By Gordon Meyer
It began as a big budget salute to the low budget action/adventure serials of the 1940s and became one of the most popular movie franchises of all time. Now for the first time, all four INDIANA JONES movies have finally been released to Blu-ray with Paramount and Lucasfilm’s “INDIANA JONES – The Complete Adventures” boxed set that came out just a few weeks ago. It’s taken me this long to digest and savor the contents of the five disc set.
Technically, it’s not really “the complete adventures,” since this boxed set doesn’t include the “Young Indiana Jones” TV series. But why quibble? If it’s the features you want, this is the collection you need to have on your shelf.
The movies themselves have been available for a long time on DVD and VHS before that. But the BD transfer is absolutely stunning and long overdue. I’m not going to put a lot of time or text into talking about the movies themselves because, presumably, the overwhelming majority of people interested in this boxed set will know them well.
To me, the strongest of the four are the original “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK,” followed by “…LOST CRUSADE,” with “KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” and “TEMPLE OF DOOM” a distant fourth. Yes, that’s strictly my own opinion, but it’s one echoed by the majority of fans because these movies are not just about Indiana Jones himself. A big part of their success is also in who Jones bounces against both as prickly allies and formidable foes.
That balance was at its best in the very first movie with Marion Ravenwood as Jones’ ex-lover who’s got more balls than most men in the franchise, in contrast to Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott, who was basically a whiney wimp. On the other hand, the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery as Indy’s father proved to be one of the best pairings in cinematic history, not only because of their considerable talents as actors, but also because of the brilliant way screenwriter Jeffrey Boam and uncredited co-writer Tom Stoppard defined the characters and the way they interacted.
The set comprises of five discs – one for each of the four movies and a fifth one with the lion’s share of the bonus material. The bonus material on the movie discs themselves is limited to trailers. However that fifth disc is a virtual treasure trove of fascinating content that’s a mix of new and previously produced bonus material from the earlier DVD boxed set, along with a rarely seen 1981 “Making of” feature on the original film.
Not surprisingly a large portion of the bonus content focuses on the first film with not only two featurettes in the “Making the Films” section but also the hour long “On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a generous amount of archival behind the scenes archival footage that as both a film buff and a serious student of film production and writing provides a fascinating insight into what was involved in making the 1981 original.
The fourth section of the bonus disc contains a dozen short pieces that take a much more specialized look at the various components of the franchise, including stunts, sound design, critters, locations and how the iconic “melting face” effect from the climax of the first film was accomplished. About 1/3 of these vignettes are older bits of bonus content in standard def,
Although it looks like most, if not all of the bonus features were recycled from earlier home video releases, it doesn’t matter. To me, this is the definitive Indy collection where everything that’s available is in one compact package. The transfers are absolutely stunning, as is the sound transfer and really show off the BD format, especially for those people with really good hi def displays. The bonus disc is a virtual film school class on the elements involved in producing a big budget action movie, though I would have liked to have seen a separate piece on the writing process. (Writers are all too often the forgotten element, even though without the writer, nobody else would have a job!)
Here’s the bottom line. If you’re a fan of the franchise, the new BD boxed set is pretty much a must have, even if you already own the older DVD version. The boost in picture and sound quality is that good. If you don’t already have the older DVD box, but love good old fashioned bigger than life adventures with a mystical element, what are you waiting for?