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The Indiana Jones Films on DVD: Raiders of the Lost Ark Temple of Doom Last Crusade Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Raiders of the Lost Ark (The Adventure Collection) DVD Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark movie poster Raiders of the Lost Ark

Theatrical Release: June 12, 1981 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Steven Spielberg / Writers: Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay); George Lucas, Philip Kaufman (story)

Cast: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliot (Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca/Monkey Man), Don Fellows (Colonel Musgrove), William Hootkins (Major Eaton)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Pinpointing just how certain films become classics is a difficult task. They somehow uncover the elusive territory of connecting with both critics and audiences. While that in and of itself is an impressive feat, classics go a step further by remaining in the public's eye for years to come.
A look at various top movie lists, including the most famous of all belonging to the American Film Institute, discovers an abundance of weighty dramas. One of the most notable exceptions is a little adventure film by the name of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Raiders sets itself in 1936 and follows the exploits of Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). A college professor on some days, Jones' main profession is that of an archeologist. When the Nazis endorse an elaborate excavation hunt in Cairo, it is believed that they're searching for the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred chest containing the Ten Commandments and other hallowed items. The Ark was used was a means of communication between the Hebrews and God during Biblical times, and thus would be dangerous falling into the hands of the Nazi regime.

Indy sets off to find it with the help of his ex-girlfriend Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and best friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Naturally, complications arise. Indy's rival, Dr. Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), is in leagues with the Nazis, making the quest that much more personal. It doesn't help matters that wherever he seems to go, Jones just can't seem to get out of trouble. This knack for mayhem results in various confrontations along the way to finding the Ark.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) dramatically makes his first appearance to the audience. Marion (Karen Allen) doesn't take kindly to seeing Indy (or his silhouette) again.

Raiders came at just the right time for Steven Spielberg. His previous film, the World War II comedy 1941 went severely over budget, was panned by critics, and failed to win over moviegoers. Spielberg decided to do something more low-key, opting for a tribute to adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s.
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Apparently the film came at just the right time for audiences, as well, for it managed to become the top-grossing picture of 1981. It was lauded with praise from critics and has since influenced three sequels, a television series, and numerous books and video games. Of course, all this acclaim would mean nothing if the film were mediocre or worse. Thankfully, it isn't.

Perhaps the biggest reason why the piece works so well is due to its leading actor, Harrison Ford. It's widely known that Tom Selleck was the first choice for the role, and while Selleck certainly would've done well with the material, Ford brings a level of apathy and sarcasm that the character needs. It's refreshing to see a hero who isn't invincible, even if the idea isn't as unique now as it was back in 1981. Indy has been called an "everyman," and this is an apt description. Few may know someone with Jones' physical skills, but everyone has met someone with his personality traits. Ford manages to make the character cynical and cheeky while still keeping a level of warmth and humanity that prevents him from becoming aloof.

The rest of the cast also shines and brings enough charisma to make their characters noticed. Karen Allen as Marion proves to be a fiery match for Jones. She's infinitely more likable than some of the other leading ladies in the series that range from the obnoxious (Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom) to the bland (Alison Doody in Last Crusade). John Rhys-Davies adds some earnestness to the story as Jones' optimistic and loyal friend Sallah. The two villains here, Belloq and Toht, are given good contrast by their respective actors. Paul Freeman actually makes Belloq quite charming and likable, presenting the character more as a rascal than an evil entity. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ronald Lacey, given the more thankless role as the truly evil villain. He supplies the story the weight it needs, however, and does so with a slight wink to the audience.

Indy isn't sure what shocks him more: the snake or the fact that the safety glass reflection has been digitally removed. Belloq (Paul Freeman) admires the famed Ark of the Covenant.

The action sequences on display in Raiders offer fresh interpretations of the types of scenarios many have grown immune to. There's no perfunctory, workmanlike feel to the fights. Instead, Spielberg infuses them with as much personality as the characters participating and offers something that's both familiar and new.
It can be argued that there may be too much action and not enough story. Raiders admittedly has a slim plot with very little twists or layers to it. Somehow, though, it never comes across as insubstantial. Perhaps it's because Spielberg leaves little time for dawdling. Something is always happening, even if it may not add up to much from a story point of view.

There is one slight misstep in how the story and pacing are handled, however. Around the 70-minute mark, a lengthy set of action sequences are presented back to back with rising tension for approximately 20 minutes. These sequences (starting with the famous snake pit) are actually so memorable and thrilling that one would think they were the climax of the film, especially considering things seem to be wrapping up afterwards. Instead, the picture continues for another 20 minutes before the real climax occurs. This portion feels like a needless detour, especially considering the goal here is the same as the goal of preceding sequences. Putting the true climax and ending at the end of the string of action set pieces would've made the third act flow much more smoothly and naturally.

Besides a stalling last act, there aren't many other flaws to find. All of the elements come together satisfyingly and remarkably. Raiders of the Lost Ark has no lofty goals other than to entertain. It shows that not every piece of cinema needs to make the viewer re-evaluate one's self or life. Movies can be made simply to thrill and to offer two hours of escapism, something Spielberg, story-credited George Lucas, and everyone else involved deliver in spades.

When the DVD format first launched, the Indiana Jones Trilogy was among the most requested titles. Paramount finally succumbed to the fans October 21, 2003, releasing all three films in a boxed set along with a fourth bonus disc. Now that using DVD re-releases to cross-promote theatrical outings is becoming the popular thing to do, Paramount is bringing back the trilogy in honor of the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The new sequel's three predecessors arrive with new features both individually and in The Adventure Collection (another boxed set). Are they worth the double dip? Read on to find out.

Buy Raiders of the Lost Ark: Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.20:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish;
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 13, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Was $26.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
THX-Certified
Black Slimcase (The Adventure Collection in Holographic Cardboard Box)
Buy Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection 3-DVD Set from Amazon.com

VIDEO and AUDIO

Raiders of the Lost Ark appears in anamorphic widescreen, presented in a 2.20:1 ratio. Those looking for a new restoration will come away disappointed, as this the same transfer found on the 2003 DVD. That really isn't cause to complain, however, for the 2003 restoration (done by Lowry Digital/DTS Images) is excellent. Colors are warm and vivid without looking too saturated. Some shots are a bit soft, but most of the time the image is crisp and detailed. Lowry's restorations have caused some controversies, particularly over how their work may be too clean and digital-looking. Rest assured, there is fine film grain present (supposedly requested by Spielberg himself). To those who may not approve of grain, what's here is barely noticeable; the image is still clean of all other possible artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is also a carry over from the old release, but it still holds up very well. Dialogue is clean and intelligible, and the surrounds are utilized surprisingly often. John Williams' iconic score is rich and given good scope without drowning out the dialogue.

Director Steven Spielberg explains why he created this film in the introduction that's not really an introduction. Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, and the back of Steven Spielberg relax in between a take in "Indiana Jones: An Appreciation." The melting face effect is recreated and explained step by step.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The disc for Raiders of the Lost Ark (whether individually or in the new set) is awfully anemic in the supplements department. First up is "Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Introduction" (7:47). Director Steven Spielberg and creator/producer George Lucas talk about their goals when first starting the project as well as the choice to cast Harrison Ford. This is interspersed with film clips and behind-the-scenes footage.
It offers a solid introduction, but oddly enough, does not automatically precede the film. (It can only be watched via the Special Features page.)

Next is "Indiana Jones: An Appreciation" (11:40). In this featurette, Spielberg, Lucas, and the cast and crew from Crystal Skull reflect on the trilogy. All discuss their favorite lines and scenes from the first three films, and actors new to the series (such as Shia LaBeouf and Ray Winstone) explain how they first discovered the franchise. Fluffy and obviously meant to promote the new film, it's still entertaining to see what different people get out of the series.

"The Melting Face!" (8:48) has members of the visual effects crew explaining how one character's fate is handled. Because very little footage seems to have been shot during the tests of this effect, the crew recreates it specifically for this DVD. It's a fascinating look into one of the most impressive effects of Raiders, and it makes one appreciate the craft that goes into something of this sort.

The storyboard-to-film comparison doesn't show a difference in staging here as much as a different in jaw lines and bosoms. Steven Spielberg plays Gulliver's Travels in a still from the gallery. Photoshop- filtered Indy looks up at that famous boulder in the animated main menu.

"Storyboards: The Well of Souls" (4:16) is a storyboard-to-film comparison of one of the most memorable set pieces from the picture. The staging in the storyboards is actually quite different from the finished film, thus making this more valuable than usual. Unfortunately, the presentation is hampered by not fully utilizing the allotted frame space, nor the seldom-used angle button.

Easily the best feature on the disc, "Galleries" is split into four sections: "Illustrations & Props" (110 stills), "Production Photographs & Portraits" (190 stills), "Effects/ILM" (94 stills), and "Marketing" (46 stills).
The amount of images presented is pleasantly surprising and interesting to see. There's room for improvement, however, in the fact that there are no thumbnails; one must manually toggle through all of the photos.

The last feature is a trailer for "Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures Game" (1:19). It appears to be an amusing entry into the franchise's merchandising world. A demo is also included when one inserts the DVD into his computer, though it's not currently available at the time of this review.

While no trailers appear for Raiders, the disc does start with the teaser for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, ensuring it to be available to watch on DVD even if it doesn't show up on that respective film's disc.

It's obvious that this re-release's sole purpose is to capitalize on the new Indiana Jones picture. The 2003 bonus disc included a two-hour, seven-minute documentary on the trilogy (with 51 of those minutes devoted to Raiders), 47 minutes' worth of featurettes about the stunts, sound, music, and effects, and trailers for all three films. None of that appears here. While the featurettes and (especially) the galleries are solid, they don't replace the 2003 content. Spielberg's stance on not doing commentary tracks or including deleted scenes is frustrating. He can't possibly say all he has to say in sit-down interviews as he's only answering whatever is asked of him. As for the deleted scenes, fans know they were cut for a reason and aren't expecting gold. Anyone who is is simply foolish, so he needn't be embarrassed about presenting cut footage. Perhaps things will be rectified on a future Blu-ray release, but until then, this isn't the definitive edition for Indiana Jones.

The menus replicate those found on the 2003 disc. The animated main menu plays airbrush-filtered clips as John Williams' famous theme plays. Submenus are static, but are styled the same way and play additional music cues. All of them, along with the non-Lego supplements, are anamorphic.

The disc comes housed in a black slimline case when part of the Adventure Collection and, presumably, a standard black Amaray for the individual release. In a shocking move for Paramount, the disc features full-color artwork rather than the plain gray surface employed in recent years. No insert is included, however.

Indy and Marion admire their new serpentine home. Indy chases after the Nazi vehicles on horseback, in a nod to classic adventure serials.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Raiders of the Lost Ark deserves its status as an adventure classic. The tone and characters are fun and down-to-earth, and the action sequences are creative. It may not weave the meatiest tale, but it excels at its primary goal: to entertain. Picture and sound quality on this release are identical to the previous one, which is just as well since both are excellent. The supplements, however, are a different story. What is included here actually isn't bad at all, but it pales in comparison to what the 2003 set had to offer. That set is actually still (momentarily) in print and sells for a few dollars less than the new Adventure Collection. While the idea of an individual release may be tempting for those who only care for one or two of the films, they still won't learn much about the respective picture they've purchased. The individual releases are recommended only to those who don't want the whole trilogy and don't care for supplements. To those who want all three films (whether they care for bonus material or not), the 2003 Complete Movie Collection is still the best choice.

Buy from Amazon.com: Raiders of the Lost Ark / Indiana Jones: 3-DVD The Adventure Collection

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Related Reviews:
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
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Reviewed May 12, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1981 Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd., 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.