It was in the late 70's that George Lucas offered Steven Spielberg the idea of doing a film based upon old Saturday matinee serials. Watching it again on DVD, one is struck once again by the power of practical effects. While we currently live in an age where computer effects allow filmmakers to show us just about anything, there's something about a reliance upon practical effects that seems to inspire the best. Their near-cheesiness at times is also charming (see also: Sam Raimi's "Army of Darkness"). Watching it, one also wonders when Harrison Ford lost his sense of humor.
As if anyone wasn't already familiar, Ford stars as Indiana Jones, professor of archaeology by day and archaeologist pretty much every other moment of the day, searching across the globe for precious artifacts. The first scene is one of the most famous in action movie history, as, when trying to retrieve one particular artifact, Dr. Jones is met with a two-ton boulder rolling down to greet him.
After a short rest where we see Indy in his day job, we find out the quest: the Nazis are after the Ark of the Covenant, which would give its holder the ultimate power. Indy manages to find a piece that will lead him towards it in the hands of ex-girlfriend Marion (Karen Allen), but unfortunately, rival Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) is also on their tail.
"Raiders" - along with the other "Jones" pictures - is a great deal of fun, not only because of the classic staging of some of the scenes and the humor, but because everyone involved seems to be having a great time, which rubs off on the audience. As for the humor, there's many classic moments, such as when Indy and his sidekick (John Rhys-Davies) peer into a tomb, only to find snakes. "Asps. Very dangerous." says Sallah (Davies) to Indy, whose only weakness and most popular hatred seems to be snakes. Sallah then turns to his friend and dryly states, "You go first." Ford's deadpan sense of humor, never stronger than in this series (and it really hasn't returned much since) is certainly one of the best elements of the three films. I can't imagine the original choice for the series - Tom Selleck - being the same sort of success in the role as Ford.
Perfectly paced and backed by a classic John Williams score, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" still stands up surprisingly well years later. Ford is still perfect and the movie's mix of humor, action and globe-hopping excitement is easy to get swept up in.
Available only in the "Trilogy" 4-DVD box set.
VIDEO: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is THX-Certified. The picture quality is surprisingly good, with few concerns at all. Sharpness and detail are first-rate; while the picture doesn't have a modern slickness, definition is still quite pleasing.
The boxes claim that the films have been meticulously restored and remastered and this is certainly one case where it appears to be true. Slight intentional grain is visible on occasion, but pretty rarely. No noticable specks or marks are seen on the print of "Raiders", either. A few trace instances of edge enhancement were spotted, but were hardly an issue. With no supplements on the disc (all the supplements are on disc 4), there were no compression artifacts to be seen, either.
The film's naturalistic, dark color palette was accurately presented here, with no concerns. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. "Raiders", overall, looked superb.
SOUND: "Raiders" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. For a film that is now over 20 years old, it sounds awfully good. Although the surrounds were not originally presented discretely, the film now boasts a surprising amount of rear channel activity in this new mix. While some of it does stand out as being a bit too artificial, the majority of the surround use is effective and adds to the enjoyment. Sound quality is also thrilling; the audio is enjoyably dynamic and full-sounding. Dialogue remains crisp and clear, while sound effects are well-recorded and clean. The John Williams score has never sounded better. While this won't become audio demo material for home theater fans, fans of the film will likely be pleased at how this soundtrack has been repurposed successfully.
EXTRAS: All of the extras are on the fourth disc of the set.
Final Thoughts: Intelligent, witty and still just as entertaining, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is a marvelous adventure. The film has been given a superb DVD presentation, with excellent audio/video quality. Again, it is only available as part of the "Trilogy" 4-DVD box set.