RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
****/**** Image A- Sound A
starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey
screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan
directed by Steven Spielberg
INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)
***½/**** Image A+ Sound A
starring Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri
screenplay by Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz
directed by Steven Spielberg
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
**½/**** Image A Sound A
starring Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot, Alison Doody
screenplay by Jeffrey Boam
directed by Steven Spielberg
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
**½/**** Image A+ Sound A
starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf
screenplay by David Koepp
directed by Steven Spielberg
by Bryant Frazer Paramount has reissued the first four Indiana Jones films on 4K UHD disc in a box set with vouchers for digital copies of the tetralogy. (For a detailed review of the movies proper as well as their 2012 Blu-ray counterparts, our own Walter Chaw has you covered. (The star ratings above are his, the letter grades are mine.)) The new 4K scans capture the camera negatives in all their Panavision glory. Grain is quite present and the image sometimes goes a wee bit soft, especially in shots that were optically printed (i.e., titles, dissolves, wipes, and the like), but it's never inappropriate or distracting, and I didn't notice any obvious compression-induced flaws. Many of the special-effects shots look better than ever, as the original elements have been recomposited digitally to fix thick matte lines, imprecise rotoscopes, and similar technical holdovers from the analog domain.
While I didn't notice any new decisions being made where colour is concerned--if anything, the grading choices read as hewing more closely to original intent than prior releases--the HDR10/Dolby Vision treatment does extend the contrast of the first three films especially, making darker scenes read as even more shadowy, with brighter, spikier highlights than ever before. Presumably, this better captures the range of contrasts that DP Douglas Slocombe committed to film back in the day. Slocombe was known for relatively deep-focus cinematography, which came from shooting with a relatively small lens aperture and then pouring more light into the scene to get the correct exposure in camera. This made Spielberg nervous on set since the lighting was so bright and he had specified a dimmer, noir-influenced, "neo-Brechtian" look. Slocombe didn't stick strictly to that plan, but Spielberg came around anyway. He said later that it wasn't until he saw enough dailies of Raiders that he realized, "Hey, this movie is much prettier in colour than it is in black-and-white." Inasmuch as the new HDR transfer may push the look towards Spielberg's initial high-contrast intention, I wouldn't call it revisionist. What's on screen in Raiders, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade is clearly Slocombe's work, rendered with a slightly more contemporary feel.
Some scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark read differently, but not in important or negative ways. The antiquities and artifacts crowding the walls and shelves of Indy's apartment are uniquely distinguishable, and details in the shadowy Well of Souls are thrown into sharper relief without compromising the moody underground atmosphere. (Spielberg called the soft light Slocombe used to illuminate the walls down there "nothing ambience," since there was no possible source for ambient light in a sealed tomb.) The golden Ark itself shimmers and glistens as never before when lifted into the light. The digitally recomposited special effects are a mixed bag: Individual elements are more clearly visible, yes, but when the Ark is opened and blasts the Nazis, there's something about the way the orange lightning bolts were blended into the shot in the analog/photochemical domain that felt more natural and organic than their much sharper renditions here. Largely a matter of taste, I suppose; it's not unlike preferring the warmer but technically inferior sound of an LP to a bit-perfect CD. There's only one clear 'issue,' and it involves a CG light added to the final set-piece where Indy and Marion are bound to a pole. In every previous version of the film, it was off when it was apparently meant to be on. They've turned it on for this incarnation--and it remains on, unfortunately, even after the spirits (or whatever they are) from the Ark have knocked out all the other lights, which feels like a continuity error. Blessedly, the title still appears at the beginning of the movie as Raiders of the Lost Ark, despite the disc itself bearing the revisionist moniker Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Audio has been remixed by Ben Burtt, the original sound designer on all four films, whose work in Dolby Atmos extends the reach of the soundscape without juicing it unnecessarily or adding anachronistic directionality or amped-up low-frequency effects. The front soundstage lights up early on, when Indy is chased down by (sorry, Buster Keaton) the most famous rolling boulder in film history and the accompanying sound effects--the rolling rock combined with various snapping, crumbling, and crunching noises as the temple collapses behind it--spread out through the front and overhead speakers. That's not to say surround effects aren't robust when they need to be: Listen to the surround channels erupting with precisely-positioned gunfire during the shootout at Marion Ravenwood's bar, or the swirling and swooping sound effects that seem to pressurize the entire room as Belloq opens the Ark and cries out his final words, "It's BYOO-tiful!" Everything sounds great, though of course the mix is less aggressive on the whole than contemporary standards would dictate. Raiders still sounds like Raiders--and that's a good thing.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom looks even cleaner and sharper than its predecessor for reasons that elude me. I wondered if the difference could be partly due to advancements in film stocks. Spielberg himself described the then-new "fast 94" stock utilized to shoot darker interiors in a vintage AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER interview. I figure that must refer to Kodak 5294, a high-speed film designed for shooting in low light with minimal grain. Yet online sources suggest both films were captured mostly with Kodak 5247, the standard 35mm motion-picture film of the era. So it's interesting that many of the shots in Temple of Doom appear to be more brightly illuminated, including the characters' faces, than was permitted in Raiders of the Lost Ark. All I can guess is that Spielberg relented and let Slocombe use more fill light than he had before. In another AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER piece, dated 1981, Spielberg said, "I love heavy backlighting with very little fill, especially when I am looking for a kind of heavy, down mood. Dougie likes his down moods a little on the lighter side."
The "Anything Goes" musical number that opens Temple of Doom is especially dazzling on this disc, as Capshaw's character and a chorus of dancing girls dressed in shimmering red and gold splash colour against the pearl-white backdrop of the very well-lit "Club Obi-Wan." The colour red is a full-on visual motif in this outing, appearing with increasing frequency and intensity as the action moves underground, where cult leader Mola Ram skins children and snatches still-beating hearts from chests and so forth. Those reds are challenging to reproduce on video. Happily, the colour resolution here is everything you could hope for, keeping the reds exceptionally stable, while the HDR treatment really amplifies the contrast, making images that used to feel just a touch muddy pop into relief. Spielberg was evidently set on making a romantic comedy crossed with a cheerfully xenophobic horror flick; many of the scenes that don't take place in an underground hellscape populated by swarthy villains and flayed children are photographed with a cheerful clarity that wouldn't be out of place in a TV sitcom of the era. Whatever mood Spielberg and/or Slocombe were in on a given day, this disc renders it to perfection.
The Dolby Atmos soundmix is, once again, a thing of beauty. In my distant memory of watching an original 70mm print, the surround channels were blaring unmistakably throughout, starting with the "Anything Goes" set-piece, so I was a little disappointed that the sound here feels a bit more contained to the front hemisphere of the soundstage. (It's been decades, so I'll admit that my memory might be faulty.) My reservations mostly evaporated as the surround channels came to life in subsequent action scenes, starting with the ensuing car chase through the Shanghai streets. The Dolby Atmos height channels carry some very specific sound effects, like the sudden grinding noise the overhead fan in Indy's guest room at Pankot Palace makes when the Thuggee assassin tangled in Indy's bullwhip is yoinked upwards to his death. And the mine-cart chase, still an astonishing magic trick all these decades later, is beautifully preserved. While the improved resolution of the 4K UHD transfer makes some of the visual trickery a tad more obvious, if you can suspend your disbelief the Atmos mix actually enhances things, weaving a web of precisely positioned sound elements that makes you feel as though you're inside those underground catacombs with our heroes. Willie Scott may be the most annoying character in any of these movies, but her screams echoing through the sound field adds the delectable suggestion of a Halloween spookshow to the unhinged proceedings. If Temple of Doom is considered gauche for a number of good reasons, this transfer highlights the craftsmanship that makes it a problematic fave.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is my least favourite Indy film by a margin, and nothing about this new transfer inspired me to re-evaluate it. It looks good--there's certainly nothing technically wrong with the presentation, and some of the scenes strike me as being of what videophiles call "reference quality," at least when it comes to a film of this vintage. But nothing here is as striking or exuberant as the admittedly outré imagery of Temple of Doom. After a brief prologue with River Phoenix as young Indy sets the stage, the expanded dynamics of HDR come into play when Indy tries to steal back an artifact from a fellow known in the Indyverse only as Panama Hat during a storm at sea. Awash in various shades of blue moonlight, this face-off is almost monochromatic, with deep expanses of black shadow threatening to swallow the action whole. The scene can be dark as hell, in other words, but it's also completely legible thanks to plentiful specular highlights that add shape to the water and define the motion on screen.
More flat-out dazzling is the scene set in a Venice library where Slocombe blasts light through a stained-glass window, filtering it into brightly saturated pinks, reds, purples, and amber. In the daylight exteriors, there is incredibly fine detail resolved in the clearest shots. The sunset that closes the film--the one that our heroes literally ride off into--is gorgeous, with a piercingly bright sun, pinkish-orange clouds, and a fine colour gradient sweeping across the sky. All of these gorgeous images represent a well-intentioned effort to capture Raiders-style lightning in a bottle, yet Last Crusade lacks its own visual spark. The Atmos mix, meanwhile, just gets bigger, more aggressive, and more enveloping with each film in the series. The first real standout sequence is the abovementioned fight at sea where the surround channels blare with the thunderous to-and-fro whoosh of waves crashing hard against the boat. The rough waters get aural heft through the delivery of thunderous bass in the LFE channel--it feels louder and heftier than anything else in the series so far. Even in quieter moments, the speakers are alive with ambience that adds a sense of spaciousness to every scene.
It all culminates (for now) in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, featuring what are arguably the most bonkers visuals in the entire series, including the chilling spectacle of Indiana Jones silhouetted against a massive mushroom cloud, the ridiculous conceit of Shia LaBeouf swinging through the Amazon jungle like Tarzan (accompanied by a small army of capuchin monkeys), and a much-sought-after alien skull that looks like a fab crystal ashtray. It's all varying degrees of silly, but it looks fantastic thanks to Paramount splashing out to rescan the 35mm negative at 4K for this reissue. (The computer-generated VFX mastered for the 2K theatrical release, however, were merely upscaled to 4K; as you'd expect, they're not particularly convincing.) With Slocombe in retirement, Spielberg's new regular DP Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan, Munich) shot Crystal Skull with Kodak's medium-speed 5205 and exceptionally fine-grained 5218 film stock, and those advanced emulsions yield a finely-detailed 4K image with surprisingly little noise.
Kaminski is one of today's finest DPs, and this disc ably documents how his work sometimes mimics and often veers away from the tone Slocombe set for the series. The early scene outside the warehouse is incredibly crisp and detailed but looks utterly unreal, like something photographed on a soundstage. (Cate Blanchett casts multiple shadows, which is weird for something that takes place outdoors at dusk.) Exteriors often feel overexposed--skies disappear in a blasted-out background haze. Although the effect is pretty (I figure it was planned that way to suggest the painted backdrops of old Hollywood adventure movies), it's a radical departure from the previous films. On the other hand, there are some quite dark moments with slivers of visible rim light and no fill illuminating the characters that feel like they came straight out of the Raiders playbook. Again, the transfer is gorgeous, delivering a far more detailed picture than ever graced movie-theatre screens. For me, it rivals Temple of Doom as the real revelation in this set.
Burtt's Dolby Atmos design for Crystal Skull welcomes Indy into the 21st century with an exceptionally active mix boasting lots of ambient fx along with plenty of clean directional pans cued by the action on screen. During the elaborate truck chase set inside a warehouse near the beginning of the film, you can hear screams behind you, and bullets ricochet satisfyingly through the rafters overhead during the gunfight. I was especially pleased when a rifle that Indy knocked out of a Russian soldier's hand during the jungle chase tumbled forwards past the camera and was imaged precisely in the Atmos mix, whipping past my ears from the front of the room to the back. There are bigger noises, too. As debris from explosions whizzes overhead or an airborne truck shears off the top of another vehicle, the height channels pour on the decibels. Of course, Dolby Atmos still didn't exist when Crystal Skull came out in 2008. (It arrived with Pixar's Brave in 2012.) If it had, it's hard to imagine Burtt's mix wouldn't have sounded almost exactly like this.
It's worth noting that only the English language audio tracks have received the Dolby Atmos treatment. In addition, each disc features an array of Dolby Digital 5.1 and/or 2.0 mixes in French, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. Subtitles are unified across all four films and include English, English SDH, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin (Simplified and Traditional), Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, and Thai. The transfers themselves are presented in 2160p at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 for the '80s trilogy and 2.39:1 for Crystal Skull.
I'm not going to spend any time discussing the extra features since they were already reviewed by Walter Chaw elsewhere at FFC nine years ago. That's right--the fifth disc in this boxed set is the same Blu-ray Disc that rounded out the 2012 one, a cost-cutting measure that helps explain why Paramount additionally ported over the original animated Blu-ray menu screens. The 2008 Blu-ray for Crystal Skull contained a raft of supplements that are missing here, such as an 80-minute making-of, previs sequences, and photo galleries, plus there was bonus material on the 2003 DVD release of the Indiana Jones trilogy that's probably been sealed in a wooden crate marked Top Secret and left to molder in a warehouse somewhere. (Bill Chambers's coverage of that release is a sidebar to Walter's review.) I don't much miss that material--the Blu-ray includes something like seven hours of extras, which is honestly plenty for everyone but strict completists, who surely have all of those earlier releases on their shelves already.
What's more irksome is the cavalier attitude underlying a release that should be treated as the definitive home-video version of some of Paramount's most famous films. The picture and sound quality live up to that standard, but the actual objet d'art feels like an afterthought, something the studio decided they were obliged to produce. The "collectible packaging" promised in the initial round of PR constitutes a lightweight trifold digipak holding four BD-66 discs and one BD-50 (any given copy that you get in the mail is likely to have at least one disc sliding around loose in the box before you peel the shrinkwrap), as well as a foldout showing a world map with locations from the four movies highlighted on one side and reproductions of the original one-sheet posters on the other. Also tucked into the case is a slip with redemption codes for digital copies of all four films. (Note that there are no SDR Blu-rays of the quartet here.) The underwhelming digipak slides into a flimsy cardboard slipcase; any given copy you get in the mail is, again, likely to have been partially crushed in transit. If this were a $39.95 bargain-basement reissue, fine. For $90.99 suggested retail, we deserve a nicer box. To be fair, certain retailers are offering a steelbook bundle that varies in price from $99.99 to $178.99 and is destined to be somewhat sturdier (and I guess you could say we should feel lucky we're getting discs at all, as Our Glorious Future of Streaming threatens to kibosh packaged media entirely), although a baseline quality standard for the sake of us plebs would be appreciated.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
115 minutes; PG; 2.35:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), Dolby Vision|HDR10; English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core), French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Spanish DD 2.0, Italian DD 5.1, Italian DD 2.0, Japanese DD 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0, Russian DD 2.0; English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese subtitles; BD-66; Region-free; Paramount
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
118 minutes; PG; 2.35:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), Dolby Vision|HDR10; English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core), French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Spanish DD 2.0, Italian DD 5.1, Italian DD 2.0, Japanese DD 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0, Russian DD 2.0; English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese subtitles; BD-66; Region-free; Paramount
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
126 minutes; PG-13; 2.35:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), Dolby Vision|HDR10; English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core), French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Spanish DD 2.0, Italian DD 5.1, Italian DD 2.0, Japanese DD 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0, Russian DD 2.0; English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese subtitles; BD-66; Region-free; Paramount
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
122 minutes; PG-13; 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), Dolby Vision|HDR10; English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD core), French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Spanish DD 2.0, Italian DD 5.1, Japanese DD 5.1, Russian DD 5.1; English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese subtitles; BD-66; Region-free; Paramount