If you grew up in the 80s, you grew up with Indiana Jones, whether you knew it or not. Elements of all three of the movies were everywhere in pop culture, from "Why did it have to be snakes?" to the rolling boulder to the monkey brains, and you didn't even have to watch the movies to know and revere the man with the hat and the whip. But watching the films themselves, especially as an adult, is like pulling apart all the pieces that make up the legend-- does he still stand so tall when you spend 8 hours watching him onscreen?
Lucky for anyone going through The Complete Adventures, it all starts with Raiders of the Lost Ark, still one of the most fully satisfying and well-executed adventure movies of all time. From the opening scene on it's pure myth-making, introducing us to a man who knows how to get out of every problem, who shows strength in the face of certain death, and who isn't afraid to admit he's a badass who can't deal with the sight of a snake. The thing moves forward like a bullet, hopping across continents and through one obstacle after another; there's no time to pause for character development or emotion, so they toss it right in there with the action, a combination that makes every scene in the movie unmissable.
We think of Raiders as the template for the entire franchise, but what's surprising about revisiting Temple of Doom is how eager it is to shake that off; when it matches the Paramount logo to a mountain, just like in the first one, it's a metal mountain on a gong in a nightclub. Instead of kicking things off with an action scene, it's a giant tap-dancing number (well, the action starts up not much later). And while Raiders was all about on-the-ground fighting and scrapping, Temple of Doom's opening act culminates in the most physically improbable escape imaginable, our heroes going from a crashing plane to a raft in raging rapids without a scratch. But the eagerness to distance the second movie from the first also results in some colossal missteps, like the irritating kid sidekick and Kate Capshaw's love interest-- you never miss Marion Ravenwood more than you do an hour into Temple.
Last Crusade, on the other hand, arrives like the jolly half-brother of the original Raiders, with enough of the same DNA to feel familiar but a more cheerful and energetic spirit that makes it feel new. Watching it soon after Raiders points out how similar the movies are, but Crusade does improve on the original in parts, especially with the ending that plays like the grown-up version of the Raiders opening. You probably need the Temple interlude to be so grateful for the return to form in Crusade, but the third film is still the one I'm most likely to return to over and over-- what can I say, given the choice, I'll take the Sean Connery one.
And then, of course, there's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the 2008 late-arriving sequel that nobody really asked for, and that has so many godawful moments that it's far too easy to forget the parts of it that work. Watching the opening scene it's easy feel the same high hopes you had in the theater, and then Indiana Jones shares a moment with a CGI gopher, and wheels start to fall off. There's just too much in the movie, and in a series never exactly known for minimalism, that's surprisingly damaging. Every time Crystal Skull pulls off something that works, it finds five more things that don't; luckily on Blu-ray, you can just fast-forward through the parts of the movie that are awful and make it the Indiana Jones sequel you actually wanted.
All three of the original films have been meticulously restored, not unlike the process that went into the stunning recent Jaws release. It's impressive how much the effects in the original three films hold up in HD, and equally dismaying to see how much the Crystal Skull effects have aged in 4 short films-- that one is the least likely to hold up in the bunch. The outdoor scenes in all three films benefit the most from the transfer-- scenes like the Egyptian marketplace in Raiders or young Indy's train battle in Crusade are spectacular on Blu-ray.
The set is laid out like a book, with each film on an individual disc within a cardboard "page," and a fifth disc containing the extras. The individual discs contain only the film and some original trailers, and the fifth disc, to be honest, is pretty disappointingly short on bonus features. Pretty much all of the good stuff is crammed into a series of documentaries, with "On The Set Of Raiders of the Lost Ark" being the only new one. Luckily it's also fantastic, containing a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage from the set shown in the order of the film's action, with lots of insight into Spielberg and Ford's process of working together. At the end, somewhat incongruously, there's a reel of bloopers and deleted scenes from all four films, though shown in a montage with the score as the only sound. Why they didn't split up all that stuff into its own feature, I have no idea.
There are also separate "Making Of" documentaries for all four features, including one made in 1981 about Raiders-- all were released previously, but hey, if you've never seen it, it's new to you. All of the docs are crammed with information, of course, but it's always nice on a splashy disc release like this to be able to skim the info on your own time, rather than watch a series of docs that may or may not feel redundant, depending on your level of Indy fandom. The "Behind the Scenes" section contains even more info on all the technical elements, but again feels a bit like a jumble-- there had to be a better way to arrange and guide us through this wealth of information.
To own all of the Indiana Jones films on Blu-ray is enticement enough to pick up this set, and to be fair, there's a lot of information on that bonus disc, even if it's not especially well organized. The films have definitely never looked better, and since the films themselves are infinitely rewatchable and bonus features wear out, owning the set is worth it to just be able to travel to Indy's world, in beautiful HD and on demand.