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'Indiana Jones' looks great on Blu-ray

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 12:56 a.m. MDT

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Paying a bit extra for an IMAX screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” a couple of weeks ago was well worth the money in my book. Watching Steven Spielberg’s homage to movie serials on a big — really big — screen summoned up memories of seeing “Raiders” for the first time way back in 1981 at the Villa Theatre, with its huge curved screen and every one of the auditorium’s 1,100 seats filled.

The crowd was decidedly smaller this time around. In fact, “crowd” might be overstating it. But then, I did attend an off-hours screening.

Actually, “Raiders,” in its one-week IMAX release, managed to bring in $2.4 million, which is pretty good considering that it played on only 267 screens — as opposed to, say, the 3,260 screens playing “The Expendables 2” during the same week.

I know this was just the warm-up act for the Blu-ray release of “Raiders” and its three sequels, and for me, it worked. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1981-2008, five discs, PG/PG-13, $99.98 — but most vendors are selling it for $65).

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” obviously received the most meticulous attention for this spiffed-up set, and it looks and sounds amazing — if anything, boosting its reputation even higher as one of the greatest of all action movies.

But all four films have been upgraded to high definition with care, and the three sequels also look fabulous. And in addition to the bonus features from previous editions of all four films, there is a new hourlong documentary comprised of never-before-seen behind-the-camera material (including deleted scenes) from “Raiders,” which is a terrifically entertaining addition.

In May 2000, when the Villa was winding down before finally being shuttered as a theater three years later, it played a double feature of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and my wife and I couldn’t resist. Sadly, the prints were worn and torn with plenty of pops, skips, jumps and dialogue hiccups. We stuck it out anyway, watching both films all the way through (with just a handful of other fans in the huge auditorium), and we still enjoyed seeing them on the big screen again. So to say this Blu-ray set is an improvement on our last theatrical experience with “Indy 2” and “Indy 3” would be a gross understatement.

And maybe it’s time to re-evaluate those movies now that some time has passed. Is “Temple of Doom” really as bad as its reputation (Leonard Maltin gives it two stars in his annual “Movie Guide,” calling it a “headache-inducing prequel”), and is “The Last Crusade” really as good as its reputation (a whopping 89 percent on the Tomatometer at www.rottentomatoes.com)?

Well, I’ve never agreed that “Temple of Doom” is a bad movie. In fact, I raved about it in my 1984 review and I still think it’s an amazing roller-coaster ride — literally, with that fantastic underground coal-car chase. And the film also contains a lot of other spectacular action sequences, beginning with the inspired opening set piece in a Shanghai nightclub.

Of course, my original review also offered these caveats, which I believe still hold — that it is a very violent film, much darker and more of a horror movie than “Raiders,” and it’s a shame that Kate Capshaw’s character is such a whiny ninny, especially since she’s the only female character of note in the film. (Although, to be fair, Capshaw has comic talent and manages to rise above the writing to add some welcome humor.)

And yes, “The Last Crusade” (1989) is still that good, not just because of all the clever action and comedy, but, as I’m sure you remember, because of the truly remarkable and engaging chemistry between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford as the father-and-son Dr. Joneses. Connery as the bookish elder Jones has some great lines and drops them with aplomb, and his presence gives the film an enormous lift. But that is not meant to diminish Ford’s contributions. He rises to the occasion and gives what is arguably his best Indiana Jones performance.

In addition, there’s that famous 15-minute prologue with young Indiana (played wonderfully by River Phoenix) having his Utah encounter, beginning with that stunning opening shot as the Paramount mountain fades into Arches National Park. And we learn much more about Indiana himself, from the scar on his chin to how he got his first name. This one is the closest to “Raiders” in terms of sheer fun.

As for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008), well, I’m not a fan of Shia LaBeouf’s motor-mouth arrogance, which gets way too much screen time, and the overly chatty script lacks the wit, sophistication and character-developing depth of “Last Crusade.” I also could have done without the climax and its sci-fi revelation. And though the stunts are all well staged, the wrongheaded nuclear-blast sequence is just too far over the top. (A refrigerator? Really?)

But you must admit that 19 years later, Harrison Ford slips nicely back into his role as “The Man With the Hat.” And I enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s villain. And perhaps best of all, it’s great to see Karen Allen reprising her role from “Raiders” (after 27 years!). So I’m not one of those “Crystal Skull” haters, though it’s obviously the least of the series.

Despite my enthusiasm for these films, it must be acknowledged that they are all quite violent. Each film contains gruesome killings, some played for laughs, along with supernatural elements and plenty of profanity. And, as noted, “Temple of Doom” is very dark and scary. So they are definitely not for small children.

That said, “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” is a high watermark for this season of classic films getting Blu-ray upgrades. Spielberg’s “Jaws” is also spectacular in high-def. Next up, a bevy of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films. Followed shortly thereafter by David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have to find extra work just to keep up with all these goodies. I wonder if they’re hiring part-time Christmas help yet.

E-MAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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