With "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" coming to theatres next year, now is just about the perfect time to catch up with the early adventures of the explorer, which were chronicled in "The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones", a series that aired from 1992 to 1996. The show followed Indiana and his adventures around the world - first as a young lad (played by Corey Carrier) and later as an adult (played by Sean Patrick Flannery). The ability to shoot in 16mm saved the production a great deal, and as a result, the worldwide adventures of Indy could literally be filmed worldwide instead of on a soundstage somewhere.
The series was originally aired as episodes that had bookends featuring an older Indiana (George Hall), although these bookends have been removed for the DVD, which has upset some fans. Instead, the episodes have been reedited into different 90-minute films ("chapters".) This is apparently how the show was first released on VHS, but it is a little disappointing that the bookends featuring the late Hall did not make it onto the DVD as extra features.
The second volume of the series deals with Indy's adventures in wartime, and episodes see the younger Jones running across historical figures. So, while the series is educational and was intended to be as such, it achieves a nice balance between education and entertainment. It is a little difficult to accept Flannery in the role, at first - while Flannery is a terrific actor, he doesn't suggest the somewhat cynical, darkly funny Jones that Ford portrayed. I suppose Indy could have developed into how Ford portrayed him, but at the same time, I'm not quite sure that Flannery - while a terrific actor - was the very best fit for an adventurer. Still, it's a compelling enough performance to carry most of the episodes.
The series itself is mostly great television, although the main problem that I did have - and keep in mind that it's been a long time since I've seen the original (hour-long) episodes - is that, in this 90-minute form, the pacing can sometimes seem a little sluggish or uneven. The production values are, once again, impressive for a TV show from the early '90's.
It is disappointing that the series is not presented here as it was originally aired (or at least include the pieces starring Hall as an extra), but the show does hold up well as an educational adventure, despite some flaws (pacing, although again, that may be at least in part due to the decision to make the episodes into 90-minute movies.)
VIDEO: The episodes are presented by Paramount in their original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. While one must keep in mind that these shows were shot in 16mm, the quality is still a bit of a letdown, considering the kind of restoration one might have thought Lucasfilm would have put into the set. Sharpness and detail are generally respectable, if somewhat inconsistent - some scenes do look noticably softer than the rest, but the presentation never appears to the point of looking hazy or blurry.
Some minor instances of edge enhancement and artifacting are present, but the picture otherwise looked rather clean, for the most part. Wear and tear were limited to some occasional slight specks and marks. Colors looked a little faded, although I suppose the look is intentionally a bit subdued. Flesh tones could seem a little reddish at times, but mostly looked natural.
SOUND: Surprisingly - especially given the fair amount of action that occurs - no 5.1 remix is offered. Instead, we get a satisfactory stereo presentation that offers fine audio quality. Sound effects seem crisp and clear, while dialogue also sounded clear and undistorted. Not a remarkable audio presentation in any way, but it gets the job done.
EXTRAS: The set offers a series of featurettes that examine the history behind the episodes. There are no featurettes about the making of the series, which is unfortunate, given how much work obviously went into the show. While the set is largely intended to be an educational tool for classrooms, it still would have been nice to learn how the series was able to accomplish some scenes that have impressive scope (at least for a TV show from the 1990's.) My other concern is that, for the price tag, the set could have been dressed-up a little more in terms of the presentation (putting it in a tin, maybe.)
Chapter 8: The Trenches of Hell
Siegfried Sassoon: A War Poet's Journey
Robert Graves and the White Goddess
I Am France: The Myth of Charles de Gaulle
The Somme: A Storm of Steel
Chapter 9: Demons of Deception
Marshal Petain's Fall From Grace
Flirting With Danger: The Fantasy of Mata Hari
Into the Furnace: The Battle of Verdun
Reading the Enemy's Mind: Espionage in World War I
Chapter 10: Phantom Train of Doom
Chasing the Phantom: Paul von Lettow Vorbeck
Dreaming of Africa: The Life of Frederick Selous
At Home and Abroad: The Two Faces of Jan Smuts
Chapter 11: Oganga, The Giver and Taker of Life
Albert Schweitzer: Reverence for Life
Waging Peace: The Rise of Pacifism
Congo: A Curse of Riches
Chapter 12: Attack of the Hawkmen
Blood Red: The Life and Death of Manfred von Richthofen
Anthony Fokker: The Flying Dutchman
Flying High for France: The Lafayette Escadrille
War in the Third Dimension: Aerial Warfare in World War I
Chapter 13: Adventures in the Secret Service
Karl: The Last Habsburg Emperor
V.I. Lenin: History Will Not Forgive Us
The Russian Revolution: All Power to the Soviets!
Chapter 14: Espionage Escapades
Impresario: Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes
Franz Kafka's Dark Truth
Ballet: The Art of Dance
Chapter 15: Daredevils of the Desert
Col. Lawrence's War: T.E. Lawrence and Arabia
Lines in the Sand: The Middle East and the Great War
Historical Lecture: War and Revolution
DVD-ROM Feature: Interactive Timeline.
DVD-ROM Feature: "Special Delivery" Interactive Game based on Oganga, The Giver and Taker of Life
Final Thoughts: Overall, despite some concerns, I enjoyed watching this series again after all these years. The set does provide reasonably good video quality and fine audio, as well as a lot of extras (although it's disappointing that none are related to the production.) The high price tag is a concern, and those who have fond memories of the series but haven't seen it for years may want to try to rent first. Die-hard fans should look for the set on sale or wait for the price to come down a tad.