The Adventures of Indiana Jones
January 1, 2002
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina, Wolf Kahler, Anthony Higgins, Vic Tablian, Don Fellows, William Hootkins, Bill Reimbold, Fred Sorenson, Patrick Durkin, Kate Capshaw, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Roy Chiao, Jonathan Ke Quan, David Yip, Ric Young, Chua Kah Joo, Rex Ngui, Philip Tan, Dan Aykroyd, Dr. Akio Mitamura, Michael Yama, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, River Phoenix, Michael Byrne, Kevork Malikyan, Robert Eddison, Richard Young, Alexei Sayle, Alex Hyde-White, Paul Maxwell, Isla Blair, ,
Finally, one of the holy grails for DVD fans has become available: the Indiana Jones trilogy has arrived. Each film has been given its own disc, featuring remastered video and audio, with a fourth disc of supplemental material assembled and produced by DVD producer, Laurent Bouzereau. Ever since it was announced, there has been a lot of anticipation for this box set. How does it rate compared to other special edition sets out on the market?
First off, there are the movies themselves. Revisiting them after all these years it is interesting to see what elements still work and what ones are dated. As Indy puts it, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” The good news is that the folks at Lucasfilms have gone over the prints of each movie and cleaned them up digitally (look close and you will no longer be able to see the pane of glass that protects Harrison Ford from the cobra in Raiders of the Lost Ark). Thankfully, this is the extent of the digital work. Lucas and Spielberg have kept their grubby paws of these films and not toned down the violence or given the wonderfully dated special effects a CGI facelift. The transfers of each film look flawless; they are clear of any specks of dirt or other blemishes. The soundtracks have also been overhauled. Fans can now enjoy John Williams’ rousing scores on aggressive, THX-approved 5.1 surround soundtracks.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) follows Indiana Jones (Ford) as he traverses the globe, from South America to Nepal to Cairo, in search of the Ark of the Covenant. Along the way, he hooks up with Marion (Allen), his feisty love interest and enlists the help of his trusty friend, Sallah (Rhys-Davies), to beat the Nazis to the Ark.
Raiders is the first and still the best film of the trilogy. Ford’s portrayal of Indy is multi-layered with comedic, romantic and heroic elements all rolled into one character. Indy has his flaws but ultimately he gets the job done. Raiders also features the best leading lady with Karen Allen who is easily Ford’s equal. Marion can drink large men under the table and save Indy’s life when it matters. The pacing is fast but not as frenetic as today’s films. There are lulls where the audience can catch its breath and exposition is conveyed. In many respects, it is one of the best homages to the pulpy serials of the 1930s.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) actually takes place before the events depicted in Raiders and finds Indy deep in the jungles of India. He is enlisted by the elders of a small village to rescue their missing children from working in coalmines controlled by the deadly Thuggee cult.
Temple of Doom is widely regarded as the weakest film of the trilogy and with good reason. This time around, Indy is saddled with Willie Scott (Capshaw) who spends most of her screen time either whining or screaming in fright. The film also treads the fine line of racism by portraying the people of India as noble, impoverished savages that must be saved by the cultured white man. In attempt to outdo the stunts in Raiders, Temple of Doom ups the ante but it comes across as a bit of overkill. The film lacks Raiders’ heart and soul.
Taking the criticisms of Temple of Doom to heart, Lucas and Spielberg returned to the fun, playful tone of Raiders with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). This time around, Indy is searching for the Holy Grail and not only has to contend with those pesky Nazis again, but also his hard-to-impress father (Connery).
The dynamic between Ford and Connery is what makes Last Crusade work so well and what also makes it so watchable. To see two living legends of cinema share the same screen space together is magical. Lucas and Spielberg also brought back Marcus Brody (Elliot) and Sallah which restores the feeling of Raiders. In many respects, Last Crusade brings everything back full circle and was the perfect way to end the trilogy.
First things first: no audio commentaries were done for the trilogy. While Lucas was all for it (see the Star Wars prequel DVDs), Spielberg nixed them in lieu of an extensive documentary. All of the extra material can be found on a fourth DVD.
“Indiana Jones: Making the Trilogy” is an impressive two-hour documentary that covers all three films in detail. Bouzereau went out and interviewed anyone who had anything to do with the films. He even interviewed the usually unattainable Harrison Ford and Sean Connery—a real coup for Bouzereau.
The documentary can be viewed in its entirety or broken up into separate chunks for each film. As expected, Raiders is given the most weight as Lucas, Spielberg, Ford, et al talk about their recollections making this landmark movie. Lucas had the idea for Indy before he made Star Wars. Spielberg wanted to do a James Bond kind of film but Lucas sold him on the idea of an archaeologist. Karen Allen talks about how she was cast for the film and her take on the character of Marion. One of the real treats for fans of the film is rare footage of a screen test between Tom Selleck and Sean Young who rehearse a scene as Indy and Marion! There is also some fantastic archival footage from the various locations and sets on the movie.
Reading between the lines of the interviews in the Temple of Doom segment, one gets the impression that everyone involved regards this film as their least favourite. Spielberg sheepishly says at one point that the best thing that came out of the film was that he met his wife. The starting point for the film was the chance for Lucas and Spielberg to use all of the action set pieces that were cut out of Raiders (like the river rafting and mine car chase) and put them into this film. Lucas was going through a divorce at the time and this resulted in a much darker film (which also explains why the film’s heroine is abused so much throughout). Kate Capshaw, in a nice bit of candor, even addresses the weaknesses of her character.
Lucas’ initial idea for the Last Crusade was a haunted castle and the quest for the Holy Grail. Spielberg wanted to flesh out Indy’s relationship with his father and so they convinced Sean Connery to come aboard. The real treat of this segment is to see the veteran actor talk eloquently about his take on playing Indy’s dad and how he changed the character from Lucas’ original ideas. There is also some nice archival footage of the late River Phoenix talking on the set about his approach to playing a younger version of Harrison Ford.
The DVD also includes four featurettes. “The Stunts of Indiana Jones” is an 11-minute look at the extensive stuntwork that was done for the trilogy. This was before the days of CGI and all the hair-raising action set pieces—including the famous scene in Raiders where Indy climbs under a truck and is then dragged behind it—were done with actual stuntmen and no digital trickery.
“The Sound of Indiana Jones” examine Ben Burtt’s innovative sound effects for the films. Instead of using a stock sound library, he built his own by going out into the world and using organic sounds, like firing off hundreds of guns in different locations for the gun sounds in the movies.