classic adventure serials, the “Indiana Jones” films are rich with elements that have pervaded popular culture.

The formula, not unlike a Bond movie, is relatively simple: After an extended opening action sequence, noted archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), aided by an array of sidekicks, must find a sacred ancient relic imbued with supernatural powers before the forces of evil can get their hands on it, often leading to an endless series of chases, fights and surviving the challenges of booby-trapped temples.

Think of all the classic moments just from the first film, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, such as that final shot of the cavernous warehouse, or when Indy is confronted with the prospect of dueling a swordsman and simply shoots the man (a scene improvised on set when Ford was too sick to film a lengthy fight scene).

After Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, the franchise had become legendary, even without the extraneous addition of 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and its dubious sequence of Indy surviving a nuclear explosion by jumping into a refrigerator.

The iconic costumes, exotic locales and memorable one-liners, all underscored by John Williams’ incredible music, are ingrained in film lore. The name Indiana Jones has become so synonymous with adventure that it came as little surprise when the character wound up as No. 2 on AFI’s list of top movie heroes.

The first three films benefit from the brashness of youth, not only in the sense of the title character but also the filmmakers bringing the action to the screen. Director Steven Spielberg and writer-producer George Lucas finished Raiders and Temple before they were 40, fueled by the kind of cockiness that comes from making the biggest moneymakers of all time (E.T. and Star Wars) up to that point. Temple of Doom was darker and more uneven than its predecessor, but Last Crusade, while an acknowledgement the constraints of age were setting in, maintained the winning spirit of the series, even if it added a bit too much comic relief.

When the creative team revisited the franchise for a fourth film 19 years after the third, the result very much feels weighed down by the passage of time, with veteran filmmakers going through the motions of re-creating the formula but no longer able to infuse it with the wild sense of fun that comes with, as Indy would say, making it up as they go.

This collection represents the Blu-ray debut for the first three films, and the high-definition transfer has done wonders for them. The colors are vivid and the detail is tremendous (the famous Easter Egg of the hieroglyphs of R2-D2 and C-3PO is plainly visible as Indy and Sallah remove the stone from the Ark in Raiders). The only downside is the way high-def exposes some of the older visual effects techniques, most notably the airplane chase in Last Crusade, which is marred by visible matte lines. Since cleaning this up would probably require re-doing the effects to a degree (a la the “Star Wars” special editions), a lot of film purists will probably be glad they are presented as is, though the perfectionist in me wonders what the result would have been with some minimal enhancements, though the perfectionist in me wonders what the result would have been with some minimal enhancements.

The only one of the four that had previously been available on Blu-ray is Crystal Skull, released as a two-disc set that included production documentaries on both discs. Curiously, rather than port over the Crystal Skull Blu-ray with a new label, the disc has been re-engineered to match the menu style for the collection, while stripping it of any extras aside from the film-specific trailers included on all the discs.

The collection’s bonus disc includes much of the material that had been included with previous DVDs, such as making-of featurettes (though the Crystal Skull making-of is a half-hour amalgam of the various production diaries that ran about two hours on the original Blu-ray).

Among the DVD content that is missing here are introductions to the first three films by Spielberg and Lucas, pre-visualization sequences, storyboard comparisons, photo galleries, several Crystal Skull featurettes and the trailer for the Lego Indiana Jones video game. It’s probably enough for collectors not to want to toss out their old DVDs just yet.

Also not included is the 10-minute vintage Raiders of the Lost Ark featurette that was released on DVD as a Best Buy exclusive. However, the Blu-ray does include an hour-long vintage featurette from 1981 about the making of Raiders that is new to disc.

New as well is the documentary On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark, featuring 58 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage filmed during production of the first film, inter-spliced with outtakes and snippets of deleted scenes (fans will get a kick out of finally seeing Indy lashed to the Nazi submarine’s periscope during the ride to the island, ultimately removed when the montage in the final film implies the sub never dived). The raw footage is fascinating in the way it reveals not only the filmmaking process but also some candid thoughts from the filmmakers.

While the extras may not be as new as fans might like, or include things such as true deleted scenes, the set is still a must-own for anyone who appreciates the history of cinema.

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