“Raiders of the Lost Ark” seemed like such a modest proposal – marry the cliffhanger serials of yore with modern storytelling techniques.
It helped that two of Hollywood’s most crowd-pleasing filmmakers, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, helped make it happen.
“Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” brings all four Indy films to Blu-ray for the first time. The boxed set, available today, brims with tasty extras for Indy devotees, from archival set revelations to interviews with the key players behind the franchise.
We see the dawn of an iconic film hero as well as the fourth chapter which drew serious brickbats from long-time fans, the same ones who all but demanded one more round with Indy.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)
The impossible to top first film, restored under the supervision of Spielberg and sound design maestro Ben Burtt, remains a near-perfect action epic. Professor turned adventurer Indiana Jones’ quest for the Ark reunites him with an old flame (Karen Allen), and old pal (John Rhys-Davies) and an old rival (Paul Freeman) who might prevent him from finishing his quest.
The action sequences astound – still! – while the sly script keeps both characters and humor firmly in mind without denying the film’s razzle dazzle resonance.
Hard to pick a favorite moment, isn’t it? Indy dispatching the sword fighter with a shrug and some lead? Marion (Allen) outdrinking a man twice her size? That boulder dash? The battle between Indy, the Nazi thug and those deadly airplane propellers?
Ford gives Indy a bruised heart, the kind that too many actors refuse to impart with their characters. He’s unflappable but human, a hero with a quick wit, a mind for escapes and an understanding of his own foibles.
The Blu-ray transfer isn’t as dazzling as some of the more recent Blu-ray releases, but it’s still plenty good to appreciate Indy’s debut one more time.
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984)
The second “Indy” installment might offer the best unbridled action of any ’80s film, but the movie’s tone grows darker for no good reason. Indiana teams up with a spitfire named Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) and a second rate singer (Kate Capshaw, the future Mrs. Spielberg), to bring life back to an Indian village left for dead.
Along the way Indy and friends survive a waterfall drop (absurd), consider a plate full of monkey brains (gross) and witness a man’s heart ripped out of his body (unnecessary).
The Indy/Short Round connection is both sweet and treacly, but the humdinger opening sequence and blistering finale make it the second best film in the franchise.
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989)
Most critics greeted “Crusade” as a return for form, a fitting cap to the series and a wonderful way to bring Sean Connery into the fold. Ford and Connery aren’t that far apart in age, but they click beautifully on screen as a father and son getting to know each other through the usual Indy mayhem.
Watching it today, it’s hard not to cringe at some of the childish humor Connery brought to the franchise, like the actor wielding his umbrella along the beach like an extra from a “Police Academy” romp. Ford’s character was never a cut up, even if he saved the right put down for the right moments. Making Papa Jones a stooge robbed the series of some of its dignity.
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008)
It’s hard not to get a lump in your throat at the sight of Indy’s shadow in the opening minutes of the fourth film.
Welcome back, old friend.
The 60-something Ford isn’t embarrassing in the least as he steps back into his most famous role (sorry, Han Solo fans). Ford had lost something on his fastball by then, but he gives his most engaged performance in years under that signature fedora.
Can we stop here? Please?
The film’s first half is far better than our muddled memories recall. A pair of sharp action sequences, a cheeky ’50s vibe complete with the requisite Red panic and some decent exchanges between Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) and Dr. Jones give this reunion a touch of class.
Then, the laborious exposition rolls in, the script gets weaker and the earth-bound mysteries take an extra terrestrial turn. Yes, it’s great to see Karen Allen’s Marion once more, but the Indy/Marion reunion is so poorly orchestrated it feels like a dinner theater review.
The finale is a blur of forgettable CGI and heroic close calls, and we’re left with a crudely assembled wedding right out of a romcom.
Who didn’t prefer “The Last Crusade’s” waning moments?
“Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” – The Extras
The box set includes seven hours of documentaries, featurettes and interviews with cast members and filmmakers
The set includes a new two-part documentary, “On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark – From Jungle to Desert and From Adventure to Legend” featuring nearly an hour of rarely seen footage from the film’s set plus archival interviews with Spielberg, Lucas and Ford.
“Without McDonald’s I’m useless,” Spielberg confesses on the set of “Raiders.”
In “The Making of ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,'” Spielberg shares how the final scene in “The Last Crusade,” with the Jones boys riding off into the proverbial sunset, was meant to neatly wrap the franchise in a golden bow.
Fans helped convince him to make one more installment.
Spielberg and Lucas couldn’t deliver another Indy film worthy of the franchise, and we’re still hearing talk of a fifth installment despite Ford recently blowing out 70 candles on his birthday cake.
Let the franchise rest – in high definition, with its glorious bells and whistles available to enjoy any time we wish.