It was in the late 70's that George Lucas offered Steven Spielberg the idea of doing a film based upon old Saturday matinee serials. Watching it again on DVD, one is struck once again by the power of practical effects. While we currently live in an age where computer effects allow filmmakers to show us just about anything, there's something about a reliance upon practical effects that seems to inspire the best. Their near-cheesiness at times is also charming (see also: Sam Raimi's "Army of Darkness"). Watching it, one also wonders when Harrison Ford lost his sense of humor.
As if anyone wasn't already familiar, Ford stars as Indiana Jones, professor of archaeology by day and archaeologist pretty much every other moment of the day, searching across the globe for precious artifacts. The first scene is one of the most famous in action movie history, as, when trying to retrieve one particular artifact, Dr. Jones is met with a two-ton boulder rolling down to greet him.
After a short rest where we see Indy in his day job, we find out the quest: the Nazis are after the Ark of the Covenant, which would give its holder the ultimate power. Indy manages to find a piece that will lead him towards it in the hands of ex-girlfriend Marion (Karen Allen), but unfortunately, rival Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) is also on their tail.
"Raiders" - along with the other "Jones" pictures - is a great deal of fun, not only because of the classic staging of some of the scenes and the humor, but because everyone involved seems to be having a great time, which rubs off on the audience. As for the humor, there's many classic moments, such as when Indy and his sidekick (John Rhys-Davies) peer into a tomb, only to find snakes. "Asps. Very dangerous." says Sallah (Davies) to Indy, whose only weakness and most popular hatred seems to be snakes. Sallah then turns to his friend and dryly states, "You go first." Ford's deadpan sense of humor, never stronger than in this series (and it really hasn't returned much since) is certainly one of the best elements of the three films. I can't imagine the original choice for the series - Tom Selleck - being the same sort of success in the role as Ford.
Perfectly paced and backed by a classic John Williams score, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" still stands up surprisingly well years later. Ford is still perfect and the movie's mix of humor, action and globe-hopping excitement is easy to get swept up in.
"It belongs in a museum!"
"So do you!"
The third film in the "Indiana Jones" trilogy is a lighter, more action-packed affair, done after the reception to the darker "Temple of Doom" was met with criticism. Even after "Temple of Doom", though, audiences still wanted to see another adventure with the beloved character. While the idea to swing the franchise back towards the tone of the first picture was a fine idea, nothing in the series has been quite as inspired as the idea of pairing Indy with his father, played wonderfully by none other than Sean Connery.
The third film does not have quite the opening of the prior two, but it still fits quite perfectly with the tone and themes of the tale. We follow young Indy as he barely manages to retrieve a stolen relic. Flash forward and we see Jones in 1940, still trying to protect said relic from the same criminals. Indy finds himself on the search for the Holy Grail, a journey that his father - now missing - has already been on for years.
The elder Jones (Connery) has been adultnapped by the Nazis, who are convinced that he knows where the Grail is hidden. He sends Indy, Jr. his notebook, which provides clues that lead him and Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody, who must have gotten made fun of on the playground as a kid) into passages beneath Venice. Eventually, the two find themselves in a castle in Austria, where the elder Jones is being held.
It's at that point that this film really gets into high gear and, at points, really nearly matches the level of "Raiders". Connery and Ford are brilliant playing off one another, with Connery's stubborn father bringing out the best in Ford's bewildered, dry humor. While the prior films have involved Jones against a large amount of enemies, "Last Crusade" has, as one character says, "Germany declaring war against the Jones boys."
The film's action sequences are some of the best in the trilogy, especially a dogfight in the air that turns into a plane-vs.-car battle. There's also a superbly staged tank chase latter in the picture. The screenplay, by Phillip Kaufman, George Lucas and Jeffrey Boam, may not have come up with a terribly original screenplay (it feels like "Raiders" at times, only with different elements), but there's certainly some classic lines of dialogue, such as the elder Jones's "I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers", when he finds that junior has brought along his diary to his escape attempt - the same diary that includes the map to the Grail.
Even if the fourth film in the series is never made (although it's looking more likely now, with a possible 2005 release), this third film would be a perfectly satisfying way to end the story of Dr. Jones. A perfect combination of witty humor, adventure and action, "The Last Crusade" still stands up quite well.
"You know how to fly, don't you?"
"No, do you?"
Although criticized for being a darker and more violent follow-up to the popular "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (the film's violence was cause to institute the PG-13 rating, as the film had a level of violence that was considered higher than PG, but not quite R), this second "Indiana Jones" film still has some of the same spirit and sense of adventure as was found in the original picture. Although the opening doesn't compete with the rolling rock of the original film's opening moments, "Temple of Doom" does start with a kick, as Indiana has to roll a gong out the window of a Shanghai club to escape a deal gone sour.
The film opens in Shanghai as Indy must once again make a clever escape. The only problem is, his escape-by-plane isn't as successful as he planned when the pilot turns up missing. Joined by Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw, playing whiny and shrill, but doing it well) and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan, quite brilliantly playing against Ford's dry humor and Capshaw's screaming). The three find themselves treking across India, ending up in a village where the children have been kidnapped and forced to work in mines. Meanwhile, there's also the matter of three sacred stones that are located within the mines.
While "Temple of Doom" may be the worst film in the series, that's still a lot better than most films. The dark tone of the second film doesn't bother me as much as the fact that the second film is neither as eventful or memorable. There's certainly some humor here (the scene where Jones and Short Round are trapped in a rapidly shrinking room while Indy screams and frantically yells and gestures with his hand through a hole in the wall for Willie to find the lever to release them is priceless) and a few moments of action, but the film as a whole isn't paced as rapid-fire as "Raiders", with some slow stretches in the first half. Still, it's a good deal of fun in spots.
VIDEO: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is surprisingly good, with few concerns at all. Sharpness and detail are first-rate; while the picture doesn't have a modern slickness, definition is still quite pleasing.
The boxes claim that the films have been meticulously restored and remastered and this is certainly one case where it appears to be true. Slight intentional grain is visible on occasion, but pretty rarely. No noticable specks or marks are seen on the print of "Raiders", either. A few trace instances of edge enhancement were spotted, but were hardly an issue. With no supplements on the disc (all the supplements are on disc 4), there were no compression artifacts to be seen, either.
The film's naturalistic, dark color palette was accurately presented here, with no concerns. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. "Raiders", overall, looked superb.
"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", as with "Temple of Doom" and (to a slightly lesser extent) "Raiders of the Lost Ark", looks tremendous. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture quality certainly exceeded my expectations. Sharpness and detail are extraordinarily good, as the picture looks surprisingly rich and detailed throughout - definition once again remains consistent, even in the darkest scenes. When Indy flips through a little book to gain clues, we're no longer trying to squint to quickly get a look at any of the information that he's flipping through.
This presentation is also a little bit closer to perfection than even the excellent effort for "Temple of Doom". Edge enhancement popped up very briefly once or twice here, but again, really didn't cause a distraction. As with the first two pictures, the print used here was immaculate, with nothing in the way of debris, marks or dirt that I could see. No compression artifacts were noticed.
The film's naturalistic color palette varied with the locations, but appeared accurately rendered and clean, with no smearing or other concerns. Black level was solid, as well. Excellent work.
I was very pleased with the picture quality of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". However, "Temple of Doom" manages to look even better. While sharpness and detail were merely quite good during "Raiders", "Temple" retains a rather stunning, rock-solid appearance throughout, with superb definition even in the darkest of scenes.
While the presentation didn't appear flawless, "Temple of Doom" certainly looked far better than I've ever seen it. As with the other two films, "Temple" has been restored and remastered, making for quite a large clean-up job. As with "Raiders", "Temple" doesn't suffer from any noticable print flaws - no specks, marks or other debris were noticed. Grain is noticed lightly, briefly and less often than in "Raiders". Edge enhancement isn't spotted, nor are any instances of compression artifacts. However, a little bit of shimmering was seen in a couple of the jungle scenes.
The second film's color palette is a bit more bold than the original's, and is presented quite well here. Colors remained rich and well-saturated throughout, with no smearing or other issues. Overall, I found this to be a vibrant, crisp and exceptional presentation that, while not flawless, certainly exceeded my expectations.
SOUND: "Temple of Doom" is, as with the rest of the "Jones" films, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Given the limited amount of action that happens during the first half of the film, the overall sound experience here is less active than that which can be found in the other two "Jones" films. However, the presentation is still not without its merits. Surrounds are engaged more often in the second half of the film during the action sequences, and do get some fine use during these moments. Audio quality is stellar, as dialogue remained clear, while sound effects sounded crisp and had solid impact. Overall, pretty good, but while the soundtrack of "Raiders" impressed me more than the video quality, the video quality of "Temple of Doom" was more impressive than the new 5.1 sound mix.
"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Given that this is the most modern of the three, the film's sound recording and mix are the most advanced. The film's soundtrack puts the rear speakers to fine use during the action scenes, offering plenty of well-recorded sound effects. However, while the action scenes provided a good deal of surround activity, I was pleased to hear the rear speakers offer a bit more in the way of ambience than they did during the prior two films. In the scene where Indy makes his way into the castle, rain and thunder can clearly be heard all around the viewer. Sound quality is an improvement, as this film's soundtrack seems more dynamic and fierce than the prior two - some of the instances of tank fire in the chase scene later in the film hit with particularly strong force. The John Williams score sounds marvelous once again, while dialogue remains crisp and natural sounding.
"Raiders" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. For a film that is now over 20 years old, it sounds awfully good. Although the surrounds were not originally presented discretely, the film now boasts a surprising amount of rear channel activity in this new mix. While some of it does stand out as being a bit too artificial, the majority of the surround use is effective and adds to the enjoyment. Sound quality is also thrilling; the audio is enjoyably dynamic and full-sounding. Dialogue remains crisp and clear, while sound effects are well-recorded and clean. The John Williams score has never sounded better. While this won't become audio demo material for home theater fans, fans of the film will likely be pleased at how this soundtrack has been repurposed successfully.
The films looked and sounded the same on this release as they did on the prior "Indiana Jones" set.
EXTRAS: This set does provide a handful of all-new featurettes, but it does lose the bonus disc with additional extras that came with the prior release. It also offers none of the featurettes from the prior set. All three films do offer new introductions by Spielberg and Lucas. What's pleasantly surprising is that these introductions are not just, "Gee, that was fun", but instead see the two offering some fond memories and interesting insights about the production.
With "Raiders", we get: "Indy's Women", with Kate Capshaw, Karen Allen and Allison Doody discussing their thoughts about how they first found out about their roles and memories from working on the film. There's some fun stories here, but it's the kind of documentary that many will only need to watch once. "Indy's Friends and Enemies" is a chat with Spielberg, the screenwriters and others about Indy's women and enemies. We also get storyboards for the opening sequence, still galleries and a trailer & demo for "Lego Indiana Jones", the game..
With "Raiders", we get another good introduction, but it's followed by "Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Appreciation", which isn't quite as good - it's largely those involved (including Spielberg, Ford and Lucas) discussing how great the film and series was. "The Melting Face" is a look at the famed effects sequence. We also get storyboards for the "Well of Souls" sequence, still galleries and the "Lego Indiana Jones" trailer & demo again.
"Temple of Doom" opens up with another introduction that discusses Spielberg's reluctance to do a darker film and how Lucas saw the arc of the trilogy. We also get "The Creepy Crawlies" and "Locations", which take a look at the snakes, insects and other spooky animals on-set. Locations takes a look at some of the locations from the various films. Both can be viewed with pop-up subtitle trivia tracks. Finally, we get storyboards for the mine chase, galleries and the trailer/demo for the game.
In a stunning development, we also get the trailer for the new "Indiana Jones" film, "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull", before the main menu on each disc.
Final Thoughts: The films in this set are all available on their own or as a box set, which currently retails for Amazon for $39.99. However, the extras included here are not in-depth and really only amount to a few featurettes on each disc. The bonus disc of extras on the last set isn't carried over and that set offered better supplements. It's also cheaper, and still the one to get for those interested.