Indiana Jones finally makes his whip cracking debut (all of them) on Blu-ray this coming Tuesday. Are you ready for it? You better be because it's all its 'cracked' up to be.
See what I did there? Whip 'cracked' thingy? Yeah, let's move on.
While I don't have to tell you about each film and break it down, we should talk about them briefly. The first and third films are the strongest in the series, as they present a more serious subject and tone. Finding the Ark of the Covenant (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the Holy Grail (The Last Crusade) brings about more moral dilemmas and ideas than most people can imagine. Lucas and Spielberg do a superb job with presenting these sort of dilemmas and applying them to a fun adventure. In short, they're fun and serious films that can relate to most of the human population that has some sort of religious beliefs in their lives. The fact that the worst human beings ever to grace the earth are in pursuit of them makes the adventures more urgent and engaging.
It also helps when the right cast is put in the backdrop of the stories to make it move along and work, which is the case for both Raiders and Crusade.
As for the other two films, they're a bit more out there. Temple of Doom is more of a 'can we do it' sort of film rather than a serious subject. What I mean by this is that the action scenes in Temple of Doom are far more outlandish and entertaining than what you would find in the first and third movies. For example, when you're watching the mine cart scene, you can't help to think how absolutely unbelievable it is to have a cart filled with three individuals jump the track and land perfectly on another set of tracks. Don't get me wrong, there are moments in the first and third film that question the believability of certain things, but not as outlandish as Temple of Doom offers. Even when I saw it in 1984 at a theater, I knew that it wasn't as fun as the first film. It certainly didn't offer that 'badass' view of Indy that the first film established. I still feel that way to this day. It's not a bad film, but it's definitely not close to the type of serious, adventurous entertainment that the first and third film brought to the table.
Finally, the fourth film is what it is; not as good as the Temple of Doom. I knew for years that Lucas and Spielberg had wanted to tempt fate and bring another Indy film to the mix. I liked the fact that they made sure everyone knew that Indy had grown old. I respect them for not hiding that fact. I enjoyed the idea that Indy was going to meet his son and that they were going to bring back Marion in to the mix, who is by far the best woman in the series. What I didn't like is that the 'MacGuffin' chosen for the last film was so darn 'blah'. You have this great setup at the beginning that featured an alien skull, but then you end it with nothing really. Each Indy film ends with Indy losing the MacGuffin one way or another, but no one understood the purpose of this MacGuffin, unlike the other films. It just seemed like it wasn't planned out well to begin with and the MacGuffin was being forced into this story where it didn't belong. What you ultimately get is disjointed moments where the audience is asking 'where is this going to lead?' when the creators seemed not to know. It's not the worst film in film history, but it's certainly the weakest in the Indy series. Although, I do love seeing Ford in the getup again. Hopefully, they can make a fifth before his car gets too many miles on it.
Overall, the movies have touched so many generations of lives, much like Star Wars, and each deserves proper recognition. That being said, let's talk about that proper recognition, the Blu-ray set! Let's break each film down.
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
As for the real reason you're reading this review, the Blu-rays are fine-fine-fine. Starting in chronological order, Raiders of the Lost Ark might be the oldest film of the bunch, and the most challenging in terms of HD transfer, but it was done well. There are moments of graininess in the picture, but you have to write that off as a 1981 issue. The film is super old, so getting it perfectly transferred from original stock to HD probably proved more difficult than most imagined. The opening shot of the mountain that is dissolved to from the Paramount Pictures logo really sets the tone for the Blu-ray. You can see the fog around the mountain peak, but you can also see an amount of graininess with it. Once the film gets moving, though, you get a taste of the visual upgrades (and the film digitally mastered), starting with Harrison Ford's introduction of the character, as he cracks his whip to disarm his would be guide/assassin. The lighting gets better, the browns, yellows, reds and blues really start to stand out. What's also impressive is the amount of detail you get with the picture. Again, staying with the beginning, you can actually see the fibers of hair on the back of the spiders as Jones and Molina's character whip spiders from their respective selves in the cave scene. The full glory of the film in HD starts happening when Indy and his friends make it to the desert scenes. You will thoroughly enjoy the visuals of the airplane fighting scene. The blood looks more vicious in the fight than it originally did in the theatrical and DVD versions.
Overall, the age of the film probably hurt the digital mastering transfer a little, but the details and the enhanced colors look fantastic. It's everything you were hoping for in the best film in the series. Don't let the occasional graininess detour you from appreciating and enjoying the HD upgrade.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Temple of Doom really starts off fancy on the Blu-ray side of things. Not too far off his failure of 1941, Spielberg's love for musical numbers involving dancing find him putting together a dancing scene for the opening credits of the film. It shows off some powerful HD transfer, as you get to see Kate Capshaw's Willie Scott's red dress. The sparkles, the details of the Chinese inspired outfit look positively gorgeous on Blu-ray. As the film gets going and Indy finds himself chased down the streets trying to get away from Lao Che and his crew, you get to see some wonderful blues, reds and yellows in the surrounding chinese area. One great concern, which I had to run through two separate HD televisions (they both turned up the same result), is that Lao Che's men seem to gain orange faces during the night time driving gunfight scene. That never returns again in the film, but it's very potent in the beginning. I'm not sure if it's the abundance of make-up they had to wear, but whatever the case it really makes them look very orange in the face. As soon as that is done, the film starts to really get rolling in HD, as you get beautiful jungle details when they're on their way to the palace to find the children/great evil/stone. The Blu-ray gets particularly beautifully alarming when the bug scenes start; enjoy that one.
I think the mix of film preservation and age probably boded well for The Temple of Doom, which makes it look slightly better than Raiders.
On a side note, why couldn't we see Dan Aykroyd better?
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The 1989 final film (or so we thought) in the Indiana Jones series was not only a great send off for the piece, but also one of the better looking HD transfers in the series. For those kids out there who grew up in the 80s, you'll find a lot of nostalgia in the opening scene of the film. The adventurous attitude of River Phoenix's young Indiana Jones, will have you wanting to spend your day outside in a blue sky that looks as flawless as the action sequence plays out. The opening scene really does set the tone for the rest of the Blu-ray (no pun intended), you'll see a lot of visual details and enhanced blues, yellows, reds and browns. The film looks clean and crisp, especially in comparison to the first two films. Granted you have to remember that it's a younger film, there might have been better ways to preserve it and there are probably countless elements this reviewer can't even think of at this time to make it easier/cleaner to transfer. The fight scenes in the desert, when the fights are going on on the top of the tank, really show a lot of details in the faces, uniforms and equipment. All of this should be credited to the HD transfer, as it's simply gorgeous.
In the progression of things, it's a notch up on the first two films and another prediction to how well the last film is going to turn out on this format.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Yes, I'm in the camp that didn't love this film. It had some great moments and it had some questionable moments; more questions than greatness. Still, it is the best looking Blu-ray of the bunch. While you can certainly credit the age of the film, the fact that it was shot in HD to begin with, it's still undeniably the most gorgeous out of the four. The opening scene with the Russians invading Area 51 is so pretty that it looks fake at times. For example, when Jones and Mac are yanked from the trunk of the car at the beginning, you see a sunset behind them as they're interrogated by Cate Blanchett's Irina Spalko. I always thought this might be on a soundstage, but according to the features this was still out in the desert. It looks so crystal clear that you will swear it's fake. In fact, there is so much clarity to the shot that you see the peach fuzz on Blanchett's face perfectly. Yes, HD is about the little details and those are the type of little details. As per the previous films in this set, you get some strong blues, reds, yellows, oranges and browns.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is by far the best film transferred in this set, and while you may not love and appreciate the story itself, you still will find the Blu-ray everything it was meant to be in terms of quality.
The reason people will purchase this set is for the Blu-ray quality and it is everything you wanted. It's not perfect, but it's damn near perfect. The audio in each film has been mastered to 5.1 (sorry 7.1 folks), so it should sound spectacular coming through your home speaker sets. When you are deciding whether to pick this up to replace your DVD set then it's absolutely a no brainer.
So what about the features? Well, you get a ton. The 'making of' featurettes for all the films are the best part of the features. You get some solid behind the scenes looks at the films. They are typical featurettes that would accompany a film's release. All of which last around 20-45 minutes a piece. You will learn some great things about the movies in these featurettes, as well as see some solid interviews from cast and crew. The saddest interview is from River Phoenix in The Last Crusade featurette. He could have been so great had he not made that mistake on that fateful night at the Viper Room. It's very sad to see it.
Anyway, the big feature on this set is the 'One Set' with Raiders of the Lost Ark. You get to see some really rare scenes including the creation of the sword fighting scene in the streets of the Indian city. I'm so glad they just ultimately allowed Indy to shoot the guy, as the scene looked particularly horrible. The feature is definitely the crown jewel of the set and rightfully so, as it's just really quite good. As for everything else, you get some segments regarding stunts, sounds, music and other elements that make up the Indy films. Each lasts around 15-20 minutes and is very interesting. I really enjoyed the 'sound' featurette, as Ben Burtt explains how sound effects for the film were acquired and used.
As a whole, the features included with this release are pretty darn great, though you get most of them in SD. I'm torn between criticizing this and accepting this is how it should be. Regardless, the features are fun to watch, though you won't get the HD love with them until you get to the last movie's 'making of'. They all compliment the movies perfectly, though.
Something that should be mentioned before I wrap things up is the beautiful box that the set comes in. You get a sleeve based disc system that features high quality stills and the movie posters on each page. This feels like a $100 Blu-ray set, as it should. It's pretty impressive and will set the new standard for Blu-ray packaging.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Blu-ray release. I think that Lucasfilm and Paramount Pictures did a superb job with preserving most of the footage, cleaning it up for HD and transferring it to Blu-ray. It's definitely a set worth adding to your collection.