An ingenious homage to the classic Saturday matinee serials of a bygone Hollywood era from the imagination of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the Indiana Jones series remains one of the most cherished and wildly entertaining franchises in cinema history. Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, all four films swing into 4K Ultra HD with gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR presentations, highly satisfying Dolby Atmos tracks but the same set of bonus materials. Nevertheless, the overall UHD package makes for a Highly Recommended addition to the library.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
After leaving his mark in the world of horror with Jaws and elevating B-quality sci-fi to that of awarding-winning drama while pushing visual effects wizardry in Close Encounters, Steven Spielberg forged ahead to breathe new life in yet another movie genre with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Partnering with writer and producer George Lucas, the legendary filmmaker cooked up the perfect recipe for the action-adventure film. The first feature in the Indiana Jones saga is also where Spielberg began really demonstrating his unique style and distinct spirited tone that eventually grew into its own definition — the Spielbergian. From the opening moments of the Paramount logo seamlessly fading into a wide establishing shot of a South American mountain peak, we become witness to the imaginative creativity of a true virtuoso, a genuine filmmaker in complete control of the camera.
Within a matter of minutes, we learn a great deal about Harrison Ford's most celebrated character and of the plot's major conflict involving the thieving Belloq (Paul Freeman). As he navigates through an ancient temple of booby traps, the fedora-wearing, bullwhip-snapping Indiana Jones shows that he is as intelligent, cunning and resourceful as he is fallible and culpable, which only makes him all the more endearing. And by the end of the first act, we also learn the filmmakers are aiming for a tonally darker tale than their previous efforts as they introduce Hitler's interest in mysticism and the occult while the Nazis search for the Ark of the Covenant. Yet, Spielberg amazingly keeps things optimistically carefree and riveting as he pays homage to the pulp B-movies of his youth, not only for the sake of nostalgia for that bygone era but also to reintroduce the joy of cinema with a kind of child-like awe. (Movie Rating: 5/5)
The Temple of Doom
As opposed to its predecessor, The Temple of Doom goes more for the frights and thrills than the typical action-adventure flick, yet Spielberg maintains that same high-spirited sense of excitement as before. While still keeping with the spirit of celebrating classic B-movie serials, the follow-up prequel interestingly takes fans back a year prior to Raiders, before the Nazis became a major worldwide threat, and we find our hero battling other sinister forces with ambitions for world domination. Only, a good portion of the story originates from many of the rejected ideas conjured up for the first movie, most of which as the over-the-top and ridiculously unrealistic action sequences that ironically have become some of the movie's most iconic moments. The most crackpot and outrageous of these is the rollercoaster-like chase inside a mine shaft and the dinner scene with a variety of exotic but disgusting foods.
However, no matter how memorable or entertaining these aspects may be, the overall tone of the story feels somewhat out of place within the Indy universe, considering it's about a religious cult of black magic. The plot also follows an extraordinarily dark subject matter involving human sacrifice and child slavery with a terrifying villain in Mola Ram (Amrish Puri). There's also something more cynical and a tad derisive in Ford's performance, like that of a person burned a few too many times in his misadventures with bad people. Thankfully, Kate Capshaw's haughty "Willie" and Jonathan Ke Quan's loyal Short Round are meant to ground Indy while also keeping the story lighthearted as a likable pair of comic relief. Besides, although the creepy horror elements mark a darkly sinister chapter in the series, the movie concludes on a well-deserved happy note and remains a great deal of fun. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
The Last Crusade
For the third installment in the Indiana Jones adventures, Spielberg and Lucas change the mood once more but with far better results, effectively rinsing away the awkward aftertaste of the previous entry. For The Last Crusade, they revisit many of the same ingredients that made the first feature a beloved classic, particularly the return of the Nazis and Hitler's pursuit of occult-related artifacts. And on top of that, they add a welcomed twist to the series with Sean Connery joining the adventures as Indy's father, bringing a great deal of comedy to the mix and making the movie almost equal to Raiders. This father-son element is made all the more memorable with a prologue that shows an early adventure, possibly the first, with a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix) battling treasure hunters. In this pseudo origin story, of sorts, we essentially learn of Indy's inspiration for archeology, the scar on his chin, his phobia of snakes and the fedora hat that has become the character's iconic signature style.
In keeping with the high-spirited hijinks of its predecessors, the second sequel again involves the hunt for an ancient religious artifact believed to possess mystical, supernatural properties. And this time, it's the holy grail of archeological finds. Literally! Unlike the first two, however, this quest for the King Arthur legend adds a deeper, more poignant meaning to the overall story by serving as a clever metaphor for our hero reconciling with his distant father. On an even grander scale, the theme takes on a worldlier, corporeal significance because the spiritual search for God and faith is really about fathers and sons. To achieve this tearful reunion, the filmmakers have Indy and his father take part in the same idealistic pilgrimage. Together, they must resolve their feud in order to duel with a powerful and evil force that seeks to divide rather than unite, making this adventure Indy's most challenging yet. (Movie Rating: 4.5/5)
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Twenty years later, a much older Indy returns for another adventure. And at first glance, the fourth installment is a hodgepodge involving aliens, communists, a Marlon Brando wannabe, swinging monkeys, and a lead-lined refrigerator capable of surviving a nuclear blast. Then, there is some silly nonsense about backstabbing double agents while Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) from the first movie suddenly returns to brighten the screen. Even after reading that out loud, it really feels as though Spielberg and Lucas severely dropped the ball here, to use a phrase uttered by Shia LaBeouf as Indy's rebel son Mutt Williams. But to be completely fair, criticizing the production for these elements is also rather undeserving in a beloved franchise that openly blends the action-adventure genre with heavy doses of fantasy, the occult and homages to B-movies serials. And it has always done so proudly.
Part of the joy in watching these adventures is the escapist fun of hunting ancient artifacts with wildly mystical superstitions and supernatural powers, packed with the thrilling excitement that comes from that journey. Admittedly, the whole monkeys swinging through the jungle with LaBeouf remains pretty lame, but it's really not any crazier than a Nazi-saluting monkey, eating chilled monkey brains for dessert or Marcus Brody monkeying around in general. To be completely honest, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull falls perfectly in line withing the franchise's theme as an homage to the classical Hollywood style, and this third sequel just happens to blend the low-budget matinee genre with the feel of a 1950s sci-fi B-movie. And it does so rather spectacularly, nicely capturing the general quality of pulp science fiction mixed with a great deal of humor. Flawed as it may be, a little kooky and even goofy, the movie is ultimately good, silly fun without tarnishing Indy's legacy. (Movie Rating: 3/5)
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark by bringing the entire franchise to 4K Ultra HD. Dubbed the Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection, fans can choose between two separate sets. Both sets also include a flyer with codes for Digital Copies of all four films, which can be redeemed through either VUDU or iTunes, giving owners access to 4K versions of the movies in Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio.
The first package is a gatefold-style digipak with each film on opposing clear plastic panels with the last disc sitting comfortably atop a Blu-ray disc containing all the special features. It comes with a small poster-sized map charting all the locations Indy has traveled to throughout the series, and they all come inside a thin, side-sliding slipcover. The second features dedicated SteelBooks for all four films with the last housing the UHD disc atop the same Blu-ray disc containing the special features. Attractive as the overall package may be, the only complaint is the rather flimsy, almost paper-thin cardboard box holding the SteelBooks.
All four films are contained on separate Region Free, UHD66 discs, and the fifth disc is the same Region Free, BD50 as the previous box set. At startup, each disc goes straight to an animated menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Reportedly coming from a fresh 4K remasters of the original camera negatives, which were approved by Steven Speilberg, the beloved classic swings into Ultra HD territory with a winning and spectacular HEVC H.265 encode. Awash in a thin, consistent layer of natural grain throughout, the 2.35:1 image arrives with sharper, cleaner lines and textures in the stitching of costumes, overall stage production and facial complexions, exposing the smallest blemish in the cast. A few sequences are understandably softer with a small dip in resolution quality, but that's mostly due to film stock, photography and the visual effects of that time. Otherwise, the native 4K transfer is highly detailed, and the elements appear to be in excellent condition, showing true, inky blacks with strong gradational differences in the various shades and in the darkest corners of the frame.
The Dolby Vision HDR presentation also comes with a vividly bright contrast balance, showing clean, brilliant whites and making many of the exterior sequences really pop. The most noteworthy improvement is the radiant specular highlights supplying a crisp brilliance to the gold objects and a tighter glow in the hottest spots, allowing for superb visibility in the light fixtures while plumes of fire lap the air with better clarity and realism. Likewise, the color palette displays fuller, sumptuous primaries with the reds of the swastika flags in the second half being more accurately rendered and spirited while greens show a better range between the darker junipers shades and the lively shamrock tones in the surrounding foliage. Best of all, the video enjoys a wider, richer array of secondary hues, showering the action in eye-catching variations of mocha browns, sepia tans, buttery yellows and fiery oranges. All in all, this is a magnificent presentation with a lovely cinematic appeal. (Video Rating: 90/100)
The Temple of Doom
Arriving in a similar fashion to the first disc, the fresh HEVC-encoded transfer comes with better, sharper details than its HD predecessor, especially in the many exterior daylight shots showing individual leaves in the trees and fine lines in the buildings. Facial complexions have a more lifelike texture to them as well while the jewelry and embroidery of some outfits are quite striking and distinct from a distance. However, resolution wavers more noticeably with several blurry scenes, which are largely the result of the aged photography and the dated visual effects. The worst moments may be the matte painting sequences, but it also remains part of its charm. Nevertheless, the native 4K video is in excellent condition with a consistent ultra-fine layer of grain and rich, accurate black levels, providing the 2.35:1 image with strong shadow delineation in the many poorly-lit interiors and an attractive cinematic quality.
The more immediate improvement is the boosted yet terrifically well-balanced contrast, displaying cleaner, more brilliant whites while giving the photography a welcomed rejuvenated feel. Specular highlights shower the action with a radiant, energetic appeal in the daylight exteriors, and the jewelry benefits from a narrow, beaming sparkle while fire torches and the smooth-polished stones enjoy a tight, crisp glow. The Dolby Vision presentation also displays a richer, more vibrant selection of colors with primaries looking especially fuller and dramatic. Although subtle and nuanced, the overall palette shows a more diverse array of secondary hues, from the softer sandy tans and beiges in some articles of clothing to the dark hickory browns, deep cider oranges and golden honey yellows of the underground temple. Most eye-catching in the resplendent mix of amber, ginger and marigold in the illuminating Sankara Stones, making this a vast step-up over its HD SDR counterpart. (Video Rating: 84/100)
The Last Crusade
Of the original trilogy, it's not surprising that the third installment rides into Ultra HD looking its best thanks to a fresh remaster of the OCN, aside from some negligible, age-related softness here and there. On the whole, the new HEVC H.265 encode is a magnificent and often stunning upgrade over its Blu-ray predecessor, showing razor-sharp details in the Nazi uniforms, the armored vehicles and the many exotic locations. Speaking of which, the desert scenes in Hatay are simply beautiful, exposing individual pebbles, tiny rocks and every crevice in the rock formations with striking clarity. All the while, brightness levels supply rich, inky blacks with excellent gradational details within the darkest corners and with notable differences in the various shades. With a consistent thin layer of natural grain throughout, the 2.35:1 image arrives with a gorgeous, attractive film-like quality that fans will absolutely love.
Extending its life further is a subtly boosted but nonetheless more vibrant palette that energizes the action with a wider range of colors. The Dolby Vision HDR presentation displays a fuller, more spirited selection of primaries, from the deep crimson reds of the swastika flags to the cheerfully animated greens and lovely cerulean blues in the Austrian scenes. Better still is a sumptuous array of deep caramel browns, golden yellows and sandy tans during the film's second half in the desert, and scenes with fire and torches brighten the screen in a vibrant tiger orange glow. An improved contrast balance also adds a rejuvenated appeal to the visuals with crunchier, invigorated whites while specular highlights provide a tighter, crisp brilliance along the edge of the clouds and a vivid, realistic sheen to metallic surfaces. At the same time, facial complexions appear natural and more accurate to the climate with rosy peachiness and lifelike textures, exposing every pore, wrinkle and trivial blemish. (Video Rating: 92/100)
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Predictably, the strongest and best looking of the bunch is also the newest installment with an outstanding, demo-worthy HEVC encode that also comes from a fresh remaster of the OCN. Overall definition enjoys a notable uptick with cleaner and more distinct details in the costumes, stage production and the various vehicles. The fine lines in the ancient temple, the individual hairs and the leaves of the foliage are discrete and striking while the background objects and information are plainer to make out from a distance. The few softer sequences are related to the CG effects but hold up decently well, all things considered. Brightness levels are markedly improved, showering the 2.35:1 image with inky, silky blacks that penetrate deep into the background. Along with a fine layer of natural grain and velvety, midnight shadows that never overwhelm the smaller details in the darkest corners, the native 4K transfer looks very cinematic with appreciable three-dimensionality quality.
An exceptional contrast balance yields a great deal of energy to the visuals with brilliant, radiant whites. Although subtle and nuanced, specular highlights add a snappy, resplendent glow to the hottest spots, such as in the fire of torches making them appear more realistic or in the glistening luster of the golden surfaces of the temple or in the narrow, sparkling shimmer of the alien skulls, revealing the tiniest cracks and fractures within. The Dolby Vision HDR also supplies Janusz Kaminski's purposely over-saturated cinematography with a more dynamic and animated array of yellows and greens, from the deep honey shades of the temple to the dark junipers and emeralds of the jungle foliage. The orange-teal palette is all the more apparent here, bathing some sequences in eye-catching tones of cyans, indigos and fiery marigolds while the alien skulls display a dramatic mix of electrifying arctic hues and an intense cobalt glimmer. With healthy, lifelike facial complexions throughout, the fourth entry makes for an impressive step up over its HD SDR counterpart. (Video Rating: 94/100)
Raiders of the Lost Ark
As with the video, the Dolby Atmos soundtracks also come from fresh remasters of the original elements, which were supervised by the film's sound designer Ben Burtt. The results are not only excellent but also a notable upgrade from their DTS-HD counterparts although it still remains a very front-heavy presentation, as it should be.
Still, the soundstage feels impressively broad and expansive with outstanding warmth and fluid channel separation, as background activity litters much of the visuals and convincingly bounces across the screen. Atmospherics are occasionally employed in the surrounds and top heights, effectively broadening the soundscape with appreciable envelopment and room-penetrating directionality. A surprisingly extensive mid-range exhibits well-defined acoustical details and superb clarity during the loudest segments, delivering lots of discrete off-screen sounds. Williams' iconic score meanwhile enjoys distinct instrumentation that subtly bleeds into the rears and overheads to create a satisfyingly immersive soundfield. The low-end is deep and appropriate for a thirty-year-old track, and the vocals are precise and plain in the center although a few loud action sequences tend to drown out certain bits of dialogue in some spots. (Audio Rating: 84/100)
The Temple of Doom
Likewise, the sequel whips up a highly enjoyable Atmos track that's terrifically engaging with several unexpected surprises. Although it is still a front-heavy presentation, the design comes with some discrete effects that randomly and convincingly move into the surrounds and top heights, not only expanding the soundscape and generate an amusing half-dome ambiance. A few other atmospherics, like the echoing of voices, bats flying the air or debris from a mine shaft, pleasantly and quite satisfyingly move through the overheads without ever seeming exaggerated or forced. Also, Williams' score lightly bleeds into all the channels while the mid-range delivers precise clarity in the orchestration and clean, dynamic details in the several action sequences, generating an expansive and splendidly welcoming soundstage that's consistently active. Dialogue is pitch-perfect and very well-prioritized at all times, and the low-end is hearty with a robust, impactful punch in a couple of spots. (Audio Rating: 82/100)
The Last Crusade
As with the other movies, this Atmos track remains true to its original front-heavy design, except that there's a bit more consistency in the surrounds and rears. Several ambient effects bounce around between the sides and overheads with convincingly directionality and placement while other atmospherics subtly echo all around, like the blimp and airplane sequences. Adding to a satisfyingly immersive soundfield are Williams' classic motifs spreading all around and above the listening areas, sure to keep viewers engaged and in the middle of the moment. On top of that, the extra-breathing room displays a cleaner and better-defined mid-range, exhibiting superb warmth and separation in the upper frequencies. With a broad and expansive soundstage thanks to a variety of background activity effectively moving into the off-screen space, dialogue reproduction is precise and crystal clear from beginning to end. Like the other two, the low-end adds a weighty response to gunshots, explosions and cannon fire, supplying a welcomed sense of presence to the visuals. (Audio Rating: 90/100)
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The fourth entry arguably makes the most interesting comparison seeing as how the design has been granted both a DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks over the years. For the most part, this new Atmos mix doesn't display as much of a notable difference as the above tracks, still delivering a similar mid-range and the same wide, expansive soundstage as before. Granted, a few atmospherics bleed into the top heights on a few occasions and nicely broaden the soundscape into a half-dome wall of sound, especially during action sequences. Other ambient effects, likewise, discretely travel into the surroundings and subtly above the listening area, generating an admittedly satisfying soundfield that can be quite immersive, particularly in the last quarter of the movie. Meanwhile, Williams' memorable score maintains excellent viewer engagement by spreading all around with terrific fidelity and distinction in the orchestration. With well-prioritized, crystal-clear vocals in the center, the low-end provides the design with a hefty depth and presence thanks to some powerful, palpable bass. (Audio Rating: 94/100)
The same set of bonus material is ported over from the previous box set on a separate fifth Blu-ray disc while all the UHD discs only come with various Trailers (HD) for each film.
The adventures of Indiana Jones are some of the most beloved movies in recent memory, making it one of the most cherished franchises in cinema history. Starting with the first installment, each film is an homage to the classic Saturday matinee serials of a bygone Hollywood era. From the imagination of George Lucas and the creative filmmaking style of Steven Spielberg, the movies are incredibly effective at capturing the melodrama, the thrills, and the overall excitement of a unique genre that entertained the hearts and minds of a younger generation.
Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, all four films swing into the exotic lands of Ultra HD with brand new 4K transfers. Each disc boasts gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR presentations and highly satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtracks, making them excellent upgrades over their previous Blu-ray set and the best any of them have ever looked at home. Although it features the same treasure trove of bonus materials as before, the overall UHD package is highly recommended and a welcomed addition to the library.