Originally conceived in 1973 by a notably less wealthy George Lucas, the character eventually known as Indiana Jones paid tribute to the action-packed serials of seventy-odd years ago. Everyone's favorite globetrotting archaeologist would eventually become the star of four films directed by Steven Spielberg, which were met with various levels of acclaim and considerable box office success. The first three films were originally released on DVD several times during the last decade (including two trilogy boxed sets and three stand-alone releases), while the newer Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2008. This new Complete Adventures Blu-Ray collection is not only the first attempt to herd together all four productions, but it's the first time the original three have been released on the format. Brief summaries of all four films are provided below and a technical review of the boxed set follows.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is our first introduction to the boulder-dodging, snake-hating, artifact-collecting man's man. His name is Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones and he's searching for the sacred Ark of the Covenant...and so are the Nazis, just to make things interesting. He's aided by fiery former girlfriend Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), colleague Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and, of course, his trusty bullwhip. Nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and winner of four, Raiders of the Lost Ark stands as one of the most successful films of all time---especially considering it was made for only $20M in 73 days, although Spielberg often did his best work under such constraints (Duel, Sugarland Express). Peppered with ingenious effects by Industrial Light and Magic, Raiders still looks very impressive from start to finish. The strong performances, stirring score and well-paced story make Raiders a dynamic film that could've stood on its own two feet perfectly---but the adventure doesn't end there, of course. Most films that rake in nearly $400M in box office receipts will be called back for an encore or three.
Temple of Doom (1984) is set roughly a year before Raiders and follows our hero from the streets of Shanghai to a remote Indian village after a plane crash. The village's sacred Sankara stone and all of the local children have gone missing, with all signs pointing to a mysterious cult led by the ruthless Mola Ram (Amrish Puri). Flanked by the beautiful Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Indy's young friend Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), Temple of Doom is easily the most disturbing of the four adventures...and the weakest of the first three, though not without plenty of action and suspense. It's also notable for contributing to the creation of the PG-13 rating, along with Spielberg's own Gremlins that same year. Overall, Doom is a capable film and certainly worth watching...but after Raiders, was there anywhere to go but down?
The Last Crusade (1989) takes place about two years after the events of Raiders and pairs a reluctant Indiana with his estranged father, Henry Sr. (Sean Connery). Kidnapped by those dastardly Nazis while pursuing the Holy Grail (which promises eternal life to those who drink from it), the elder Dr. Jones' diary eventually finds its way to Indiana. This time around, the famed adventurer is joined by his mentor Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) to complete the task of finding his father...and of course, the sacred relic. The temptation of acquiring the Grail and the true allegiance of certain party members---not to mention the entertaining relationship between father and son---makes The Last Crusade a rousing follow-up to Doom and a terrific adventure in its own right. Those new to the series should find it a satisfying "conclusion" to the story...even if it's really not, technically.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is a sequel that very few people asked for but we got anyway--- and, in my opinion, it's unfairly maligned. This adventure takes place in 1957 (identical to the real passage of time since Crusade) where an aging Indy has apparently hung up the hat and whip to focus on teaching. Like most hastily-written sequels, however, our hero is reluctantly called back to action: he's now competing against the Soviets, led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), for the discovery of a mysterious crystal skull of alien origin. For obvious reasons, Kingdom has a bit more of a sci-fi twist than past installments and it's here where many took issue; after all, most folks don't like change. It's still loaded with fine visuals (though a bit too reliant on CGI), great music, plenty of action and enjoyable characters, including Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and the returning Marion Ravenwood. The waterfall rafting, monkey vines and fridge nuking are over-the-top, but stranger things have happened.
Much like the well-received DVD boxed set from 2003, this new Complete Adventures collection serves up each film on its own Blu-Ray and a bonus disc filled with supplements from all four adventures. It's not without a few minor faults, but this is a must-own collection that fans will have a blast digging through.
Video & Audio Quality
Paramount has established a strong track record with the A/V quality of catalog titles and The Complete Adventures is no exception. In short, this is a near-perfect visual presentation of four movies that all deserve to look great. Raiders has been given the most attention and it absolutely sparkles with detail and texture at every turn. The film's color palette seems notably warmer than the previous DVD release, but this looks to be a reflection of the original theatrical appearance and, in my eyes, only enhances the film's rugged locales. Temple and Crusade also look immaculate (especially the latter), while Kingdom sports a modern sheen with very little to complain about. All four 2.35:1 transfers are blessed with a fine layer of natural film grain, rock-solid black levels and no digital imperfections to speak of. Overall, this is a remarkable presentation that fans should appreciate and enjoy. An inspired effort from Paramount.
NOTE: This review's screen caps were taken from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
As strong as the visuals are, Paramount's audio presentation is even better. Raiders and Crusade both won (or were nominated for) multiple sound-related Academy Awards---and the other two films sound fantastic too, which translates to the home theater setting quite nicely. These DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks---also available in lossy Spanish, French or Portuguese dubs---feature crisp dialogue, a wide soundstage and plenty of tasteful rear channel activity that places viewers squarely in the middle of the action. John Williams' excellent score gets perhaps the biggest boost, as it sounds uniformly full and dynamic when appropriate. I could literally find nothing audio-related to complain about during any of these four films, so it's not surprising that The Complete Adventures earns a 100% perfect rating.
Optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are included for all films and applicable extras. It's always nice to see attention paid to this area, especially on a major release.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
These five discs feature simple, classy menus with relatively fast loading times. They're not far from the style of past DVD collections, favoring a slightly worn appearance and animated highlights from the films and bonus features. Seen above, the attractive and space-saving Digibook case captures the Indy
atmosphere perfectly---and what's more, it's got a nice matte finish that helps to resist fingerprints and smudging. The only drawback to this design, unfortunately, is that the discs might get a little smudged when they're removed from the pages, but at least they're in there tightly. My only other complaint is that while the pages are attractive, there's no separate content listing for any of the discs (including the bonus features). Either way, I've always been a sucker for Digibooks, so a hearty thumbs up overall.
Most of what's come before, plus one new supplement for good measure. The new extras lead off with "On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark"
(1080p, 58 minutes total), a fascinating collection of vintage clips from the film's original production. It's assembled smartly and includes on-set activity and interviews with key cast/crew members, as well as several outtakes, bloopers and deleted scene clips mixed in. Divided into "From Jungle to Desert" (30 minutes) and "From Adventure to Legend" (28 minutes), both are well worth watching and paint a brief but layered account of the international filming experience.
The remaining extras are ported over from past DVD releases, and they've been divided into two parts. "Making the Films" includes five Behind the Scenes Documentaries (29-58 minutes apiece); one per film, with an extra vintage documentary for Raiders. They're fascinating accounts in their own right and largely retrospective in nature, loaded with more on-set footage and interviews with key cast and crew members. They're presented in a mixture of aspect ratios and resolutions, but all are worth a look.
"Behind the Scenes" contains a generous assortment of short Featurettes from the earlier trilogy and stand-alone releases. These include "The Stunts", "The Sounds", "The Music" and "The Light & Magic" (11-13 minutes each), "The Melting Face" (8 minutes), "Creepy Crawlies" (12 minutes), "Locations" (10 minutes), "Indy's Women" (9 minutes) and "Friends & Enemies" (10 minutes). Crystal Skull is given much less attention with only "Iconic Props" (10 minutes), "The Effects" (23 minutes) and "Adventures in Post Production" (13 minutes). The latter three are presented in 1080p while everything else is in 480p.
Also included on each respective disc is a collection of Teasers and Trailers, all presented in 1080p. Overall, this is certainly a nice mix of extras, but a number of supplements from the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray have not been ported over, including a 90-minute production diary. Having never owned the film on disc before, I can't miss what I never had...but those with older releases might want to keep them around.
If you have a soft spot for action and adventure films, you're obviously a fan of Indiana Jones and his daring international exploits. From the groundbreaking Raiders of the Lost Ark to the divisive Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this successful franchise has enjoyed enduring popularity for over 30 years. This Blu-Ray boxed set doesn't dig as deep as, say, Alien Anthology (aren't we spoiled?), but Indy fans should definitely appreciate the near-perfect A/V presentation, sharp packaging and treasure trove of bonus features. Though the price tag's a bit stiff for a five-disc set, Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures is a worthy effort that will undoubtedly leave you grinning like a kid again. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.