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Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 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)

Buy Raiders of the Lost Ark from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video / Complete Adventures: Blu-ray DVD

Last Friday, Walt Disney Studios announced the acquisition of the marketing and distribution rights for future movies in the Indiana Jones series. Adding to Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar, Disney now owns an astonishing number of filmdom's biggest brands,
which is sure to long keep them occupied in the business of tentpoles whose ticket sales are a small piece of a much larger picture.

The deal only impacts the future of Indiana Jones. For now, the past continues to belong to Paramount Pictures, who released the four Steven Spielberg-directed adventures to theaters from 1981 to 2008. Paramount released the quadrilogy to Blu-ray in September 2012 in a 5-disc set dubbed The Complete Adventures. Now, fifteen months later and a week before Christmas, the studio is giving the series' first three films the standalone Blu-ray releases they haven't previously received.

Just like the original, 1981 Best Picture Oscar nominee Raiders of the Lost Ark? Have a soft spot for 1984's dark, PG-13-inspiring Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Won't settle for anything less than the father-son escapades of 1989's triumphant Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Maybe you're just weird and insist on giving every movie in your collection its own individual case? Or maybe you already own Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Blu-ray and have been opposed to rebuying what is now (inaccurately) considered the weak link of the franchise? (A title it seems certain to shed with Disney sure to give us a new movie with either a 70-something Harrison Ford trying to defy Father Time more or some younger actor trying in vain to fill his big shoes.)

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) puts an abrupt end to a duel with a swordsman in a memorable moment from "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Whatever your reasons may be, Paramount is getting some use out of one of the rare catalog titles whose rights it didn't turn over to Warner Home Video with Tuesday's new individual releases of the first three installments.

At the moment, Amazon's 35% discounts give each individual Blu-ray a list price of $17.49. Meanwhile, The Complete Adventures set is currently selling for just $34.99. For those of you who hate math, that means that for one penny more than it would cost you to buy two of these standalone releases, you could get all four movies plus the bonus disc in the box set. That's not even taking shipping costs into consideration, which are now an issue for non-Prime members spending less than $35 at the e-tailer. Really, the only way this would be a good value for you is if you only want one of the movies and do not care about extras or do care about Digital HD, with which these new releases are equipped.

Of these new Blu-ray releases, Paramount only made Raiders of the Lost Ark available for review. Per their usual practices, they title the movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark on the packaging.

I get the feeling that you've already seen this film, which besides topping the box office for 1981 has been chosen for every kind of distinction a classic film can earn, from American Film Institute inclusion to selection for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

The movie has never significantly been changed, either. Indy's gun remains a gun and not a walkie-talkie. The disc is also unchanged from the one in The Complete Adventures box set, 2012 file dates and all. With that in mind, I think my thoughts on the film from fifteen months ago bear repeating here.

When he's not off on globetrotting adventure, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is a college professor. Marion (Karen Allen) clings to Belloq (Paul Freeman), a nemesis keeping her safe.

Raiders' status as the franchise's best is hardly more disputed than the fact that it was made first, but I'm one of those who doesn't deem it Indy's most enjoyable outing.
To me, it is the character who is a classic and not the work that introduces him.

While I admit that Raiders offers an okay time, it never really exceeds that in my eyes. It is full of moments that have been quoted, parodied, and celebrated countless times over the past thirty years: the opening boulder dash, the swordsman who doesn't stand a chance, the pit of snakes, the fistfight with the bald strongman, the face-burning finale. That is a lot of indelibility to find in under two hours. The movie isn't constructed to move you from one show-stopping encounter to the next. It only feels that way as a result of its pop culture permeation.

Raiders is heavy on action, a genre which I enjoy most in moderation. While this is pretty much the poster child for "action-adventure", much of the film only fulfills the first part of that hyphenate. After an arresting opening establishes our hero's derring-do, we settle into his day job (college professor) for some tasteful exposition. The quest for the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, believed to hold the very Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses, requires the headpiece of a staff that will then direct to the Well of Souls, where the elusive Ark is said to be buried.

With that laid out, Indy travels to Nepal, where he reconnects with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), his tough old flame and the daughter of his mentor. Then, it's off to Cairo, where the bulk of the movie transcends. The film proceeds with one chase after another. They unfold with much gusto, but aren't the most captivating. Or memorable, as I noticed when a sequence late in the film emerged involving a submarine that I had absolutely no recollection of. This is one of the most iconic movies ever made and one that I've seen twice fairly recently and yet this entire critical scene played like a cut bit Lucas might have restored in one of his Star Wars "special" editions. I don't mean to belabor the point, as it is unquestionably one of the more forgettable parts of a film full of memorable bits. But it seems to confirm to me that I'm not crazy for not considering this even close to being one of the greatest films ever made. It does, however, make for an obvious target for those wanting to recognize the entire series.

Now that Disney is all but certain to give us more Indiana Jones movies in the future (the rumor going around is that Ford would reprise Han Solo in their next Star Wars episode as long as he got to don the fedora and wield the whip at least once more), I would wager that we'll be seeing Raiders and its sequels revisited in the not too distant future by Paramount, or Disney should they acquire their rights as they did for the Marvel films Paramount originally distributed.

Watch the famous Boulder clip from Raiders of the Lost Ark:

Raiders of the Lost Ark standalone Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 17, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $26.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (1 BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($14.98 SRP; May 13, 2008), Amazon Instant Video, and in The Complete Adventures Collection on Blu-ray ($76.99 SRP; September 18, 2012) and DVD ($49.99 SRP; October 14, 2008)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Again, the disc is unchanged, so why would my assessment of it? Raiders has been treated to the most meticulous restoration of the series and it looks absolutely terrific on Blu-ray. Its stunning 2.40:1 transfer keeps each frame clean, sharp, and vibrant. While a few shots and parts of frames look out of focus, I have no doubt that is how they were shot, exhibited, and possibly intended.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is equally delightful. Raiders makes use of its original master mix, which apparently had been archived and untouched since 1981. Effects previously used in mono are now employed in the original stereo format in which they were recorded. The tracks boast depth, directionality, clarity, and precision. One feels like this is how the film looked and sounded in opening day exhibitions, only without any perceivable technical flaws.

The "Raiders of the Lost Ark" title logo appears in all three of its included trailers. Major Toht goes for a high-five between two columns on the Blu-ray's animated menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Though the case doesn't make any mention of it, the disc does include three 1.78:1 Raiders trailers in high definition: a teaser (1:03), a full trailer (2:33), and a 1983 reissue trailer (1:45).
The disc is well under capacity, but the box set relegated substantial bonus features to a bonus disc and without a fresh authoring which this wasn't given, none of the Raiders-specific extras have magically surfaced here.

The menu plays excerpts of John Williams' iconic theme while a CGI plane crosses Raiders-specific maps and leads the way to clips coming at us in settings inspired by that installment. While the disc supports bookmarks, it unfortunately does not resume playback. Playback of the film is prefaced by an elongated 30-second THX logo.

The eco-friendly blue keepcase is topped by an embossed, foil-faced slipcover adapted from Richard Amsel's original poster artwork, with a sticker on front whose proclamation "First Time on Blu-ray as an Individual Release" seems overenthusiastic. Joining the plainly-labeled disc in the case is an insert with directions and your unique code for downloading the iTunes format digital copy, which you've got to redeem by December 2015. There's no UltraViolet option, which perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise to those who know how protective Spielberg and Lucas are of their lucrative properties.

Before taking off priceless artifacts, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has to think about his life.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The new standalone Blu-rays given to Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels seem less an attempt to meet demand than to create it with a low price point and Christmastime release. What these editions actually do is illustrate the superior value of the Complete Adventures, especially when heavily discounted. On its own merits, a classic film given a stunning restoration is impressive. However, unless you only like one of these movies (maybe building an AFI 100 Movies Blu-ray collection?), gotta have digital copies, or prefer individual cases to box sets, the four-movie collection is really the way to go for buying Indy on Blu-ray.

Buy Raiders of the Lost Ark from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video / Complete Adventures: Blu-ray DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Raiders of the Lost Ark (Adventure Collection DVD) Daytona Jones and the Pearl of Wisdom
Directed by Steven Spielberg: Catch Me If You Can Jaws Lincoln War Horse The Adventures of Tintin
Harrison Ford: 42 Paranoia Extraordinary Measures Morning Glory Apocalypse Now | Karen Allen: Scrooged
Denholm Elliott: Trading Places | John Rhys-Davies: The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement Glory Daze
Produced by Steven Spielberg: The Goonies Arachnophobia Poltergeist Men in Black Transformers Real Steel
New: Fast & Furious 6 Elysium The Rutles Anthology Mary Poppins The Call of the Wild
1980s: Flight of the Navigator Voyagers: The Complete Series Spaceballs Teen Wolf
Adventures: National Treasure The Rocketeer Journey to the Center of the Earth Inkheart Aladdin

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Reviewed December 13, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1981 Paramount Pictures, Lucasfilm, and 2013 Paramount Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.