New slipcover editions of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, & Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, hit 4K-UHD
We’re a few weeks away from the release of Dial of Destiny, the James Mangold (Logan, Ford v Ferrari) helmed fifth installment in the Indiana Jones series. The last few months have seen these films get the 4K treatment, brand spanking new restorations dropped on Disney+, and in steelbook/collectors versions to take home. This week sees a final wave of editions, showcasing the same hi-def visuals approved/overseen by Steven Spielberg, in new slipcase editions.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones. An academic, whose archeological interests plunges him into swashbuckling, and often sticky situations. Cris-crossing the globe, with ancient tombs, mythical artifacts, booby traps, and a series of opportunities to punch Nazis. The film, like the others in the series is propelled by a MacGuffin, in this case the Ark of the Covenant, a chest holding the remnants of the stone tablets that took down the Ten Commandments. A relic the Third Reich believed could to guarantee victory in their war efforts. Certainly a plot to get behind, Nazis need putting in their place whatever era they crop up in. Raiders distills that action adventure movie into perhaps its more refined form. Deftly blending thrilling action with comedy, and wrapping it all around memorable characters, from the whip-cracking, sardonic charms of Harrison Ford in the lead, to Karen Allen as the firecracker Marion Ravenwood. What truly makes it special, is the magic of Spielberg. Exquisitely shot and paced, moving beyond a simple action film, but never losing a second of entertainment. The film crackles with an unreal sense of energy and life from start to finish, feeling as vital today as it did when it hit the screens 40 years ago.
The allure here is of course the 4K presentation of the film. Restored from a 4K scan of the original film negatives, overseen by Steven Spielberg himself. A rich image, with vibrant colors, and deep inky blacks. The depth of image impresses, not just in the palette, but the details and texture of the film. The film crucially looks natural, lacking any signs of over-processing, and retaining a filmic appearance and natural grain. There’s a few places where the image goes a little soft, this is likely from the source material for the scan. Overall, you’re not going to find a better visual representation of the film for home viewing. Sadly, no extra features are included, just a code for a digital version of the film.
Temple of Doom
A prequel to Raiders, Temple of Doom sees Dr. Jones dropped (literally) into a remote region of India, where he is drawn into the plight of a village that has seen an ancient relic snatched away, and scores of children go missing too. Along with a plucky sidekick (Ke Huy Quan), and an out of her element cabaret singer (Kate Capshaw), the trio find themselves perilously in danger, as their efforts lead them into the clutches of a cult, intent on using the relic to fuel their black magic rituals.
Often labelled as “too dark” a feature, at least in comparison to the flanking films, with even director Spielberg and Indy creator George Lucas having gone on record about the darker themes that pervade the film. As a staunch Doom defender, these qualities are reflective of artistic temperament, something to understand and appreciate, rather than shy away from. Absolutely, there are some overly simplistic rendering of cultures and ethnicities, and the blurring of ritual with religion is occasionally questionable. But in terms of tone, the film adds an edge as instead of being a pure adventure like Raiders, it adds usurps expectation, with plenty of squeamish moments, and others that flirt at the edge of real horror. The opening nightclub sequence is a blast, a series of stunt/action setpieces make for a rollercoaster of a movie, at one point literally. Add in a slathering of wry humor, iconic visuals, the charm of Ford, and the uplifting sass of Quan, and Temple makes for terrific entertainment.
Like Raiders, this is an impressive upgrade for home video presentation. Consistently strong in terms of detail, depth of image, and quality of image. Colors are robust, but naturally represented. Grain is strongly present, adding to the filmic quality of the transfer. The texture of the set design, costumes, and backdrops stand out whether a day-lit bridge sequence, the neon lit interior of a nightclub, or the flame lit under-caverns of the film’s finale. It’s a hell of a good looking transfer. Again, no extras are included, save the digital code.
The Last Crusade
The real capper to the original trilogy, sees a family reunion as Dr. Jones (Jr) teams up with Dr. Jones (Sr) to foil those persistent Nazis. This time, in another retread of Raiders, it’s not the lost Ark of the Covenant, it’s the Holy Grail. The cup from which Jesus sipped at the last supper, long believed to confer immortality upon those who drink from it.
An aging lead and his older father, played with aplomb by Sean Connery, bounce well off the MacGuffin at hand, as does the idea of legacy. The banter and bickering between the pair is perhaps the film’s best quality. this exploration of an absentee father provides emotional undercurrent, and comedic relief against the adventuring and Nazi punching that we’ve all come to adore. It’s certainly a warmer and fuzzier effort than Temple, with a well wrought emotional component, the idea of an absentee father being something that echos in Spielberg’s output, most recently cumulating with The Fablemans. Besides this, Crusade is another wonderful example of the technical mastery and energy that he brings to action sequences. The film hurtles along, with a flurry of quips, punches, and smart wit that ties the film back to its predecessors, and sees this legend off into the sunset.
Paramount continue their sterling work on this series with another superb transfer. Again, the detail is the standout, with texture, complexity, and clarity of image impressing. The image is not overprocessed, with the natural colors, solid blacks, a healthy range of contrast, and overall aesthetic being maintained, along with the natural grain from the film stock. Whether sun-drenched dessert or torch-lit caverns, the film presents a consistent and excellent image. Again, a digital code is included.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Unfolding nearly 20 years after the original trilogy, we see Indiana facing a new enemy. At the height of the Cold War, those pesky Soviets, led by agent Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) are set on unearthing an artifact that will lead them to an ancient city, and the remains of an alien civilization that once resided there. From the comfort of academia, he’s dragged into the adventure by Mutt (Shia La-Beouf), who delivers clues to the Soviet’s plan, and news that Indy’s mentor Harold Oxley (John Hurt) has gone missing while trying to find the skull himself. Foiling an evil force and family ties force Indy to don the fedora once again and get back into action.
Much maligned since release, there has been some recent revisionism lately to reframe the film. This, I will not stand. While there are moments of magic, largely down to the interplay between Indy and his uncovered family unit, and the sheer talents of Spielberg, the film overall is a plodding affair. Bogged down by David Koepp’s script, the film lacks sparkle and loses energy due to ungainly exposition. More egregiously, it feels more like Indy is along for the ride, the film building towards an inevitable climax more than something he is overtly involved in. Some of the action sequences and overtly obvious CGI also detract from the more impressive shift in aesthetic and palette to mark the change from the 30s/40s, into 1957, warm hues replaced by a pastel tint. The concept of Mutt makes sense, but the execution never quite gels. More successful is the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. You can put this pair in any scene together and let that John William’s piece play, and it’s wonderful to behold. Where the film does tilt into interesting ideas is in its playing to the age of its protagonist, and the conflict between the academic and the adventurer. Sequences and characters play to this reflection on his choices, and the life he never had. The repositioning of Indy as a father is touching, and comically allows a ramping up of his more irascible tendencies. Another case of fleeting moments of magic, but it never quite coalesces into a successful whole.
Despite a release nearly 20 years after Last Crusade, Kingdom shares the overall aesthetic of its predecessors with aplomb. Kingdom showcases a greater range of vistas and settings that the other films and it impresses across the board. detail, range of color and contrast standout, highlighting the massive attention to detail in the production. As a ‘newer’ feature, the image does present with a little more refinement, most notably in term of a reduced grain, but is similarly free of any over processing. Again, we see a digital code included.
The Indiana Jones series are available on 4K-UHD via Paramount Home Entertainment from June 6th