Raiders of the Lost Ark [Blu-Ray]
Director : Steven Spielberg
Screenplay : Lawrence Kasdan (story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1981
Stars : Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (René Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler)
Inspired by the cliffhanging Republic serials of the 1930s, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the brainchild of wunderkinds George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, arguably the two most important cinematic entertainers of the last 50 years, made everything old seem new again. Set in the mid-1930s and following the adventures of a rough-and-tumble archeologist with the pitch-perfect name of Indiana Jones, Raiders was the antithesis of the serious-minded and often heavy-handed irony and despair that characterized so much American filmmaking in the 1970s. It was a giddy, unrepentant throwback to an earlier cinematic era, and it evoked fantasy and nostalgia with a larger-than-life hero who could get in the most calamitous circumstances, but never lose his hat.
The key to the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark is the character of Indiana Jones, perfectly cast and played by Harrison Ford, then best known as the rugged and sardonic smuggler Han Solo from Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1981). Great--truly great--movie characters, the kind that enter legendary status and become a part of the collective cultural unconscious, are few and far between, and one would have to think hard to come up with one from the past few decades more endearing and enduring than Indiana Jones.
Indiana is a globe-trotting fantasy character brought down to earth in a rumpled leather jacket, beaten fedora, and five-day beard. He’s part Humphrey Bogart and part Superman. He evokes Bogart in his coolness under pressure and absolute self-assuredness, even as he tweaks the icon with his comic tendency to get in way over his head. Simultaneously, he evokes the idea of the superhero, complete with an alter ego as a mild-mannered, bespectacled, tweed-suit-wearing professor of archaeology who stumbles for words when one of his female students writes “Love You” on her eyelids and bats them flirtatiously. As a character, Indiana Jones is a nostalgic recreation of a bygone era of über-masculine heroes with the deliciously modern twist of sly self-awareness.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana is pitted against nothing less than the Nazis in a race to discover the lost Ark of the Covenant, which one character describes as “a transmitter--a radio for talking to God.” Indiana’s chief nemesis is a fellow archeologist, René Belloq (Paul Freeman), who has a way of showing up at the last minute and snatching artifacts out from under him. Belloq has been hired by the Nazis to find the Ark, so it is up to Jones, who is working for the U.S. government, to get to it first. This means that he must first travel to Nepal, where he meets up with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), an old flame who possesses a crucial artifact needed to find the Ark. With Marion in tow, Indiana then travels to the heart of Egypt to find the Ark, and the film draws to a gory, special-effects-laden climax in which the Ark is opened on a small private Nazi island in the middle of the Pacific.
The screenplay, penned by Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat) from a story by Lucas and Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of the Being), is a model in streamlined efficiency, as is Steven Spielberg’s direction. Coming off the elegant and moody sci-fi hit Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the ambitious comic dud 1941 (1979), Spielberg was getting back to his roots as an action director, and Raiders remains one of his finest works and, simply put, one of the best action-adventure movies ever made.
Throughout the film, Spielberg evokes the kind of armchair-clutching action sequences that remind us why they’re called “motion pictures.” Much like the James Bond series (which Spielberg had always wanted to direct), Raiders of the Lost Ark begins with an action setpiece that is only tangentially related to the narrative. Set in South America, it shows Indiana going after an ancient golden statue hidden deep in a trap-infested underground temple and features one of the most famous images in the film: Indiana sprinting wildly down a rocky corridor with a giant boulder rushing after him. This scene, while largely inconsequential to the narrative that follows, establishes the mood and tone of the film; in effect, it builds up our expectations (if this is how they open the film ...), and the movie knocks our socks off because it meets those expectations again and again, topping itself over and over, almost to the point of exhaustion.
One of the best sequences involves Indiana going after a Nazi truck convey single-handedly in order to reclaim the Ark. It features every heart-pounding stunt imaginable, from leaping off a horse onto a moving truck, to Indiana being thrown through a windshield and having to climb hand-over-hand underneath the moving vehicle. All of this, of course, is set to a beautifully overwrought musical score by John Williams (who had scored Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars) that never leaves us in any doubt as to how we should feel. In some movies, musical scores of this kind are too much, but in Raiders of the Lost Ark, everything is too much--that’s its dominant aesthetic. The villains aren’t just bad, they’re downright evil, particularly the Nazi mastermind Toth, played to the hilt by Ronald Lacey in lispy Peter Lorre fashion. Indiana’s love interest isn’t just any women, but a feisty ex from a decade earlier who hates him so much she loves him. The Ark isn’t just sealed in an underground crypt called the Well of the Souls, but it’s also surrounded by thousands of venomous snakes and a crypt of decaying mummies. And on and on it goes.
In the more than 25 years since its initial theatrical release, Raiders of the Lost Ark has entered the pantheon of great movies. It is great not because it says something deep about the human condition, but rather because it is a pinnacle of cinematic entertainment--a technical and emotional triumph. There is never a boring moment, or a scene that goes for too long, or an action setpiece that feels somehow lacking. It combines memorable movie characters with action and a compelling narrative that drives forward and never looks back. If it is about anything, it is about our collective love of the movies and their ability to immerse us in a gripping fantasy world that we want to return to again and again.
|Raiders of the Lost Ark Blu-Ray|
|Raiders of the Lost Ark is available on Blu-Ray as part of the “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” five-disc box set, which also includes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish, Portuguese|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|SRP||$99.98 (box set)|
|Release Date||September 18, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|This is, hands down, the best the Indiana Jones films have looked on home video. The first three films in the series are presented in 1080p/AVC-encoded high-definition transfers for the first time (all THX-certified, natch), and all of them look like new. In particular, Raiders of the Lost Ark was subject to extensive film and digital restoration and is beautifully presented in a crisp, clean, intensely filmlike transfer (thank you, Paramount, for keeping the grain!). The palette of Raiders is fairly limited, mostly browns and grays, but flesh tones and the occasional burst of bright colors (as in the ending) are nicely toned and well saturated. All signs of dirt, damage, and age have been carefully removed and the film has been color corrected and timed, yielding what I imagine to be its best presentation since its theatrical release in 1981. Temple of Doom looks just as good, although it is a much different looking film. The color schemes that dominate the film are much different than the more earthy tones that dominate Raiders of the Lost Ark. The bright reds and strong contrasts of the Beijing opening sequence are gloriously presented (this is the first time I can remember seeing the film where Spielberg’s directorial credit didn’t bleed into the dragon’s mouth behind it), as are the dark tones and shadow detail of the scenes in the Temple of Doom. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is arguably the most colorful of the first three movies, with expansive blue skies, intense stained glass windows, and, of course, Venice, although it also features plenty of earthy tones in the desert scenes. The image is sharp and clear, with excellent detail, even in the darker sequences such as the journey through the Venetian catacombs. And, of course, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, being the newest film in the series, looks spectacular, even though all the digital effects and polishing that went into its production result in a shinier, less gritty look than its predecessors, despite having been shot and cut on film. |
All four films also boast powerful, beautifully mixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtracks. The soundtracks have excellent dynamic range and consistently impressive and enveloping use of the surround speakers (check out the opening sequence in the South American rainforest in Raiders and notice how well the surrounds create a living ambient environment, or note the intense directionality in the motorcycle chase sequence in The Last Crusade).
| The “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” Blu-Ray box set compiles most of supplements that have appeared in the two previous Indiana Jones DVD box sets with two big additions. The first addition is On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark, a two-part 60-minute documentary that is comprised entirely of never-before-seen outtakes, alternate takes, deleted scenes, and on-set footage shot during the production and circa-1980 interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, and several others. The footage is fascinating in that it gives us an unadorned, fly-on-the-wall peek into the creative process, whether it be Spielberg working out the Nepal gunfight with the stunt coordinator or the construction of the Well of the Souls set. Also new is The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary from 1981 that has been pulled from the archives and dusted off. |
The rest of the supplements have been culled from the previous DVD box sets (hence why they’re presented in standard definition) and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray. From the 2003 “Adventures of Indiana Jones” box set we have three making-of documentaries covering each of the first three films. Together they run a full two-and-a-half-hours, although they are not equal in length. The Raiders documentary is the longest at almost an hour, while The Last Crusade is the shortest at just over half an hour. They are all excellent documentaries featuring all-new interviews with everyone involved in the films, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, and a host of others. Sprinkled throughout the docs are storyboards, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as many revealing tidbits in the interviews. From the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray we have a much shortened version of the making-of documentary, trimmed down from 80 minutes to about half an hour.
A number of shorter behind-the-scenes featurettes from both DVD box sets are also included. From the 2003 set we get four featurettes that focus on specific aspects of the films’ production: “The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones,” “The Sound of Indiana Jones,” “The Stunts of Indiana Jones,” and “The Music of Indiana Jones,” each of which runs 10 to 15 minutes in length. There are also a number of featurettes from the 2008 “Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection” box set. The 9-minute featurette “The Melting Face!” looks at the special effects involved in the gory climax of Raiders and features interviews with Spielberg, make-up effects maestro Chris Walas, and visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund. It also includes a recreation of the effect using all the same techniques. There are also two featurettes, both of which you can watch with or without pop-up trivia. “Creepy Crawlies” (12 min.) is about the use of snakes, insects, spiders, rats, and other skin-crawling vermin in the films (it features interviews with members of the cast and crew, although the most interesting part is a brief glimpse of an ill-fated attempt to use mechanical snakes for Raiders). “Travels With Indy” (11 min.) looks at all the various locations used in the Indiana Jones movies. “Indy’s Women,” includes nine minutes of excerpts from a 2003 interview with Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, and Allison Doody that was convened by the American Film Institute in honor of the original trilogy being released on DVD. “Indy’s Friends and Enemies” is an 11-minute featurette that looks at the most memorable characters in the series (love interests, villains, and sidekicks) and features interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, producer Frank Marshall, and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Willard Huyck, and Gloria Katz.
Finally, we have three featurettes from the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray. “Iconic Props” (10 min.) is hosted by property master Doug Harlocker, who actually spends more time talking about specific props made for that film than the “iconic props” like Indy’s whip. “The Effects of Indy” (23 min.) explores the film’s visual effects, both practical and digital, which includes everything from the miniature town built for atomic destruction to the complex use of computer programs to create tens of thousands of ants (although, not surprisingly, there is no mention of that awful, awful monkey sequence in the jungle—perhaps they were too embarrassed considering how lousy it looks). “Adventures in Post-Production” (13 min.) features interviews with composer John Williams, sound designer Ben Burtt, and editor Michael Kahn, who actually edited the entire film on film, rather than digitally.
Each disc includes a teaser trailer and theatrical trailer for its respective film, while Raiders also includes a re-issue trailer.
As comprehensive as the set is, it should be noted that not everything from the previous box sets has been included. The biggest losses are the storyboard-to-film comparisons and the extensive photo galleries from the “Adventure Collection,” so be sure to hold on to that set if you have it. There are also quite a few supplements that appeared on The Crystal Skull Blu-Ray that are absent from this collection, including the Indiana Jones timeline and a number of specific behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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