Back in 1981, when "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was about to open at the Villa Theater, the customary advance screening was held a couple evenings before.

The 1,100-seat auditorium was easily filled by listeners of a local radio station who picked up free tickets, and there was palpable excitement in the air as the audience waited for the movie to begin — and to fill that huge curved screen.

"Raiders" didn't open cold, of course. There was tremendous buzz about this new film, directed by the guy who did "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and produced by the guy who did "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back."

Advance word indicated that Spielberg, who had slipped a bit with his previous film, "1941," was back at the top of his game.

Eventually, the lights went down, the curtains began to open and that great mountain in the Paramount Pictures logo filled the screen. Then, as the blue logo unexpectedly faded into a South American mountain that matched it, the audience let out a collective "Oooooh."

It was one of those wonderfully magical moviegoing moments that only happens every once in awhile — and hardly ever today.

As we all know now, "Raiders" proved that Spielberg was indeed back in top form, and audiences flocked to see the Saturday matinee serial-type action picture again and again.

In fact, I remember writing a story for the Deseret News (no "Morning" in those days) about the one-year anniversary of the film playing at the Villa.

These days, if a movie plays in a theater for one month it's an accomplishment.

I was reminded of all this as I sorted through a new four-disc box set that will be in video stores next Tuesday, "The Adventures of Indiana Jones" (Paramount, PG/PG-13, $69.98, available in both widescreen and full-frame sets). Each of the three movies — "Raiders," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984) and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989) — has its own disc, with gorgeous transfers. (But, in keeping with Spielberg's personal philosophy, no audio commentaries.)

But the fourth disc is where new discoveries abound, with loads of material broken down into making-of documentaries for each film and other featurettes about the films' stunts, music, sound, etc.

Virtually all of the trilogy's primary cast members have been tracked down and comment on their films — from Sean Connery and Kate Capshaw to John Williams and stunt coordinators to some you might not expect, such as now grown-up Ke Huy Quan, who played Short Round in "Temple of Doom."

And there are some real gems among the featurettes, such as the screen test that has Tom Selleck as Indy and Sean Young in the Karen Allen role — in costume — doing the barroom scene. (Spielberg and George Lucas also relate the story of Harrison Ford landing the role by default; Selleck had to drop out when his option for the "Magnum P.I." series was picked up by CBS.)

Spielberg and Lucas also explain how the Paramount logo fading into a mountain scene came to open each film.

There's just something about these movies that makes them remarkably watchable again and again.

Comment on this story

A few weeks ago, when I was preparing to interview John Rhys-Davies for the story on this page, I started up "Raiders" — just to see a couple of Rhys-Davies' scenes — and I ended up watching the entire movie!

If I've seen it less than 30 times I'd be surprised, but I still watched it again — and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As newspaper ads for the Avalon Theater used to say, good movies, like good books, never grow old.

Continuing the metaphor, "Raiders" is also a movie that you just can't put down.


E-MAIL: hicks@desnews.com