|Adventures of Indiana Jones, The (Trilogy)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 21 October 2003|
At last, producer George Lucas has allowed some of his films to be put on to DVD. Everyone has reason to be happy with the results, as these transfers are among the most pristine I have ever seen for a restored film. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” especially stands out, since it is a 22-year-old film whose colors and contrast leap off the screen. There is nary a speck of dust on any of the negatives and digital enhancement has been further used to clear up any flaws that might have accumulated over the years. It’s nicer than some recent films that have come out on DVD. Of course, Lucas and director Steven Spielberg have some of the best film people behind them and these restored transfers, plus they are both very technically savvy and perfectionist filmmakers.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” introduces us to the adventurous, cunning and brilliant archaeologist Dr. Indiana Jones, played so brilliantly in the series by Harrison Ford. The film starts out in the jungles of Peru in 1936, where we meet Jones for the first time, in pursuit of an ancient golden statue. After a series of successfully bypassed booby traps, Jones escapes the temple only to run into his nemesis, the French archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman), who takes the idol from him and sends Indy on his way, pursued by spear-and arrow-wielding natives.
Back in the States, we see Dr. Jones teaching at a university in front of a class of hopelessly lovesick female students. As the class ends we meet Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot), who then has a joint meeting with Jones and two men from Army Intelligence. It seems that Indy’s old mentor Abner Ravenwood has been mentioned in a Nazi communiqué in regards to a place named Tanis. Jones and Brody both react with astonishment and relate that the Egyptian city of Tanis is one of the rumored resting places of the Lost Ark of the Covenant, in which Moses placed the pieces of the stone tablets upon which God carved the Ten Commandments. Eager to prevent Hitler and the Nazis from getting their hands on such a powerful object, Jones is sent to find the Ark before the Nazis.
The first step is finding a key relic that is in the possession of his former mentor’s daughter, Marion (Karen Allen), with whom Indy had an affair years back. This journey takes him to Nepal to find Marion and then on to Egypt, where we meet Indy’s old friend and professional digger Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). What ensues is a race to see who will find the Ark first and, when it is found, the game changes to see who will claim the Ark in the end. Indy, Marion and Sallah are pitted against Belloq, the evil Nazi Toht (Ronald Lacey) and the whole of the German army in a classic confrontation of good vs. evil.
The film is punctuated by thrilling action sequences, as well as having splendidly realized sets and locations that really set the stage for every action film that followed. One of the remarks in the documentary made by a veteran stuntman reflects the notion that the Indiana Jones movies established the modern movie stunt and action formula that few have been able to successfully duplicate. In addition, it is remarked that it was difficult to come up with new ideas for other films, because “they had already done them in Indiana Jones.” What makes the action sequences stand out in “Raiders” and the other two films is that there is always something at stake, so we care about what is happening. The dialogue and direction are at the highest level, coming from Lawrence Kasdan and Spielberg, respectively, two of the most accomplished filmmakers of the past 30 years. The score from John Williams is superb, the Raiders March standing today as one of the most frequently used and recognized pieces of film music. Production design, performances, costumes, editing, etc. are all superb and resulted in “Raiders” being nominated for Eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director; it won four regular Oscars, including Best Editing, and a fifth Special Oscar for Special Achievement in Sound Editing.
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” is a much darker film and takes place in India, where Jones must infiltrate an evil and ancient cult and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” centers around the search for the Holy Grail and is noted for its inclusion of Sean Connery as Indy’s father, Henry Jones, Sr. The three films come from a time when Lucas and Spielberg were at their absolute peak of creativity and execution. The people they had gathered around them were the absolute best and today are still at the forefront of their respective fields, whether it be visual effects wizards Dennis Muren and Richard Edlund, composer John Williams, or producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy. “Raiders” especially continues to be a watermark for intelligent and fun action films of the modern era and Indiana Jones himself will always be one of the greatest film characters ever. Harrison Ford had a great thing going there in the 1980s, with his three roles each as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. And now, thanks to the exquisite restoration efforts of the people at Lucasfilm, we can enjoy the Indiana Jones movies in all their glory.
Three of the greatest elements that determine picture transfer quality from film to video are color, contrast, and detail, especially with older movies, as the celluloid-based film begins to suffer the effects of age. The result is faded colors and washed-out images, an effect that cannot help but give the film a dated look. All three of these transfers are immaculate. They are not as good as the “Lord of the Rings” DVDs have been thus far, (an example of the highest-quality DVD imagery), but the “Rings” films have been transferred immediately with the knowledge that they would be put directly to DVD and video. The age and potential diminished quality of the transfers was one of the primary reasons that Lucas had been reluctant to release the Indians Jones movies on DVD; he is well known to be an absolute perfectionist, for good or ill. The films in this transfer look like they could have been made in the last five years, especially because they are period pieces from the 1930s and there is therefore nothing cultural to date them to the time they were made. Image clarity and contrast are extraordinarily sharp. Color saturation is especially good, considering the respective 22-, 19- and 14-year ages of the film negatives. This was the result of frame-by-frame digital restoration and remastering. The sound quality is very good, again as one would expect from the people at Skywalker Sound. New Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes help to spread around the sound that was originally mixed in stereo. George Lucas is so happy with the result of the Indiana Jones transfers that the original three “Star Wars” movies will finally be prepared for release on DVD in autumn of 2004.
Considering how old the films are and how much documentation there is on them, there is a great amount of potential special feature material, but the people at Lucasfilm decided to max it out at around three hours’ worth. The documentaries are made by renowned film documentarian Laurent Bouzereau and include both behind-the-scenes footage and up to date interviews with cast and crew. Lucas, Spielberg and Ford are featured prominently, as are Indy girls Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw and Alison Doody. Each film has its own lengthy segment and when watched together make up an interesting journey from the first through the third film.
The specialized segments are made again by Laurent Bouzereau and encompass the series as a whole. “The Music of Indiana Jones” takes us from the first meeting Spielberg had with John Williams to footage of the two of them and Lucas watching the scoring sessions for the end credits of “Last Crusade.” Film sound guru Ben Burtt gives some candid explanations for sound creations in the “Sound of Indiana Jones” portion, again taking us chronologically through the series. The same approach is used for “The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones” and “The Stunts of Indiana Jones.” The stunts documentary is very interesting and includes current interviews with many of the main stuntmen who helped Indy stay ahead of the bad guys. The documentaries are done on a very professional level, discussing the films as hard work and lots of fun, recognizing the phenomenon they have become. It is not shameless flashy self-promotion like many featurettes are nowadays, but rather an insightful look into the care, triumphs and setbacks that resulted in these films.
All three of the films are excellent in terms of enjoyment and filmmaking and they are complimented by the attention to detail in their restoration for DVD. For anyone who enjoyed these films even a little bit, to those of us who got into filmmaking because of them, to those who have never seen them but want good, fun, adventurous storytelling, this four-disc box set is a must for everyone’s DVD collection.