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Series


The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones is a strange series comparable to both television serialization and standard theatrical films. I never watched the show when it originally aired, so my personal analysis here is only going to be in reference to this third DVD collection, which includes ‘chapters’ sixteen through twenty two. Simple wikipedia.org research tells me that these chapters are presented in chronological order rather then airing order, and that all but two of them were originally presented as two, forty-five minute episodes, which makes total sense in hindsight.

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 3
This collection takes place between the years of 1917 and 1920, mostly pertaining to the winding up of World War I, where Young Indiana is working undercover for the French Foreign Legion. The idea behind the series is that of edutainment rather than Saturday morning serial throw-back. This is my initial and lasting issue with the entire series—I was expecting a smaller scale version of the Indiana Jones film series, not a supernatural light historical lesson. My expectations aside, Indy’s meetings with history’s greatest all-stars is convoluted, and a little bit like playing ‘Where in Time is Carmen San Diego’ or watching an episode of Mr. Peabody, but once you get into the groove it’s actually a rather effective way to learn a bit of world history.

I am introduced to the world of Young Indiana Jones through Tales of Innocence, which is unfortunately the weakest chapter of the bunch. The first half sees Indy delicately balancing an undercover mission convincing WWI Germans to defect, and a pretty Italian lassie with multiple beaus. Indy starts putting more thought into the man giving his intended better gifts than his mission, when he happens upon a young ambulance driver named Ernie Hemingway, who offers his hand in the matter. In this half Indy learns the age old lesson of bros before hos. The second half is an even more sedate look at love where Indy and an aging Edith Wharton spend a whole lot of time together in Morocco.

Chapter two, Masks of Evil is more like it, starting with a super-stylized noir tale, in which Indy, posing as a Swedish journalist, is given important espionage information right before discovering that there is a trader among his allies. Meanwhile, a paranoid Jones asks a missionary to marry him. It doesn’t end well, and soon he finds himself whisked away to Romania on special assignment. In the only supernaturally tinged section of this entire set, Indy and his fellow agents face off against the evil of Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula to his friends.

Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye is one of two episodes that almost feels like a cohesive whole rather then two halves. It’s also the only episode in this entire collection (which is my only knowledge of the series) that involves the usual Indiana Jones staples of daring do in the name of treasure hunting. This chapter sees Indy and his pleasantly plump Belgian buddy Remy seeking out a giant diamond at the close of World War I. After months of misadventure the pair end up shipwrecked on a New Guinea-ish island where they meet Dr. Bronislaw Malinowski. Malinowski and Indy have a heart to heart where he decides that chasing jewellery to the ends of the earth simply isn’t worth the trouble.

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 3
Winds of Change is one of the most convoluted chapters, but it has a more filmic feel, and takes a controversial political stance. Through the magic of screenwriting, Indy gets a job as a translator for the United States during the post-WWI peace talks, where he watches French Premier George Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George and United States President Woodrow Wilson ream the Germans. Between talks Indy lunches with super lefties Gertrude Bell, Arnold Toynbee, and Lawrence of Arabia. The episode takes are pretty distinct stance on the guilt of the Allied powers, in ignoring Ho Chi Min, lying to the Arab nations, and decimating the Germans, thus leaving the country ripe for Hitler’s plucking—pretty heady stuff for info-attainment.

In the second half of Winds of Change Indy finally finds his way back home, where he’s coldly and harshly greeted by his father (actor Lloyd Owen fortunately doesn’t do a hammy Sean Connery impersonation). This seems to be an important moment in the Indiana Jones mythos, because I’m assuming it’s the last time Indy and his father see each other before the adventures of the Last Crusade.

Mystery of the Blues is a slightly heavy-handed look at jazz and racism in the era, but features more soon to be stars then any episode on the set. The cast includes Jeffrey Wright as Sidney Bichet, Jay Underwood revising his role as Ernest Hemingway (now a news man in Chicago), Keith David as King Oliver, and Nicholas Turturro as Al Capone. That piano player is Damon, not Forrest Whitaker. Of course, the biggest surprise is a cameo by Harrison Ford, as older Indy, who frames the story. This was to be Ford’s only participation with the entire series, apparently.

The chapter isn’t as evenly divided into halves as others in the collection, but the gangster murder case plot definitely feels separate from the jazz/racism plot. Though it is again, quite convoluted, the series writers must be given credit for winding together Indy, Ernie Hemingway, Eliot Ness, and Al Capone into a cohesive narrative. With the exception of the embarrassing scenes of Sean Patrick Flanery pretending to play an alto sax, this may’ve been my favourite episode in the collection. The dialogue is really witty (screenwriter and originator of the screwball comedy Ben Hecht is a character and inspiration), and there are several laugh out loud moments.

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 3
The Scandal of 1920 is a cute chapter, but quite light weight following the hefty drama of Winds of Change and thick comedy of Mystery of the Blues. In this, the most ‘chick-flicky’ chapter young Indiana meets three different girls upon his arrival in New York City—and singer looking to break into Broadway, a haughty-taughty intellectual, and a high society aristocrat. Scoring a job behind the Broadway curtain complicates matters. Scandal of 1920 is a one-parter, and the shortest chapter, culminating in a big staged finally where Indy learns that falling for more then one girl may be too much trouble.

The final chapter, seemingly ever,  The Hollywood Follies ends things on an up and buoyant note. Indy is sent to Hollywood by film icon Carl Laemmle to force maverick director Erich von Stroheim to complete his movie Foolish Wives within ten days or close down the filming. Indy is promised a $300 now bonus if he succeeds. When he gets to Hollywood he joins forces with producer Irving Thalberg and writer Claire Leebrum, the later of which he (of course) falls in love with. When Stoheim proves impossible to overcome, Indy is forced to take a job working as an assistant for a young Jack (John) Ford. The rest of the episode is basically an ode to the directorial prowess of Ford, and ends with a nice homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark’s truck chase.

Video


Multi-million dollar television series aren’t unheard of in 2008, CSI], Lost, and many HBO original series regularly top one million dollars per episode. According to wikipedia Young Indiana Jones usually topped 1.5 million per episode, which was pretty strange in the mid ‘90s, especially for a show that didn’t have great numbers. The series does look expensive, and features some state of the art special effects (George Lucas used the series to test effects methods), but the cost was cut by filming on 16mm film, which creates a few minor problems for this DVD release.

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 3
Mostly this is a colourful and clear transfer, but the age and stock makes for an overall softness, especially in wide and medium shots (close-ups look pretty good). The compositions appear flat when the lighting isn’t overtly stylized or high in contrast. Fedora brown is a common colour throughout every episode, and sometimes these shake a bit with greens and blues. Warm colours also have a tendency to bleed a bit into backgrounds. Blacks aren’t quite perfect, but they add definition to some of the flatter shots. Also, if you look really, really close at some of my screencaps you can see a thin light yellow strip running down the left side of the frame. This is the most prominent artefact in the collection.

Audio


It’s called Dolby Surround, and it reads as Pro-Logic on my screen, but this is effectively a stereo track. This isn’t unexpected, as mid-‘90s television isn’t known for its engulfing surround production, though with all the effort put into the extras, and George Lucas’ penchant for fiddling, it wouldn’t have been a shock to hear a 5.1 remix. The track is clear, and without discernable distortion, but the mixing can be a little uneven, giving dialogue the benefit over effects and music. The trench warfare beginning of Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye is probably the most impressive sound in the collection, though the jazz and blues of Mystery of the Blues is effective as well, almost creating the effective of actual live music.

The series score, much to my surprise, only took cues from John Williams’ original film music for one episode (when Harrison Ford fights at the end of Mystery of the Blues). Laurence Rosenthal theme takes pieces from Williams’ theme, but is generally more simplified, almost as if Young Indiana Jones hasn’t quite earned those extra notes yet.

Extras


This set comes as a huge surprise. I had no idea these collections were so monumental until I loaded the first disc. The educational value of the episodes is, not surprisingly, a bit middling, but each acts as a sufficient jumping off point for further study. Before these discs surfaced we’d have to take a trip to the library, blindly grope about the internet, or just pray that the History Channel happened to feature a special on the subject. Now, thanks to a lot of hard work, we have our episodes and historical documentaries all in one place.

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 3
The Young Indiana Jones timeline is one that makes these docs especially informative for yours truly, as I’m pretty unfamiliar with the World War 1 era, especially the ins and outs of the Arabian sections of the war (everything not covered in Lawrence of Arabia, of course). I’m already running late on this review, and that the titles speak for themselves, so I’m not going to review each of the 31 featurettes. Instead I’m just going to assure everyone that these are high quality productions, which move briskly without sacrificing any of the important facts. Here’s a listing of the featurettes and the chapter they pertain too. Each doc runs somewhere between 20 and 35 minutes, and will apparently be shown on the History channel soon.

Disc One: Tales of Innocence

Unhealed Wounds: The Life of Ernest Hemingway
The Secret Life of Edith Wharton
Lowell Thomas: American Storyteller
The French Foreign Legion: The World's Most Legendary Fighting Force

Disc Two: Masks of Evil

For the People Despite the People: The Ataturk Revolution
The Greedy Heart of Halide Edib
Dracula: Fact and Fiction
The Ottoman Empire: A World of Difference

Disc Three: Treasure of the Peacock's Eye

Bronislaw Malinowski: God Professor
Anthropology: Looking at the Human Condition
New Guinea: Paradise in Peril

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 3
Disc Five (the extras are on their own disc): Winds of Change

Woodrow Wilson: American Idealist
Gertrude Bell: Iraq's Uncrowned Queen
Ho Chi Minh: The Price of Freedom
Paul Robeson: Scandalize My Name
Robert Goddard: Mr. Rocket Science
The Best Intentions: The Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles

Disc Seven (again, the extras are on their own disc): Mystery of the Blues

Al "Scarface" Capone: The Original Gangster
Ben Hecht: Shakespeare of Hollywood
On the Trail of Eliot Ness
Louis Armstrong: Ambassador of Jazz
Jazz: Rhythms of Freedom
Prohibition: America on the Rocks
Hellfighters: Harlem's Heroes of World War One

Disc Eight: The Scandal of 1920

Tin Pan Alley: Soundtrack of America
Broadway: America Center Stage
Wonderful Nonsense: The Algonquin Roundtable

Disc Nine: The Hollywood Follies

Erich von Stroheim: The Profligate Genius
The World of John Ford
Irving Thalberg: Hollywood's Boy Wonder
The Rise of the Moguls: The Men Who Built Hollywood

Disc ten features a DVD-Rom game and DVD-Rom ‘Interactive Timeline’. Both are fun but not exactly meaty extras. The entire set is finished off with a historical lecture entitled ‘New Gods for Old’, which pans over the larger historical issues of the era in about a one hour period. The lecture covers some of the same ground as the featurettes, but doesn’t repeat much, and actually fill in a couple blanks.

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Volume 3

Overall


I come to this series almost entirely blind, and slowly built a real affection for the actors and edutainment story telling style. The show isn’t one I’m thinking I’ll revisit any time soon, but the collections thirty-one historical featurettes may find their way back into the player for a refresher in the not to distant future. The set is pretty damn pricy, but it’s more worth the extra scratch then the painfully overpriced HBO season collections, even if the show isn’t quite as good.


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