Back in 1981, Harrison Ford donned the world’s most famous fedora and whip for the first time in gratifyingly entertaining adventure as the now legendary Indiana Jones. Ford’s portrayal of the bullwhip-cracking, fedora adorned adventure-hero has been highly consistent through now four adventures – with a fifth one on the way! As with his lovable rogue character Hans Solo from the Star Wars films, Ford provides Indiana Jones with a skill and prowess that is matched only by his vulnerability and venerable charm. Brains and brawn as foundation for the hero make him much more interesting a man to follow and to root for. As comfortable throwing a punch to get out of a jam as he is to decode a cypher to save his skin, Indiana Jones is without question one of cinemas greatest characters and as much a delight to watch today as he was all those years ago.
The Production: 4.5/5
Raiders of the Lost Ark: 5/5
“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”
When Professor Jones isn’t teaching University students the importance of the careful archeological research and patient examination of history, he is Indiana Jones, globe-trotting treasure hunter and guardian of historical artifacts. When he is approached by the U.S. Government to find the legendary Ark of the Covenant – an artifact of significant biblical importance – and thwart the Germans who seek the Ark as a means to create an invincible army, Indiana sets out for adventure. From Nepal to Egypt, he follows ancient clues and markers to track down the treasure while racing against the well-equipped, well-staffed and well-armed bad guys.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is immeasurably entertaining cinema. Spielberg’s directorial boldness and George Lucas’ love of Saturday morning serial adventures as inspiration for the tales by themselves guarantee a good time but add to that another inevitably apropos score by maestro John Williams and Lawrence Kasdan’s lean and adept screenplay, and what comes about is an instant classic. The film is high adventure with an intelligent plot, springing from location to location, mettlesome sequence to sequence, employing fine onscreen talent and gifted behind the camera personnel, and delivering thrills at every turn.
George Lucas, amidst the surge of his original Star Wars Trilogy, conjured the story of a renowned Professor of Archeology equally at ease in the jungles of South America as he is at the head of a classroom at Marshall College, a protagonist with cunning and brawn, intellectual dexterity, and guardian of historical artifacts. A fascinating and loveable character dispensed to the corners of the globe on thrilling quests to discover, understand, preserve, and protect relics of significance. In Indiana Jones, Lucas found a character into which his love of matinee serials (the Doc Savage series, for example) could be gleefully poured. Partnering with his good friend Steven Spielberg, the two men ignited the thrill of adventure in moviegoers the world over.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is unquestionably one the best movies ever made. It is filled with some of the silver screens most iconic images; Indiana running from a giant rolling ball at the opening, our hero landing face to face with a cobra in the Well of Souls, and of course the closing image of a branded wooden container being wheeled into a labyrinthine storage facility. It is a delight from start to finish. Of course, much of what audiences have rightly loved for years are courtesy of Spielberg’s master choreographic hand. Within sequences, particularly high-energy chases, Spielberg weaves together with deliberate whimsy or chaos or elegance (whatever the moment requires), camera movements, actions of characters, even background elements that ebb and flow to create visual music. It is his most magical skill behind the camera, and Raiders shows it off proudly.
Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indiana Jones is legendary. Refined and rugged, regimented and rogue, Ford imbues Indiana with a sublime balance of opposites making him as much an everyman as a square-jawed hero. Starring as Marion Ravenwood, the love interest from whom Indiana seeks an object to help him on the quest to find the Ark is Karen Allen. Spunky and courageous, Allen gives her character a tough exterior but not so much that she is too far removed from damsel in distress. But rather than a helpless damsel, she is gritty and unforgiving, giving the Marion character more dimension and appeal than this genre often gave ground to. Supporting players are all memorable, from Denholm Elliott’s inquisitive Dr. Marcus Brody to John Rhys-Davies Sallah, both of whom aid Dr. Jones at home and abroad. Indiana’s spoil, besides the small German army, is Paul Freeman’s Dr. René Belloq – a collector of relics who will happily come by his treasure in the most dishonest of ways. And of course, who can forget Ronald Lacey as the bespectacled and malevolent Major Arnold Toht – into whose hand is burned an outline of the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. A fine cast for a marvelous film.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 3.5/5
“Anything can happen. It’s a long way to Delhi.”
Set before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the film begins in Shanghai 1935, where Indiana Jones runs afoul of criminal boss Lao Che (Roy Chiao). Following a daring escape, Jones, his side-kick Short-round, and the unhappy tagalong American singer, Willie Scott, take to the skies but are soon betrayed. They cleverly escape the doomed flight and stumble upon a secluded Indian village in strife. The village children have taken away by evil spirits and the village also robbed of a sacred and precious stone. Indiana takes up the cause to recover the artifact and solve the mystery. Indiana finds his way to the mysterious Temple of Doom where Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) and the Kahli cult are attempting to use the stolen stone, with four others that make up the Sankara Stones, to grant Ram the power to enslave the world.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is likeable but, following in the adventuresome footsteps of one of cinema’s most entertaining films, Doom falls short. A murkier MacGuffin – the plot device central to each of the stories – and the presence of both a sidekick, short round (newcomer Jonathan Ke Quan), and the high-maintenance and often shrill companion Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw)), the adventure is unfairly saddled.
George Lucas reportedly wanted Doom to be a darker adventure, much as Empire Strikes Back was tonally darker than Star Wars, but where Empire’s revelations took the story into organically darker territory, Doom has no such natural inclination. Quite frankly, with melting faces and dead bodies with spikes through the torso, Raiders could be plenty dark at times, but it was balanced by a clear sense of what the adventure was about. Raiders had clues to follow, maps to read, and mysteries to solve. Doom forgoes the archeological core in favor of ‘right place, right time’ set-up and it just isn’t enough.
Ultimately, The Temple of Doom is a film that can baffle the mind. It isn’t a bad film, not in the slightest; however, Indiana Jones is a character created entirely as an ode to the Saturday morning serials popular in the first half of the twentieth century. Wildly imaginative and outlandish entertainment filled with spirited adventure, sequences of heroic triumph and perilous cliffhangers that kept kids tuned in from week to week and Temple of Doom veers too deeply away from that and away from the more tempered, populist ground of Raiders.
Spielberg doesn’t seem to be as inspired either. He was reportedly not as happy making Doom as Raiders and sought ways to lighten up Lucas’ darker and sometimes brutal script with a little slapstick humor here and there. Lucas was in the throes of a painful divorce when coming up with the story for the Raiders sequel, and his lack of joy in life at that time bleeds into the end product. That’s not to say there aren’t some great moments. The parachute-less escape following the opening is a wild ride, the mine car chase brilliant, and the climactic wood and rope bridge sequence well-devised, but in sum, Doom disappoints.
As well-made and enthusiastic as the first follow-up to the Raiders adventure is, The Temple of Doom just doesn’t quite pass the test in the end. Perhaps overpowered by mysticism, a dulled purpose (compared to seeking the Ark of the Covenant) or simply lacking the refined adventure of its predecessor, at the end of the day, this first sequel would demand a proper follow-up.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 4.5/5
“Nazis. I hate these guys.”
Upon news of his father’s disappearance whilst in pursuit of the legendary Holy Grail, and with his father’s diary containing a lifetime’s worth of research, clues and maps in hand, Indiana Jones sets out to follow the clues and hopefully his father’s footsteps to save him, and the Grail, from the clutches of the Nazi’s who seek the biblical treasure for their own nefarious purpose. Following the trail from Italy to Germany and beyond, it is up to the adventuresome archeologist to save his father and save the day.
Director Spielberg is reported to have agreed to return to the world of Indiana Jones for two reasons. The first was a commitment he made to George Lucas that they would make three pictures, and the second was “to atone” for Temple of Doom. And so, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was born. With Spielberg’s skilled directorial hand, a wonderful storyline mixing mystery and family, and top-notch performances from the entire cast, the rousing and fast paced adventure film managed to captivate audiences and rekindle the love for Indiana Jones. The Last Crusade is a true return to form, with maps and clues feeding the mystery and adventure, and the new dynamic of the father/son relationship taking the emotional center of the film. It is a winning combination.
The casting of Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones, Indiana’s father, is a stroke of genius. A familial foil to the usually in-command Indiana, Connery is at once able to frustrate and intimidate the wise archeologist adventurer. The interplay between them, courtesy of a fine script by Jeffrey Boam (and others along the way, though the polishing and refinement by noted playwright Tom Stoppard is among the most valuable contribution), is a highlight of the film.
The story takes Indiana Jones along with Dr. Marcus Brody, appearing for the first time since Raiders, and Indy’s father’s colleague, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), to the beauty of Venice, the dangers of Germany, and the golden dust of Hatay, where they meet up with Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), also appearing again for the first time since the first film. Each location provides landscape for action sequences; a fast-paced speedboat chase through Venice’s canals, the intimate fire-tinged shell-game inside the Brunwald Castle on the border of Germany and Austria, and perhaps the series’ most exciting sequences as Indy races a parade of vehicles and an advancing tank to rescue his father from inside the ‘belly of the beast’.
John Williams delivers another knock-out score, complimenting the more comedic tone of the film and finding a theme of lush reverence for the Holy Grail. Interestingly, the score for The Last Crusade contains several early markers that would become the basis for his scores to George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, heard most notably during the aforementioned ‘Belly of the Steel Beast’ sequence.
The Last Crusade is a polished, joyous jaunt whose stature in the library of Indiana Jones adventures has grown in the years since its successful release in 1989 (and subsequent huge box-office haul). Steven Spielberg was operating in top directorial form showcasing his superbly choreographed sequences – both action and dramatic – and giving the father/son relationship between junior and senior license to become the witty heart of a delightful escapade. The Last Crusade, I believe, has a case for being the best film of the series. Raiders has the edge for being the originator of the series, and for forging this entertaining world, but this film is darn-near perfect from beginning to end and is my personal favorite.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 3.5/5
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wastes no time in letting us know that we have moved past the 1930’s and 40’s and are knee deep in the 1950’s. A car full of young Americans is barreling down a long stretch of Nevada’s dusty highway with Elvis’s ‘Hound Dog’ blaring from the speakers as they spoil for a race with a convoy of army trucks and cars. America has changed and, as we soon discover, so has the enemy. The story kicks quickly into gear when we discover that the army convoy is really a detachment of Russians bent on infiltrating a top security Nevada army base, with Indiana Jones and his friend ‘Mac’ George McHale (Ray Winstone) held captive. Their captor is the formidable, heavily accented Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett.
The story focuses on a mysterious artifact stolen from the base and the quest to find a Crystal Skull, which Indy had written off as pure myth after several failed attempts to locate it. But after he is approached by a Marlon Brando looking, brash young man, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) with news of the disappearance of an old friend as well as Mutt’s mother, and with word of the potential discovery of the mystifying Skull, Dr. Jones sets off on an adventure to save the day once again.
It had been nineteen years since the leather jacketed, fedora-wearing and bullwhip cracking archeologist had swung his way across the big screen and audience demand was at an all-time high. Despite a massive international box-office take of almost $800 million – $317 of which came from clamoring domestic audiences alone, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull still managed to disappoint many and divide audiences. Some of the criticisms of this fourth adventure are valid, though some seem unwarranted. Watching the action unfold, the spark of adventure-born marvel has waned a little, but how much of the disappointment comes from a failure of the film to deliver, and how much comes from audiences having changed over the nearly 20 years, is an interesting question. Audiences tend to be savvier these days; used to ever more elaborate action sequences and visual effects feats with CGI that were impossible at the height of Spielberg’s magic creating days. Spielberg himself helped usher in the era of computer-generated imagery (CGI), along with James Cameron (The Abyss), with his enormously successful adaptation of Michael Crichton’s dinosaur-yarn, Jurassic Park. The ‘good old fashioned’ days of optical effects, miniatures and daring stunts don’t seem to hold up on screen quite the way they used to (for many). The use (some could rightly claim overuse) of CGI visual effects in this film do more harm than good – that the traditional filmmaking techniques used in the original gave a more touchable, tangible flair to the excitement. Regardless, Kingdom finds itself straddling the divide between old and new, trying to find a way to recapture the glory, mixing traditional filmmaking techniques with more modern methods, and losing something in the middle of it all.
There is no doubt that the fun in this film is plentiful. There are several set-pieces, quite lengthy ones, which have the branding of Spielberg and his playful sense of humor, especially the Jungle Chase. But for every moment that emblazons the screen with adventure reminiscent of the original trilogy, an odd creative choice or flourish comes along – as with Mutt’s vine swinging moment during the tail end of the jungle chase.
Harrison Ford, 65 at the time of filming, is every bit as convincing as the professor of archeology-cum globe-trotting treasure hunter. We may have expected to see a slower, obviously older Indiana Jones, hobbling a little or holding the base of the back in pain because of age, but Ford’s age doesn’t show. Sure, reference is made to the time that has passed, the nineteen years both in the characters’ lives and ours, such as when Jones quips that getting out of trouble is “not as easy as it used to be”, but the movie does not exploit or focus too heavily on that fact, and that allows us to more readily accept that Indiana Jones is back doing what he does best. Add to that the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, and an odd-turn performance by John Hurt and Kingdom gets some solid additional flavor to the outing.
For many, it is likely the plot device that gave the most reason for pause. The ‘otherworldly’ element, with extra-terrestrial or inter-dimensional beings as the source of the MacGuffin, seems to have asked just a little too much of audiences. I can sympathize, though magical stones, immortality and relics that would afford invincibility to an army are just as far-fetched as beings from beyond the planet. The ‘alien’ effect in addition to scenes that have inspired unflattering colloquialisms, such as ‘nuke the fridge’, which describes a moment so beyond believability that excitement for what follows is dampened, appear to have left audiences with feelings like those that followed the release of The Temple of Doom.
Diminished magic aside, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull remains an entertaining film (and not at all the disaster that the more hyperbolic proclaim). Spending time with a cinematic icon, watching Harrison Ford in his element, seeing Spielberg enjoy a good time making a fun action film, and even to witness the once likeable Shia LaBeouf bring a fresh face and twitchy banter with Indy, is still a far better time at the movies than too much of what has graced the multiplexes in recent years. The film’s climax will leave some scratching their heads, but it really shouldn’t as it is consistent with evolving Indiana Jones from the serial adventures which formed the original inspiration to the ‘red threat’ pulse that ran through ‘exploitation’ films of the 1950’s.
My advice is to resign yourself to knowing that this adventure will not deliver in quite the way the Indy adventures did back when we, and the world, were different.
3D Rating: NA
Raiders of the Lost Ark: 5 out of 5
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 4.5 out of 5
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 5 out of 5
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 5 out of 5
In short, the Indiana Jones collection on 4K looks incredible. Paramount announced that each of the four films were meticulously remastered from 4K scans of the original negatives. I am unsure if this is referring to the work done in advance of the Blu-ray release years ago or a second round of work. Extensive visual effects work was also completed. The previous Blu-ray release was strong on detail and the 4K release showcases that work more exquisitely. The HDR grading, Dolby Vision in my case, puts a cherry on top of this delightful collection.
I wish I’d been old enough to have enjoyed Raiders on the big screen, but I was too young (6). My introduction to the film series was on VHS. The 4K release has brought up some of the complaints against the previous Blu-ray release and the issues some had with the color timing which hued more to warmer, browner tones compared with the bluer tones of the original DVD release (and what some liked about the VHS or recall from their personal theatrical experiences). I can’t say which is right, only that Paramount’s Ron Smith (who I had the opportunity to interview and ask about the work on Raiders) and team previously worked meticulously on restoring the films and that Spielberg and Lucas were both pleased (and signed off on) the previous Blu-ray release. With that said, this 4K release does seem to have found a middle ground, cooling off the warmer colors without cooling them all the way to what the DVD release gave the world. I can also say that all the screengrabs I’ve seen don’t represent what I see from these films in motion (in this release or previous releases). Overall, I do prefer the look of this 4k release over the Blu-ray release, which I enjoyed.
The four films really do benefit from the HDR grading which deepens the blacks and color saturation, giving such wonderful color contrasts. Some of the optical effects show their seams more obviously, as you might expect from the added resolution (Doom has the most trouble, as it were).
Film grain is present and natural, particularly in the first two adventures, capturing the era of filmmaking while revealing of even more sumptuous details. Close-ups are mesmerizing at times. Perhaps my favorite outcome of these films on 4K is the contrast and details in even the darkest of scenes. Black levels are beautifully resolved, and the earthy tones of Raiders and Last Crusade are bright without being blown out, lively and dimensional. The map room sequence from Raiders is sublime.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: 5 out of 5
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: 5 out of 5
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: 5 out of 5
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 5 out of 5
Paramount Pictures has upped the audio ante for the Indy adventures with Dolby Atmos® tracks that add some nice and natural extra dimension to the experience. The films were all remixed at Skywalker Sound under sound engineer Ben Burtt’s supervision for the creation of the Atmos tracks to, as the press materials pleasingly state, to remain true to each film’s original creative intent. In other words, Atmos is showcased here to augment the original intent not to supplant it with gimmicks that break that. For that, I am most grateful.
I wrote this for the Blu-ray release of the movies, and it holds today (with a note that the Atmos amps up the enveloping and absorbing nature of the surround sound design). The films sound just as we expect – booming punches, piercing cracks of the whip and the gloriously original array of sounds from the masterful Ben Burtt that accompany the various relics, adventures, and misadventures. The audio is throaty, with a fully enveloping surround that zips sound around, bouncing, punching, zinging, and exploding in all the right measures. The audio is alive.
Raiders is the most celebrated audio making excellent use of the audio, but each of the other films is equally as veracious. Temple of Doom is outstanding particularly during the mine car chase, with sheering metal, screams and crashes, punches and smacks converging expertly. The Last Crusade is excellent from the get-go, as River Phoenix takes on the young Indiana Jones in the deserts of Utah, chased by relic plunderers on horseback then upon and through the circus train cars, and is glorious from shot to shot. The squeals of the tank tracks as it turns and the boom of the explosions from the turrets in the chase sequence near the end is meticulous and superbly produced. Finally, in the last chapter, the audio is of high quality throughout, but never more so than when Indy and Mutt are chased through the campus of the University or when the ‘visitors’ spin their way out from beneath the Mayan temple built to honor them.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Teaser Trailer (HD)
Theatrical Trailer (HD)
Re-Issue Trailer (HD)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Teaser Trailer (HD)
Theatrical Trailer (HD)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Teaser Trailer (HD)
Theatrical Trailer (HD)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Theatrical Trailer #2 (HD)
Theatrical Trailer #3 (HD)
Theatrical Trailer #4 (HD)
On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark (57:53): Broken into two parts (From Jungle to Desert and From Adventure to Legend), this newly created special features plays without narration save for the words of those offered in interview segments from back in the day or when heard on the set. These rare glimpses into how key moments in the film were staged, with Spielberg offering instruction, Harrison Ford bantering or discussing the role and other fascinating moments that allow us to see as observers. We also see deleted scenes interspersed (though having these accessible separately would have pleased most fans).
Making the Films
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary previously unavailable on DVD) (57:47): This special feature is particularly interesting. Though the image is of quite poor quality, we hear Spielberg discuss seeing The Greatest Show on Earth, Lucas talks of his inspirations, Frank Marshal (producer) talks about how it came together – and we see it all as it was all those years ago.
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (58:52): A similar discussion of the making of the film but more recent and more reflective. As you will find with each of the ‘Making of’ extras, there is a grand amount to be learned of the film coming together – covering a lot of ground.
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (41:08): Covering the elements that could not have fit into Raiders and how that then became source action for the sequel, this ‘Making of’ is very interesting. Some of the discussion about how this film turned out is quite frank.
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (35:03): Again, featuring fun on the set, the alternate original premise (Indy in a haunted house/castle), and great discussions about how the film that ended up on screen came about, this previously available special feature is worth revisiting.
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD) (28:48): Spielberg felt that at the end of The Last Crusade that his time with Indiana Jones had ended. But fervent fan interest and the desire of Harrison Ford to give them what they want conspired, along with the hard work that Lucas and team put into breaking a story worthy of the legacy. It is nice to see the joy on Spielberg’s face.
Behind the Scenes: A collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes which cover almost every conceivable element of bringing these films to the big screen, with the Music of Indiana Jones being my personal favorite.
- The Stunts of Indiana Jones
- The Sound of Indiana Jones
- The Music of Indiana Jones
- The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
- Raiders: The Melting Face!
- Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-ups)
- Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (with optional pop-ups)
- Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute
- Indy’s Friends and Enemies
- Iconic Props (Crystal Skull) (HD)
- The Effects of Indy (Crystal Skull) (HD)
- Adventures in Postproduction (Crystal Skull) (HD)
The Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection on Ultra High Definition is wonderful. A fine collection of films that, even when they are not at their best, still provide high entertainment and bring home the magical suspension of disbelief that we so eagerly embrace in entertaining cinema. Archeology has never been more appealing, and Indiana Jones has never looked or sounded so good. I have come to appreciate the perfection of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in particular the brilliance of that opening adventure as high entertainment and effective establishment of the Indiana Jones legend. Very highly recommended!
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