Directed by Bille August et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 660 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
MSRP: $ 129.99
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Review Date: April 23, 2008
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles didn’t find much success on television despite its ancestor’s runaway movie box-office triumphs. The show began as a midseason replacement on ABC in the spring of 1992, and by the summer of 1993, it was history. Despite a lavish budget, impressive location filming, and the celebrated George Lucas as executive producer, the show just didn’t find much traction on the small screen. The two seasons of episodes have been repackaged as “movies” for their DVD releases, and this third volume represents the last of the filmed episodes to find a digital home. Watching them now more than a decade after they were first shown, one sees occasional flickers of the action, exotic settings, and archeological mysteries that have made the three (soon to be four) films so much fun. But these repurposed “movies” culled from combining individual one hour episodes sometimes totally unrelated to one another makes for some strange pairings. Though the shows produce a fair amount of thrills, spectacular scenery, and fun, they just don’t have the zing of the films. So, I find these programs sporadically enjoyable. It’s the bonus features that make these packages truly special.
Volume 3 picks up Indy (Sean Patrick Flanery) as a nineteen year old spy in the employ of the Belgian government near the end of World War I. With his 28 languages at his command and a fearlessness that knows no bounds, Indy bounces through these historical adventures bumping into a host of famous personages. He and Ernest Hemingway battle for the hand of a lovely Italian lass (Hemingway turns up in two further adventures as well). He meets famous novelist Edith Wharton who gets a little crush on him (despite being old enough to be his mother). He goes on quests that take him from Venice to Turkey to the South Seas. Once out of the army, he is free to pursue his love of archaeology while continuing to bump heads with other historical notables: Paul Robeson, Al Capone, Lawrence of Arabia, Eliot Ness, Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, Woodrow Wilson, John Ford, Wyatt Earp, Ho Chi Minh. There seem to be very few historical celebrities who aren’t touched in some way by the Indiana Jones magic. And, of course, there are lots of women drawn to his orbit. As in the films, Indy’s unerring ability to choose the wrong woman is legendary, something that gets a bit irritating and repetitive as lady after lady is either lost to circumstance or is deceptively (and often too obviously) malicious and conniving.
My favorite episode in the set, the one that best captures the thrills and ironic nonchalance of the movies, is the second half of the set’s second “movie” in which Indy comes into contact with Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula. In turns funny and chilling with the same Spielberg-ish delight with the macabre, the “Transylvania” episode in “Masks of Evil” ranks high among the series’ best efforts.
Sean Patrick Flanery makes a fine young Henry “Indiana” Jones, full of brashness and with that unmistakable twinkle in his eye. His Belgian pal Remy (Ronny Coutteure) turns up in this set to travel with him on an adventure to find a valuable diamond, and, of course, there’s that unforgettable moment when Harrison Ford surprises us with a cameo as the 50-year old Indy for a regrettably too brief appearance. Lloyd Owen also returns as the cold, didactic Professor Jones for one episode.
It’s the writing that often lets the series down, however. Perhaps I’ve seen too many action-adventure films and television programs, but absolutely none of the surprise “reveals” that resolve the identity of the spy or the villain is ever a jaw-dropping moment that the makers obviously want it to be. They’re often obvious from the get-go and thus most disappointing. There’s no doubting the lavish location photography the series sports; these haven’t all been shot on the Paramount backlot, but the writing often seems formulaic and unmemorable. The show reaches its desperate nadir with the silly “Scandal of 1920.” Set on Broadway, involving Indy in a tiresome love quadrangle, and not possessing one minute of typical Indiana Jones action or mannerism, it’s clear from this episode that the show was running on fumes. And even in earlier, better episodes, when the writers get on a soapbox to make salient comments on the modern world by focusing on decisions made eighty or ninety years ago, the show becomes maddeningly pretentious.
Here are the “movies” which have been fashioned by combining various episodes of the show with new credit sequences both before and after the programs:
1 - Tales of Innocence
2 - Masks of Evil
3 - Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye
4 - The Winds of Change (by far the weakest of the programs: all talk, no action)
5 - Mystery of the Blues
6 - Scandal of 1920
7 - Hollywood Follies
The program’s 1.33:1 original broadcast aspect ratio is retained in these DVD transfers. The transfers vary in quality but are generally sharp and colorful. Occasionally, scenes are washed out, and usually archive and stock footage looks terrible. Focus is generally fine, but there is occasional softness for no apparent reason. Some fabrics occasionally flash, there is occasional pixilation, and some edge enhancement is unfortunately present from time to time. Blacks are usually deep though occasionally they are crushed. None of these mar the entertainment value of the programs but can be momentarily distracting. The various episodes (called “movies” in the set) are divided into anywhere between 10 to 13 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track has some surprising bass to what is otherwise a very traditional television sound mix. Voices are rooted to the center channel with music the primary occupant of the other speakers. During some of the war scenes, there is some imaginative use of the stereo track with sound effects denoting the raging battles.
Each “movie” in the set is followed by a series of documentaries giving quite informative historical and philosophical insights into people, places, and events that are covered in the episode of the show which one has just viewed. These documentaries are like mini episodes of Biography or specials on The History Channel and could certainly be used in classrooms to give valuable overviews into the historical subjects being covered in them. Stills, archive footage, and experts in their fields are used in the preparations of these outstanding featurettes, all presented in 4:3.
“Unhealed Wounds; The Life of Ernest Hemingway” is a 34-minute overview of the life and career of the Nobel Prize-winning author.
“The French Foreign Legion: The World’s Most Legendary Fighting Force” features a history of the infamous fighting troop organized in 1831 and continuing to this day. Two Americans who actually served in the legion are interviewed during this 27½-minute featurette.
“The Secret Life of Edith Wharton” gives us 29½ minutes into the life and writing career of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.
“Lowell Thomas: American Storyteller” features the famous TV, radio, and movie commentator and his son talking about the man’s lengthy career in broadcasting. It lasts 28½ minutes.
“For the People, Despite the People: The Ataturk Revolution” is an informative 29½ minute look at the “George Washington” of the modern Turkish revolution that led to today’s Turkish republic.
“The Greedy Heart of Halide Edib” is a look at the woman who was the impetus of the women’s liberation movement in Turkey. It lasts 27½ minutes.
“The Ottoman Empire” gives an outstanding historical overview of the 600 year rise and fall of one of the great empires of modern civilization. It runs 32 minutes.
“Dracula: Fact and Fiction” is a 24-minute chronicle of the real and dictional life of Count Dracula featuring clips from Nosferatu, Universal’s 1931 Dracula, and other subsequent stage and screen treatments of the infamous monster.
“Bronislaw Malinowski: God Professor” is a interesting 28½-minute capsule look at the life of the famed anthropologist, the scientist who introduced functionality to the art of studying people.
“Anthropology: Looking at the Human Condition” is a 23-minute examination on the rudiments of this field of study.
“New Guinea: Paradise in Peril” is a fascinating trip through 140,000 years of one of the planet’s oldest civilizations concentrating on the modern exploitation of their abundant natural resources. It lasts 24½ minutes.
“The Best Intentions: The Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles” is a concise look at the months of meetings and conferences which ended up drafting the treaty to end World War I. It lasts 32 minutes.
“Woodrow Wilson: American Idealist” offers up a nice mini-biography of the 28th President. It runs for 27¾ minutes.
“Gertrude Bell: Iraq’s Uncrowned Queen” is a very informative look at a person whose name has faded in recognition over the decades, the British woman who could serve as the “mother of modern Iraq.” Her sad life story lasts 32¼ minutes.
“Ho Chi Minh: The Price of Freedom” gives a 30-minute examination of the life of the Vietnamese leader.
“Paul Robeson: Scandalize My Name” focuses on the renowned athlete, lawyer, actor and vocalist and his interest in socialism. It runs 31½ minutes.
“Robert Goddard: Mr. Rocket Science” is another fascinating mini-biography of the father of modern rocket science, another name faded somewhat through the mists of time. This featurette lasts 32½ minutes.
“Jazz: Rhythms of Freedom” takes a perhaps too broad look at the birth of jazz in America and features current jazz artists El Z’abar and Billy Taylor among the talking heads for the 31-minute featurette.
“Al ‘Scarface’ Capone: The Original Gangster” is a 27-minute summary of the legendary gangster’s six year criminal reign in Chicago.
“Prohibition: America on the Rocks” spends 31¾ minutes tracing the movements that led to the passing of the 18th Amendment, a law which lasted 14 years.
“On the Trail of Eliot Ness” takes 28½ minutes to recount to quick rise and sad fall of one of America’s most well-known law enforcement officers.
“Louis Armstrong: Ambassador of Jazz” is a nice capsule summary of the great jazz singer and musician from his roots in New Orleans through his international fame. The featurette runs 31 minutes.
“Ben Hecht: The Shakespeare of Hollywood” offers some great information on the life and career of the multi-Oscar winning screenwriter. Some generous helps of clips from 20th Century, His Girl Friday, and Notorious adorn this 30¼-minute feature.
“Hellfighters: Harlem’s Heroes of World War I” is a fascinating summation of the distinguished African-American fighting regiment, the 369th. It runs 28½ minutes.
“Tin Pan Alley: Soundtrack of America” recounts the story of the sheet music publishing houses that flourished for fifty years during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The documentary lasts 30¼ minutes.
“Wonderful Nonsense: The Algonquin Round Table” provides insight into the formation and ten year reign of this legendary collection of literary wits including Alexander Woollcott, Dorothy Parker, and Robert Benchley. It runs for 25 minutes.
“Broadway: America Center Stage” attempts to offer in 29 minutes a concise history of Broadway in the early 20th century including such names as George M. Cohan, Florenz Ziegfeld, George White, Fannie Brice, Bert Williams, George Gershwin, and the impact of such shows as the Follies, Little Johnny Jones, the Scandals, Shuffle Along, and Show Boat.
“Erich von Stroheim: The Profligate Genius” details the life and times of the infamous martinet director-actor. It lasts 32 minutes.
“The Rise of the Moguls: The Men Who Built Hollywood” is another excellent mini-history lesson on how the major studios in Hollywood came to be formed. The feature runs 25 minutes.
“Irving Thalberg: Hollywood’s Boy Wonder” allots 31½ minutes to the career of Hollywood’s boy genius, MGM’s production head who died tragically at age 37.
“The World of John Ford” gives the master filmmaker 32½ minutes in the spotlight though much of the discussion deals with his films from 1939 (Stagecoach) onward rather than the work he did in the silent years.
“New Gods for Old” is a 63-minute lecture which summarizes much of the historical information contained on the previous documentaries in this set. I wasn’t really sure such a summary was necessary, but it’s here if one wants all of the information condensed in one location.
Three DVD-ROM interactive activities complete the package. In the interactive timeline, four additional text pages illustrated with stills cover the topics of “Howard Carter,” “T.E. Lawrence,” “Archaeology,” and “Slavery.” There is along with this an interactive timeline covering the years 1908-1920 with text pages and stills which illustrate salient occurrences during those years which are mentioned at some point in the Indiana Jones adventures. The third interactive element is a “Hunting for Treasure” interactive game.
So, with all these bonus features, why not a perfect 5/5 score? The answer is simple: with all of this extra material, there is not one commentary, deleted scene, blooper, or documentary about the making of the actual television series. Wouldn’t fans of the show love to have something, anything pertaining directly to the production of this most unusual series based on one of the most beloved contemporary characters in 20th century cinema?
The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones brings the last of the television episodes to DVD complete with just about the most complete package of information pertaining to the history of the era that could have been compiled. Too bad the producers of the DVD set didn’t think the series itself was worth a little information on its own behalf.