I guess you can say that I’m a bit of an Indiana Jones fan. I don’t have an Indiana Jones fedora, movie prop collectibles, all the toys, or all the existing VHS, laserdisc, DVD versions from all over the world. I do have Indiana Jones in my blood though. Since childhood, these movies have been implanted in my mind. I can’t shake them off and they actually take a good percentage of my brain. My mind is usually absorbed by thoughts of family, job, food, and Blu-rays, but a good percent has a reserved spot for these movies and the Indiana Jones character himself. Out of all the fictional characters from books or movies, Indiana Jones is probably the one I idolize the most. There is nothing more appealing to me than the lifestyle of Indiana Jones – his day job as a bow-tied college professor worshipped by female students and then sometimes as a freelance archaeologist who gets the opportunity to take off his glasses, grab his gun and whip, travel to exotic places, seek out rare collectibles, all while avoiding danger. This is the kind of lifestyle I want (only without the danger part), and to some extent, I’ve created a less dangerous, geeky Indiana Jones lifestyle for myself over the years. Sure, I’m just a guy who likes to travel and search for rare collectibles, but any time I’ve traveled or lived in other countries, I like to imagine that Dr. Jones has inspired me. I like the idea of being lost in other cultures and adapting to local customs. While most of my travels have been to European countries (in other words, not as exotic as places like the South American jungles, Egypt, India, and Nepal), there is a constant thrill of being away from home and away from routine. Since I don’t care about finding rare historical objects (not like I could find them anyway if I wanted to), the archeologist factor in my travels basically translates to “I’m just a geek that likes to search for rare, hard-to-find videos, toys, and comics from foreign countries.” For example, my precious finds have been a Star Wars Yoda action figure knock-off from Russia, a Tintin idol statue made in Africa found in a flea market from Switzerland, and of course, import Blu-rays/DVDs from any country I travel to. Once I come back to the USA and return to my day job, I instantly get antsy and all I think about is leaving the country again, just like Dr. Jones the professor who wants to go on another adventure.
Unlike any other films, I see these Steven Spielberg films as important fixtures in my life – I never thought to question their existence and explain what makes them so special. Where do I start when these movies have been such a part of my life since childhood?
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
The first film in the series released in 1981 introduces us to Dr. Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford), an expert archeologist who is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant, which is believed to still hold the ten commandments and possibly do something magical once opened. Unfortunately, since this is the late 1930s, Nazis are after the ark as well. With the Nazis guided by Indiana Jones’ competition – French archaeologist Rene Belloq – Indiana Jones and love interest Marion (played by Karen Allen) have to avoid being killed during their quest to find the ark. Raiders of the Lost Ark not only has many exotic locations such as South American jungles, Nepal, Cairo, but this film is packed with memorable villains – Belloq the charming and cheating archeologist, Toht the creepy Nazi stooge, Colonel Dietrich the prototype Nazi officer we all love to hate, a Hitler-saluting monkey, and a sword-swinging Arabic warrior.
I was five years old when Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in theaters, but I don’t remember my first experience watching the film – my memory of Raiders is as if the film was always a part of me engraved in my mind since the beginning. Star Wars was special too, but those films did not leave such an impression on me as Indiana Jones. When I was six or seven, I needed a bunch of Star Wars action figures to have a fun play scenario. But with Indiana Jones, I was perfectly happy with my single Indiana Jones action figure that featured a spring-action arm that branded a whip accessory. Even with his thumb eventually breaking off, this Indiana Jones action figure was an extension of me that could deal with any other toy line. He would fight Star Wars bounty hunters. He would fight G.I. Joe Cobra baddies. He would even be strong enough to stop robot Decepticons. What a perfect toy for a perfect movie. I remember owning a VHS copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark in my house, so I’m assuming that’s where I first saw the film. PG-rated it may be, but Raiders was pretty damn scary and would certainly be R-rated if released in theaters today. Every time I watched the film as a kid, I challenged myself to pull away my hand covering my eyes during Alfred Molina’s bloody death scene at the beginning, the snake pit scene, and the ghost and face melting climax. The scenes with Toht and Colonel Dietrich reacting to the freaky skeleton ghosts finally stopped scaring the crap out of me by the time I reached my teen years. But at least those scenes taught me that if you keep your eyes closed, the boogie man in the bedroom closet will leave you alone.
While some older generations may believe that Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, or Citizen Kane are perfect films, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the few perfect films from the 1980s that best represents Hollywood filmmaking at its finest.
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is my favorite Indiana Jones film. While it may not be considered a “good film” like Raiders, Temple of Doom is the one I watch the most. I have heard people’s complaints about the film over the years but I have no uderstanding of those critical comments. I really think people are a bit too hard on this film. Expectations must have been pretty high for Temple of Doom when it was released. My theory is that people were thrown off by this film being a totally different kind of adventure. There is no Indiana Jones rule book that says he always has to fight Nazis.
Starting with an awesome James Bond-esque opening fight with Chinese gangsters in Shanghai and a crazy airplane escape, Indiana Jones finds himself lost in the middle of India. He and his companions, funny sidekick Short Round (played by Ke Huy Qan) and bitchy nightclub singer Willie Scott (played by Spielberg’s wife Kate Capshaw), come across a depressed village. Crops have failed and the village children have all been kidnapped by the evil Thuggee cult. The leader of the village explains to Indiana Jones that these awful events are connected to the village’s magical stone which has been stolen by the Thuggee cult, secretly hiding in Pankot Palace. Indiana Jones believes the stone to be one of the five legendary lost Sankara Stones. Agreeing to travel to Pankot and retrieve the stone, Indiana Jones and his companions discover why the stone was stolen after sneaking around the Palace and its secret underground base – The Thuggee cult, worshippers of the evil goddess Kali, believe that the stone and the two others they’ve discovered give them the power to control the minds of other people. The head priest Mola-Ram (played by Amrish Puri) has heart-removing skills and sends his human sacrifices into a firey lava pit. Indiana Jones also discovers that the kidnapped village children are slaves to the Thuggee cult – forced to dig and search for the remaining two Sankara Stones. Mola-Ram believes that, once all five stones are discovered, they will be able to control the minds of everyone in the whole world.
Temple of Doom is so exciting from beginning to end that even at around two hours, it feels like the shortest Indiana Jones film. While this film may be pretty dark, it’s also the funniest. Some fans may think Short Round is an annoying kid character, but I think he’s one of the greatest kid character sidekicks ever in cinema. Every line of dialogue from him is memorable and the chemistry between him and Indiana is very natural. Fans may prefer the Marion-Indiana and Indiana Jr.-Henry Sr. relationships from the first and third films, but I always prefered the father-son chemistry between Indiana and Short Round the most. Another aspect that fans tend to rip on is the Willie Scott character. I understand that fans may have missed the likable Marion from the first film, but variety is good and Indiana likes all kinds of women – Capshaw’s character is a spoiled bitch, so of course we are supposed to get annoyed by her. She may scream and whine throughout the whole film, but that’s how her character would be in this situation – it’s funny and I felt bad for her. Subjecting a spoiled city girl to the jungle, booby traps, and lava pits makes good cinema conflict. If the girl is too tough and doesn’t react to all the dangers, then the audience won’t feel that threatened. By the end of the movie, I loved her as much as Marion.
Temple of Doom is also special because it’s one of the most exciting Hollywood action movies that takes place in India and is the rare film that features an Indian villain. I can’t think of any other Indian villains besides Mola-Ram and the big Indian dude from James Bond’s Octopussy. Mola-Ram is the most bad-ass Indiana Jones villain ever. He’s got an awesome look, he rips people’s hearts out, he has a memorable voice, and he has an intense fight scene with Indiana during the climax. I love Nazi villains, but you know what to expect from a Nazi. An Indian cult leader who tries to rip your heart out while hanging on a broken bridge on the side of a cliff is original.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE
In a prologue that features a young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix) in one of his first adventures, the third film in the series has Indiana Jones on a quest to find his missing father, Professor Henry Jones, Sr. (played by Sean Connery), and the Holy Grail. Continuing in the tradition of seeking out religious artifacts, this time the Nazis try to find the Holy Grail and have kidnapped Indiana’s father – an expert on the whereabouts of the holy cup. With help from beautiful Austrian femme fatale Elsa Schneider (played by Alison Doody), Indiana Jones explores rat-filled catacombs of Venice, runs from fez-hatted Holy Grail protectors, fights Nazis on a blimp and biplane, battles a small army of Nazis on a tank, and finally faces more booby traps leading to the Holy Grail.
The Last Crusade was the film that many fans wanted to see after Raiders of the Ark and basically follows a similar formula as Raiders, only this time with the addition of Sean Connery in one of his funniest roles I’ve ever seen him in. Connery’s character delivers most of the film’s gags – taking out a Nazi plane with just an umbrella, accidentally shooting down his own plane, slapping Indiana Jones’ face as if Indy was still a small child, etc. The main touching element in this film is the father-son banter between Connery and Ford, especially hilarious when they find out that they both slept with the same woman. Marcus Brody and Sallah also return from the first film and are more mixed into the action.
The Last Crusade was the first Indiana Jones film that I saw in the theater and as much as I like this film, there seems to be too much of the George Lucas element here that made me think of the Star Wars prequels – the obsession of showing origins for everything rather than leave it to mystery. I imagine Lucas saying, “let’s show Indiana Jones as a teenager, let’s show how he got his scar, let’s see how he got his famous hat, let’s see why he’s afraid of snakes, and let’s show his father to see why Indiana became the type of man he is today.” Since Spielberg was in the driver’s seat, all these side stories in the The Last Crusade turned out to work well. It’s just too bad that Lucas didn’t allow Spielberg to direct any of the Star Wars movies (especially the prequels).
The Last Crusade may be a rehash of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s a totally fun, entertaining classic and as rewatchable as the first two. How could anyone not love that invisible bridge, the old knight chilling in a room for hundreds of years, and that Holy Grail that makes a pretty powerful hydrogen peroxide?
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
Indiana Jones’ fourth adventure begins in the 1950s during the Cold War. Indiana Jones and his sidekick Mac (played by Ray Winstone) barely escape Russian agents seeking out an alien corpse at Area 51. Dr. Jones then returns to his university where he meets rebellious Mutt (played by Shia LaBeouf), who needs Indiana’s help to find the Crystal Skull of Akator, an alien skull that could be powerful. As Indiana Jones and Mutt set out for the jungles of Peru, they realize that the Russian agents are back on their trail. Led by KGB paranormal scientist Irina Spalko (played by Cate Blanchett), the Russians want to find the Crystal Skull too with hopes its power can help them rule the world. Indiana Jones’ love interest, Marion, from Raiders of the Lost Ark also joins in the fun and has a big surprise to tell Indiana!
I guess Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shouldn’t have been made. The Last Crusade was a perfect ending to an amazing trilogy but if anyone is curious to see a parody of Indiana Jones or curious to see how Indiana Jones would be as an old man, then check out this film. While Crystal Skull has a cool story based on alien legend, is not boring, nor did it tamper with the previous three films (as the Star Wars prequels tampered with the original trilogy), Crystal Skull does not feel like an Indiana Jones film due to a bunch of factors. Harrison Ford may be older here but he didn’t seem to be Indiana Jones – it’s like he was just forced to say his lines of dialogue and did not really seem passionate about the character. He looked like Indiana Jones but he wore his trademark costume as if he was just wearing a Halloween costume. If Ford did not believe he was Indiana Jones, I didn’t believe he was. Many fans complain about the “nuke the fridge” and the swinging-like-a-monkey scenes – these scenes didn’t bother me much because there are absolutely unrealistic scenes in the previous three films. What distracted me the most about Kingdom was that the film just seemed too manufactured – there was too much CGI and most scenes looked like sets (especially the one where Indiana Jones is sinking into quicksand). I like the idea of Indiana Jones eventually marrying Marion, but this also felt unnatural – it’s as if the filmmakers always felt bad for making Indiana Jones have a different girl for each film aka “we made a mistake for making Indiana Jones a lady’s man, let’s bring back Marion into the final film.” I have heard that Crystal Skull suffers due to George Lucas’ input, but he was with Spielberg for the previous three films too, so we can’t blame him for everything!
An entertaining but forgettable film, I treat Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as just an extra – a mere curiosity – but I’ll mainly watch the previous three films whenever I have an Indiana Jones movie marathon.
I am very, very happy. Paramount has done a tremendous job with the 1080p 2.35:1 transfers here. While Raiders of the Lost Ark received the biggest clean-up job, all three original films look better than I’ve ever seen.
I’ve watched too many versions of Raiders over the years – a Full Screen third generation VHS copy, a widescreen VHS copy, the DVD – now I can finally really enjoy the film as it was supposed to look in the theaters. The Raiders Blu-ray has a totally clean and crisp look that projected out of my HDTV. Thankfully, no DNR was applied and all of its details looked wonderful. I was worried that the old school special effects, mainly at the end of the film, wouldn’t merge smoothly with Blu-ray’s clarity, but everything stayed perfectly balanced.
Temple of Doom really surprised me as well. The opening Busby Berkeley dance number really stood out more than ever. Anytime Willie Scott glammed up with her red dress in China or her princess garb in the palace, her outfits really sparkled like never before. Clarity during the infamous dinner scene made the food more vomit-worthy. The dark temple scenes were flawless as well, with the booby trap caves, the ceremony room, and the roller coaster scenes all looking clear as ever. As much as I was impressed with this transfer overall, I was really blown away by the end of the film when Indiana Jones stands in the middle of the suspension bridge with sword in hand. I couldn’t believe how amazing this Blu-ray looked then – a breath-taking reference-quality moment.
The Last Crusade definitely looked the best of the three original films. From beginning to end, this transfer was totally bright and crisp – not bad for a late 1980s film. The clarity in this Blu-ray reminded me of those 70mm, Technicolor 1960 films released on Blu-ray (The Sound of Music) – absolutely sharp detail and bursting with color. There were even some tiny details I never noticed before – when the main villain holds the wrong cup in his hands, in the background we see Elsa subtly shaking her head “no” as if she’s signaling to Indiana Jones that she gave him the wrong cup on purpose.
As expected, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has a flawless transfer for a brand new film, but the whole look of the film doesn’t really fit with the original three, another reason why I’m not too enthusiastic over the fourth film. This was the same problem with the Star Wars prequels – they looked like video games when placed next to the cinematic-looking original trilogy.
Spielberg, Lucas and co. certainly now how to treat fans to amazing sound. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is reference quality. I thought that the DVDs sounded nice, but the sound on the Blu-rays crushes those DVDs. These films are reminders of the importance of sound design and music which are huge elements that can turn films into classics. Ben Burtt and John Williams are wizards and their work shines on these Blu-rays. The creative sound effects – boulders, whips, guns, punches, ghost sounds, cackling Chinese Scarface dude shooting into a gong, booby traps, roller coaster, propeller crunching a boat to pieces, rolling wheels of a tank, and much more – just sound incredible. Dialogue is totally clear too. These Blu-rays offer a tremendously broad soundfield – I couldn’t be happier!
French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio choices, as well as English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles are included.
Most of the plentiful extras were imported from the DVD boxset. The only new extra is the hour-long documentary “On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark.” All the documentaries are great watches, especially entertaining to see such a young, cocky Harrison Ford, as well as seeing a young George Lucas lurk behind Spielberg – as if one could tell that Lucas was jealous of Spielberg’s directing skills.
As beautiful as the Digibook packaging is, the only way to pull out each disc is by grabbing both sides of the disc. They are in there tight! Every time you take out a disc, there is no way to avoid getting your thumbprint on the bottom. So, don’t forget to wipe each disc clean after taking one out!
On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
– From Jungle to Desert
– From Adventure to Legend
Making the Films:
– The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary previously unavailable on DVD)
– The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
– The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
– The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
– The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Behind the Scenes
– The Stunts of Indiana Jones
– The Sound of Indiana Jones
– The Music of Indiana Jones
– The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
– Raiders: The Melting Face!
– Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies
– Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations
– Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute
– Indy’s Friends and Enemies
– Iconic Props
– The Effects of Indy
– Adventures in Post Production
There aren’t too many perfect movie trilogies out there. Along with the original Star Wars, Back to the Futures, Lord of the Rings, and Nolan’s Batmans, the first three Indiana Jones films are also among the few that comprise a perfect movie trilogy.
After a long wait, Paramount has delivered a perfect-quality Blu-ray boxset to the fans. So what are you waiting for? Add these Blu-rays into your movie collection!