Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures [Blu-ray]

Actors: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Connery
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: David Koepp, George Lucas, Gloria Katz, Jeff Nathanson, Jeffrey Boam
Format: AC-3, Box set, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Number of discs: 5
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Paramount
DVD Release Date: September 18, 2012
Run Time: 481 minutes

Movies: :



What is it about Indiana Jones that makes him so beloved? We’ve seen more than our share of rumpled movie rogues, tough guys with hearts of gold, and battered-around-the-edges soldiers of fortune who survive by their wits.

Indeed, Jones began life as a homage to such figures, who glutted the Saturday matinee serials in the 30s and 40s before spilling over into mainstream flicks like King Solomon’s Mines. Why is Indy so different, such that this first-ever release of his movies on Blu-ray should merit our attention?

Certainly, the basic look helps out. That famous fedora evokes cowboy Stetsons and safari bush hats in equal measure without emulating either of them. So too does Indy’s signature bullwhip – a staple of the serials and used by predecessors like Zorro – set him apart from his fellow do-gooders. Director Steven Spielberg, who helmed all four Indy movies, uses those elements to establish the character, but never overplays them. They remain garnishes rather than the main course, leaving the actor to fill in the rest.

And that actor was, simply put, born to play the part. Harrison Ford always hearkened back to an older school of leading man: tough yet sympathetic, with an innate charisma that bonded audiences to him as a buddy rather than a mythic figure. Jones distills that on-screen persona down to its purest essence. He does fantastic things, but in a strangely believable manner that says “you really could do this if you tried.”

He’s effortlessly charming, but not without regrets, as with the long-ago seduction of his mentor’s daughter that comes back to haunt him. He’s smart and book-read, but his brains can’t solve every problem or keep trouble from knocking on his door. And for all his amazing feats, he’s constantly in over his head: a dirt-streaked underdog who just can’t buy himself a break. Nobody could embody those characteristics like Ford, and nobody ever took such quiet glee in doing so.

But perhaps the most important key to the figure’s appeal is the way he straddles both the past and the present simultaneously. He’s a man of science who seeks out the supernatural, a civilized figure who embraces the world’s most impenetrable mysteries. He champions enlightenment and knowledge (with a little fortune and glory thrown in on the side), but understands that some things are better left in the dark.

It’s no mistake that most of his adventures take place in the 1930s, a tipping point between technology and superstition when modern marvels competed with darkening fears. (His foes, conversely, often took the opposite approach: using science and technology to throw the world back into barbarism.) Those qualities granted him a timelessness that transcended any single era, making him a mythic figure without losing his 20th century practicality.

No other character possesses quite that array of credentials, and no one displays them in such infectiously enjoyable stories as his. From the moment he stepped onscreen in that Peruvian jungle, we knew we were looking at someone different. Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing instincts keep his adventures exciting and upbeat, with a nostalgic flair that instantly draws us in. His films are essentially kids’ stuff – rousing adventures painted in broad strokes – but retain a secret knowingness that let adults in on the fun as well. (We’ve seen thousands of heroes beat up thousands of guards for their uniforms, but Indy’s was the first that didn’t fit.)

Even the widely criticized Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t diminish his qualities, but merely shifts them to a slightly updated era. (And I’m sorry: if you can buy the man hanging on to a submarine for hundreds of miles, you can buy him surviving a nuclear blast with a fridge.)

Temple of Doom actually evinces more problems – racism, child brutality, the whole Willie Scott unpleasantness – though it earns people’s forgiveness far more readily. (I look at it as a series of cool vignettes that don’t quite come together.) Of the three sequels, The Last Crusade does best for itself, thanks to the marvelous Sean Connery and a curtain call from John Rhys-Davies as Indy’s stalwart buddy Sallah.

As for Raiders . . . what can be said that hasn’t already been detailed at length? It blends humor, character and unparalleled stunt work with a rock-solid storyline that hasn’t aged a day. Its audacity combines with knowing cleverness to defy our expectations at every turn. What other movie could open with its hero’s abject failure and yet still make us believe in him so readily? What other movie could use the intervention of God Himself (in a literal deus ex machina) as the perfect climax? Spielberg’s exquisite sense of tone made every element fit with all the others – from the awe and reverence of the Ark itself to the sight of a monkey giving the Nazi salute – and nary a one of them feels out of place. There may be more daring films, more “important” films, and films that push the boundaries of the medium in more significant ways, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is the purpose of the exercise. If you can’t love it, you have no business loving movies at all.

And now we have the whole collection on Blu-ray. The transition to this new medium doesn’t mean a whole lot, of course. Just a nicer picture and maybe a few bells and whistles to enjoy. But it does highlight how integral this character has become to pop culture, and how these movies – even the ones people aren’t so fond of – don’t diminish as time goes by. They’ll always be with us, in whatever new mediums come along, and said mediums won’t ever be quite as legitimate without them. Whenever a kid needs something to make his eyes light up, or a grown-up needs a break from the mundane terrors of reality, they’ll be there . . . with their hero’s crooked smile reminding us to hold on tight.

THE DISCS: The new Blu-ray set is about what you’d expect and nothing more. Five discs come in a sturdy cardboard booklet decorated with images from the films. The packaging is very similar to the kind used with the Star Wars Blu-rays: pretty, but not exceptional. Ditto the special features, which constitute the fifth disc and basically assemble all the material from the previous two Indiana Jones DVD sets into one place. That includes behind-the-scenes specials on all four movies and a set of short featurettes. They’re all interesting and informative (the tidbit on melting faces is a highlight), but we’ve seen them before.

New material is fairly sparse, though it carries some juice. The original TV special “The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark” headlines the features disc, along with a new set of behind-the-scenes material that includes some terrific cut footage. (That includes a longer fight between Indy and the swordsman in Cairo, which Ford short-circuited by suggesting, “let’s just shoot the fucker.”) They’re welcome additions, though they still feel a bit like lip service. Other behind-the-scenes specials, particularly a terrific homage to stuntmen entitled “Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark,” are inexplicably absent here, doubtless waiting for some gratuitous double-dipping down the road. (Luckily, YouTube has the hook-up for us:

None of that diminishes the films themselves, which look gorgeous and sound even better. We love bells and whistles, especially for movies so rich in production history as these, but they’re not the purpose of the exercise. The improved viewing experience stands head and shoulders above the sometimes-muddy images from the DVDs, and the sound mix is clear and well-defined.

WORTH IT? September is crowded with sexy Blu-ray titles, including the upcoming James Bond boxed set and last week’s beast of a Harry Potter collection. They give you more bang for your buck than this one and if your budget’s tight, you can probably leave Indy be until your wallet stops begging for mercy. Otherwise, it’s a solid upgrade option for owners of the DVD… and a must-own for anyone who (for whatever reason) has yet to purchase them.

RECOMMENDATION: The movies alone justify a Blu-ray upgrade, and no video collection would be complete without Dr. Jones. Just don’t expect anything more than you would from any other Blu-ray set.

- Rob Vaux



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