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We’re all entirely familiar with the Indiana Jones trilogy, and we know this three-disc re-release is just a cash in aimed at folks excited for the new theatrical release Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’m sure most of us know a Blu-ray release will be the next step sometime this winter. I won’t waste too much time reviewing the movies, and I promise my feelings will not be hurt if you skip over this section of my review.

Indiana Jones Adventure Collection

Raiders of the Lost Ark


Indiana Jones’ first theatrical adventure is still his best, and Raiders of the Lost Ark is still a quintessential American movie. This isn’t something future generations are going to revisit with a particularly critical eye, and come back telling all us old folks we were wrong about. The film’s imagery has be indelibly etched in the minds of everyone that’s seen it, ensuring that we never look at a particularly round boulder, cobra snake, bull whip, fedora, or date eating monkey the same way ever again.

Raiders balances the scales of homage and original style better then possibly even the Star Wars trilogy. Spielberg fills the screen with iconic images that we now take for granted, especially those of us who first saw the film as children. If one were to stop and contemplate the various booby traps Harrison Ford and Alfred Molina contend with at the beginning of the film we might question the now classic scene. Is there anything in the historical record to say that ancient people set deadly traps around their most prized relics? It doesn’t matter, because a much beloved trope is born out of the sequence, in effect becoming its own historical record. Raiders is also one of the only ‘golden age’ Spielberg films that handles humour as well as action, though, of course, a lot of that credit must go to his actors.

Indiana Jones Adventure Collection

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


I know it’s a film geek cliché, but I don’t really like Temple of Doom. It’s not because the film is darker than Raiders, or bloodier (both films are pretty R-rated in my book), or even because Short Round is an unbelievably obnoxious sidekick. Even the casual racism is pretty amusing. Temple of Doom is simply not a magical film. The jokes all fall flat, the plot is contrived even by Indiana Jones standards, and the villains and supporting characters are thinly sketched, especially when compared to the colourful rogues of the first instalment. My number one complaint is the matter of Kate Capshaw’s annoying performance, which is made only more inadequate when watched back to back with Karen Allen’s pitch perfect portrayal of Marion Ravenwood. I understand that this wasn’t entirely Capshaw’s fault, and I know she gets a lot of flack, but it’s still a terrible character.

Temple of Doom also transpires so far outside the world of the other two films it often seems entirely unrelated. I understand that it’s suppose to be a prequel, but Indy’s search for ‘fortune and glory’, despite already having his PhD sort of spits in the face of the character’s most intriguing traits. In every other movie (so far) and the television series (if we’re counting that as canon), Indiana Jones seeks treasures for archaeological satisfaction, not for the money. Indiana Jones also involves himself in adventures because ht wants to do what’s right, not because a bunch of natives have guilted him into it.

There are a few things that still work in the film’s favour, namely the action and the colourful sets and photography. After the hours of brown that was Raiders it’s nice to see some vibrant hyperrealism. The scenes taking place in the titular temple are fantastic eye-candy. The action set pieces seem to be the only part of the script anyone put any effort into, and they are pretty spectacular, especially the famous mine cart chase (which still stands up to decent scrutiny). If Temple of Doom proves anything, its that even at his worst Steven Spielberg can still direct circles around even the best action directors (some shots in the film are among the most painterly in the director’s career), and even before the digital era ILM was a force to contend with. It also proves that finding comedic inspiration in the Faces of Death movies is a bit dubious.

Indiana Jones Adventure Collection

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


Last Crusade is still a step down from Raiders, but thanks to a healthy dose of maturity and sharply crafted characters the film is in some respects the best step for the character, and a perfect finale for the series (I’m not sure where this next movie can possibly take the character from an emotional standpoint). Though not comparable on a level of artistic achievement with films like Schindler’s List and Munich, Last Crusade fits in nicely with Spielberg’s more modern output in the mature manner he now treats fantasy/action as seen in films like Minority Report, A.I., and even War of the Worlds (last act misfires included).

When watched back to back with the other two films (this marks the first time I’ve watched all three in a row like this), the softening of the violence and menace is actually pretty surprising (though the only PG-13 film in the set, it’s by far the least gory). Crusade’s violence is either played directly for laughs, or for genuine emotional impact, like when Indy’s dad is shot. Tonally Spielberg slowly cranks the film’s seriousness to ensure the climax holds the emotional impact, but this creates a sort of Catch-22, wherein Last Crusade is the only Indy film to date that drags.

Video


There has been no re-restoration here; these are the exact same discs that were released way back when. Raiders is clean and sharp, but the overall print is a bit dark. To compensate the contrast levels have been pumped a bit too high creating some unfortunate edge enhancement. Things improve once Indy leaves the dimly lit caverns and classrooms, but being the oldest of the trilogy this one does suffer a bit. Skin tones are often this side of too red, but most colours are vibrant without bleeding.

Indiana Jones Adventure Collection
Temple of Doom is overall a noticeable improvement, thanks in no small part to its more lively colour pallet, including lush forest greens, and garish sacrificial pit reds (though skin tones are still a bit too warm). Contrast levels are better, and the whites don’t flair out the frame in brighter scenes. Edge enhancement is still an issue, but less obvious. Raiders has one advantage, that of detail. Some scenes are inconsistent and a tiny bit blurred.

Last Crusade, being the newest film in the set, is another step up in quality. Detail levels are noticeably sharper, and though edge enhancement is still present, it’s far less distracting. Last Crusade follows the Raiders colour pallet more then that of Doom, so most of the pallet is ‘default WWII brown’, but the few instances of comic book colouring are bright without much noise or bleeding. Last Crusade also has the deepest black levels of the three films.

Audio


These THX certified (new THX trailer, by the way) Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are pretty ferocious in parts, but suffer a mild case of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly disease, meaning the sound effects sometimes sound unnaturally added during DVD production, not film production. Some the explosions and gunshots are so bassy it’s a little laughable, especially considering the films’ ages (though I’m mostly looking at the first two). The dialogue is crisp and clear, though some attempts to clean the track have left fluctuations in background noise during speaking. John William’s super iconic score sounds just about perfect though, ensuring that every instrument in the orchestra is fully represented and enjoyed.

Extras


You might not want to dump that old disc just yet. This new release does have technically new and different extras, but it’s almost all been covered better in that awesome three hour documentary that came with the original collection.

Indiana Jones Adventure Collection
The Raiders disc starts a seven-minute ‘introduction’, which is a kind of super short version of the Raiders section of the original doc, though with a few new interviews mixed in. It’s followed by another brief featurette shot on the set of Crystal Skull. Entitled Indy Trilogy: A Crystal Clear Appreciation, it’s a collection of short interviews with the cast and crew of the new film. The stars answer simple questions about the first time they saw the films, their favourite episodes and scenes, and so on. The disc concludes with an eight-minute featurette/re-enactment of the special effects behind the ‘melting face’, a ‘Well of Souls’ film and storyboard comparison, four still galleries, and a Lego Indiana Jones DVD--Rom demo.

The Doom disc has another introduction (about six minutes), which again encompasses the stuff previously available on that awesome original release doc. As in the case of the doc, the most intriguing thing about this general failure of a film is the fact that Spielberg was never really interested in making the movie, and rather just did what Lucas asked him too. When Spielberg isn’t interested in making a movie it always shows ( The Lost World), let’s just hope this side of him doesn’t rear itself this May.

‘The Creepy Crawlies’ is a twelve-minute featurette concerning the snake, bug and rat scenes of the original trilogy (what’s next, a room of squirming foetuses?). Again, these appear to be new interviews, but the participants said all this stuff on the previous release. A nice addition is a pop-up trivia track. I did learn the real difference between a lizard and a snake. ‘Travel with Indy’ also carries a pop-up track, and runs down exactly what you’d assume it would—the worldwide locations of the films. It lasts another ten minutes. The disc wraps up with a storyboard comparison of the mine cart chase, some galleries, and the same ‘Lego’ game demo.

Indiana Jones Adventure Collection
The Last Crusade disc starts with yet another introduction, which revels a whole bunch of how wrong Lucas was and how right Spielberg was, though again, this was on that original documentary. ‘Indy’s Women Reminisce’ is an excerpt from a roundtable discussion with all three of Indy’s leading ladies, which the title card says was recorded for the 2003 DVD release (why not attach it to that release?). The roundtable features a little bit of unseen behind the scenes footage, and runs almost ten minutes. The set’s final featurette, which actually covers a bit of information that was slightly ignored on the original doc, is entitled ‘Indy’s Friends and Enemies’. Not surprisingly the characters of Temple of Doom are glazed over because they’re so thin. The whole set ends with more storyboards, more still galleries, and another copy of the same ‘Lego’ demo.

Overall


Is it worth re-buying the adventures of Indiana Jones? No. Are the new extras totally bogus? No, not if you don’t own the original release. Will there be another release of these films, possibly in high-definition, with even more extras? I don’t think you have to be a psychic or a Paramount insider to know the answer to that question. Will Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull be any good? That remains to be seen.


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