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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Indiana Jones Trilogy (1981/1984/1989/LucasFilm/Paramount DVD)

Adventures of Indiana Jones (DVD Boxed Set)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras On Films: D     Extras DVD: B+     Picture/Sound: B- each



Raiders Of The Lost Ark   (1981)   B+

Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom   (1984)   B

Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade   (1989)   C+



It what might be called one of the “Holy Grails” of DVD sets, Paramount and Lucasfilm Ltd. finally have issued what so far is the trilogy of Indiana Jones theatrical feature films.  Previously, a special edition had been planned for the 12” LaserDisc format, but it went into decline and both parties decided to cancel the project, despite the fact that some of the extras were already finished.  Fans who were expecting an immediate DVD release were kept waiting for about four years, until now.


Some of the most diehard fans held on for years to their basic, but decent, LaserDiscs, which were the best way to view the films at home (unless you had a film print), but all three DVDs are anamorphically enhanced and offer Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 mixes for the first time that are not bad, but not quite what they could be.  Video reds are a problem on the films, very slightly improving over each feature.  Video Black is also a slight problem, especially on the first film, which does not resolve dark scenes as well as it should.  Raiders and Last Crusade also have some distortion bordering on warping of John Williams’ score in the beginning and endings of those films.  One of the disadvantages of NOT offering DTS is that these flaws get by with more compressed Dolby, THX-certified or not.  Spielberg actually is involved with DTS, but Lucas’ loyalty to Dolby stopped that from happening, even though some overseas copies supposedly offer DTS on their DVDs.


The great British Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (B.S.C., naturally), shot all three films.  They all were made to be seen on a large screen and even were all blown-up to 70mm presentations.  Last Crusade would be the last film Slocombe would ever shoot, due to declining sight, which is a far better explanation for the shots being closer medium shots throughout than the preceding installments.  In a year where even scope films looked like they were being shot TV safe for VHS home video 1.33 X 1 screens, the change makes sense.  All three do not look bad, with differences so marginal that they all get the same picture rating.  There is room for improvement, but that will not be seen until the films are available in high-definition digital video.  They are a bit better than their LaserDisc counterparts, doing a better job of presenting the Panavision-shot 2.35 X 1 frames better, but just not always as spectacular as one might want.


In comparison to restored films on DVD, Raiders cannot match another Paramount title for picture and color quality: Apocalypse Now Redux.  This is not even a matter of how much better the dye-transfer three-strip Technicolor is on Francis Coppola’s masterwork, versus Raiders Metrocolor, but there are other issues of clarity and Coppola’s film is from 1979.  Temple of Doom fares better, holding its many reds better, despite some problems.  Rank and Deluxe did the color this time, which changes the mood of the film.  It takes it from the Serial feel of the first picture, too much for some critics.  Last Crusade looks the newest, but again, only marginally.  It also is not as good as Criterion’s set of another 1989 film, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.  That may seem an odd comparison in both theme and in that Lee’s film is 1.85 X 1, but it is a comment about 35mm stocks of the time and how they can look on DVD.


Sound wise, Raiders was a pre-THX standardized 4.1 70mm magnetic stereo film.  On LaserDisc, the PCM CD Pro Logic surrounds were exceptional for that format.  Though the 5.1 mix has some more clarity, the direction of sounds is sometimes awkward and bass is not as present as it should be.  DTS would have solved that, while the slightly off surrounds cut into the naturalism of the sound design and can even be distracting.  Temple of Doom again fares better, with the best bass and directional surrounds.  This is in the same 4.1 type of sound as Raiders, but the THX upgrade and more challenging sound designs pay off.  The 5.1 rethink is the best improvement here, especially in the action sequences, like the coal car ride.  That leaves Last Crusade, which originally seems to not have been thought of as a major sound-fest, but became a 5.1 magnetic Dolby sound release in 70mm blow-ups.  Some Dolby lists only include it as if it were lame, dated Dolby-A analog, but it had split surrounds in those larger-framed prints.  The sound is even more naturalistic than its predecessors, but its lack of bass and presence in the low-end is not as good as Temple of Doom, sounding like it is being held back for no good reason.  The dialogue-based nature of the Joneses’ family reunion is no excuse for this either.  What winds up happening is that whatever one quality a soundtrack has over another; it is not as good in a different respect, so the three land up evening out on the same level too.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks when played back in Pro Logic are not as good, but make for interesting comparisons to the 5.1 just the same.


Of course, Raiders is an Action/Adventure genre classic, give or take how derivative it is.  Its influence and the number of times it has been imitated are almost obscene, including in the third installment of this series in certain respects.  However, it is a favorite, even with more mature, adult action films at that time, like one of the best James Bond films ever made: For Your Eyes Only, released the same year.  Temple of Doom was too dark for younger children, but this much darker, edgier, more Horror–oriented film was strangely offset by a lack of realism in many of the action sequences that would have never flew with audiences in the first film.  Think of the raft coming out of the airplane about to crash.  Think of the oddly comic situations in the middle of the darkness, and how absurd the violence actually gets.  It is a very odd aspect of the film that is never discussed.  That leaves Last Crusade, which is far too comic for its own good thanks to the late Jeffery Boam’s screenplay, shows that nothing else matters in the film more than the presence of Sean Connery.  His arrival is the whole point, the only point, of doing a film that resurrects way too much of the first, though the River Phoenix “Young Indy” sequence at the beginning is better each time you watch it.  Besides the comments about the difference in camerawork, the snap and spontaneity Spielberg gave to the first two films is missing here as well.  What will they do in the planned fourth installment?


With the three discs being void of DTS, commentaries, or anything else, a fourth DVD with bonus features has been added.  This does NOT include any episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series, but extras that do seem to have been made for that LaserDisc set.  Making The Trilogy gives roughly 40 minutes per film, though the earlier installments get more time.  Stunts, Music, Sound, and Light and Magic ad excellent further enhancements to the extensive origins and truly cool filmmaking items offered.  This is some of the best such material on home video to date, even exceeding how much you may or may not like each installment!  Teasers and trailers for the U.S. Market are also included, though I seem to remember more than is offered here.  A frame-by-frame section of promotional posters, press kits, lobby cards and other promo materials would have been nice, but this looks and sounds good otherwise.  It does not look dated and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is not bad in Pro Logic surround.


The four DVD plastic Alpha cases are contained in a paperboard slipcase, nicely designed to appear like tough leather.  Much has been made of the political implications of the series and its simple ideologies, but the films are not as pretentious as its left-wing critics would have you believe.  There are many more interesting and important things going on in these films, and even if they do not always work or are problematic, these are not points to be ignored.  They are part of how these films have been formulated.  The reality of the fantasy world of the films is also not an excuse or cover for any ideological function of the films, but they are made for families with the inevitable bringing together of as much, no matter how odd that can get by Last Crusade in Spielberg’s dealings with the idea of the father in all his films.  Many of these issues will be dealt better in later essays.


One other issue is how Spielberg deals with Nazis, which seems oversimplified versus Schindler’s List or the real-life story of WWII, but the universal appeal of these films is how (Nazis or otherwise) how a young boy deals with the split between good and evil.  The world is never that simple, but this trilogy has that luxury, and how else would a young boy (especially a young Jewish American dealing with anti-Semitism, Judaism, and darkness in the world) going to immediately deal with such evil form the start?  Try the Pulp fantasies of the 1930s.  Even after the events of September 11, 2001, Indiana Jones and company romping through the world holds up because it not only remembers this basic tenant at the core of its own special reality, it celebrates it with a life, spirit, love, and joy no other series since those original serials did in the 1930s and 1940s, and that is why so many people will always want to watch these pictures.  That spirit lives on each of them, which is simply born of American Capitalism itself:  pitfalls, flaws, fun and all.



With no sign of the films arriving in an HD format and the fourth film on the way, Paramount and LucasFilm are issuing the Young Indiana Jones TV series on DVD in three volumes.  Here is our coverage of the first two:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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