Across the Universe: Indiana Jones and the Complete Adventures
Classic series comes to Blu-ray
By Don Kaye
Special to MSN Movies
Coming exactly a year after the release of the complete “Star Wars” adventures on Blu-ray, George Lucas’ other great contribution to pop culture premieres on the home video format this week (it actually arrived in stores on Tuesday, Sept. 18). “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” is a five-disc set encompassing all four of the movies starring Harrison Ford as adventurer/archaeologist Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr., along with a fifth disc that includes comprehensive making-of features and hours of footage shot during the production of each film.
Of course, Lucas was aided in the creation of Indy by Steven Spielberg, who directed all four films and helped Lucas create and shape the character, based on Lucas’ intent to make a series of movies based on the cliffhanger-style serials of the 1930s and '40s (“Star Wars” came out of the same inspiration, but from a space-opera angle). The two men saw eye-to-eye on what they wanted to produce, and the films, which also capitalized on Ford becoming a star in the wake of playing Han Solo in “Star Wars,” were an enormous success.
They’re also, with the exception of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” a hell of a lot of fun and some of the best adventure movies ever committed to the screen. Indiana Jones is a fantastic character who wins the audience over from his very first appearance, and his adventures, supporting characters, imaginative escapes and humorous interlude make for tremendous entertainment that has barely aged at all. The arrival of the films on Blu-ray has been anticipated for a long time, and each has been carefully restored to a glorious image that’s far better-looking than their previous home video releases.
Meanwhile, the fifth disc contains a wealth of supplementary features and archival footage (much of it ported over from the DVD release, but some of it new to this one) that is a tremendous opportunity to explore the working methods of two of the most influential filmmakers of the past 40 years, and gives fans plenty to delve into before and after watching the films themselves. On-set footage, interviews, deleted scenes, outtakes and individual featurettes on many aspects of the productions make this disc a definitive library of material on the making of this beloved film franchise. Now, onto the movies:
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981): Indiana Jones’ first adventure is often described as a “perfect” film, and it’s easy to see why. Wonderfully paced and acted, skillfully written and directed, full of thrills, suspense, laughs and a sense of wonder, it’s still one of Spielberg’s finest achievements and a landmark for action and adventure. Ford is perfection in the role of Jones, and Karen Allen is equally terrific as former lover and tough heroine Marion Ravenwood, who joins Indy on his quest to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. “Raiders” has undergone the most extensive restoration as the oldest of the films, and it looks like a brand-new film on this disc (we caught it on IMAX as well, where it looked just as impressive). Watching “Raiders” again for the first time in years is, in a word, magical.
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984): Lucas and Spielberg were both supposedly going through personal issues (divorce, etc.) during the development and production of this movie, and it shows in the overall darker tone – in fact, the movie’s violence and horror quotient as Indy battles a Thuggee human sacrifice cult helped lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating (we still find the bug scene difficult to watch). “Temple of Doom” doesn’t quite have the sense of fun that “Raiders” does and Kate Capshaw is a far more irritating heroine than Karen Allen, but even that can’t offset the still-thrilling and breathless action sequences, dynamic score and Ford’s usual greatness. It’s nastier and less resonant that its predecessor or follow-up, but it's not the misfire it’s often been represented as. On disc, the movie’s darker, deeper palette of colors is particularly eye-popping and its audio mix visceral and immersive.
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989): We’re torn between whether this or “Raiders” is our personal favorite of the series, and after watching it again on Blu-ray for the first time in years, we may just give “Crusade” the edge. That’s because it returns to the lighter spirit of “Raiders,” yet adds a whole new layer of character development that’s beautifully realized in the relationship between Indy (Ford, fantastic again) and his dad (an equally superb and endearing Sean Connery). Yes, the movie sort of plays almost as a remake of “Raiders,” complete with Nazi villains and the search for a Biblical artifact, but the scope is bigger, the action more expansive and the story more emotional. The restoration of “Crusade” on Blu-ray is astonishing: With the exception of one or two effects shots, this movie looks like it could have been made yesterday.
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008): The final shot of “Crusade” – the Joneses and friends riding off into the sunset – was the perfect capper to the original trilogy of movies. But after years of rumors, abandoned scripts and fan requests, Spielberg, Lucas and Ford teamed once again to bring Indy back. While the movie acknowledges the passing of time and Ford’s/Indy’s advancing age, however, it simply can’t recapture the magic from two decades earlier. Spielberg just doesn’t seem to have his heart in it, Ford is more curmudgeonly than we’d like, and the presentation of Shia LaBeouf as a possible future for the franchise is a dreadful mistake. The introduction of aliens into the Jones mythology seems contrived, too – surely there are more earthly wonders that Indy could have encountered. The movie is not unwatchable and still contains a few compelling sequences, but it feels like everyone’s just going through the motions. The disc itself is perfect: This is a modern production with all the bells and whistles at the director’s disposal – the real pleasure here is seeing how well the older films hold up next to it.