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American Cinematographer Magazine

The Adventures of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1981-1989)

2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Paramount Home Video, $69.98

Long before Andrew Lesnie, ACS tackled Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, English cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, BSC helped director Steven Spielberg bring another unique trilogy to the screen: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Slocombe had contributed some additional photography to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and he and Spielberg had enjoyed the collaboration. "I'd loved Dougie's work, and I thought he could do anything," says Spielberg. To film the adventures of intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), Slocombe traveled around the world, and the trilogy's final chapter, The Last Crusade, was the last picture he shot before he lost his sight and retired in the 1990s.

Executive producer George Lucas first concocted the idea of a globetrotting archaeologist, then named "Indiana Smith," with writer/director Philip Kaufman, but other commitments eventually led Kaufman to bow out of the project. Several years later, when Lucas found himself on a Hawaiian beach with pal Steven Spielberg, Spielberg mentioned that he'd love to direct a James Bond movie, and Lucas proceeded to pitch him Raiders of the Lost Ark. Both men had been fans of Saturday serials as children, and Spielberg embraced the opportunity to engage in what he called "good, old-fashioned moviemaking."

Paramount Home Video recently released all three Indiana Jones films in this four-disc boxed set. The collection, which includes a platter of bonus features, is long overdue, but the films' fans should find it well worth the wait. Each picture has been given a new anamorphic transfer and is framed by rousing interactive menus that highlight Indy's best nail-biting moments. Of course, grouping the movies together invites you to watch them consecutively, like a serial, and doing so highlights one of the series' less salient strengths: its aesthetic continuity. However, the thematic continuity actually suffers from this presentation, as only Raiders truly achieves an ideal marriage of pop thrills and sinister mood. The shrill, downbeat Temple of Doom and near-farcical Last Crusade seem to be overcompensating for each other's shortcomings.

Slocombe's Academy Award-nominated anamorphic cinematography nails the idea of "good, old-fashioned moviemaking" exactly. The famously versatile cameraman lit the films' comic-book-inspired studio compositions in a layered, classical style - reliant on hard crosslights and carefully placed shadows - that was reminiscent of his revered black-and-white cinematography in The Servant and The Man in the White Suit. The approach also added just the right touch of stylized punch to stand-in location work in Hawaii, Tunisia and Sri Lanka. "Steven wanted the pictures to be very strong-looking," Slocombe says in "Making the Trilogy," one of the DVD's featurettes. "He wanted it to look realistic enough to make the make-believe possible." In an interview about Temple of Doom, Spielberg extols Slocombe's "daring" lighting in the cavernous temple, and we see Slocombe hiding dozens of gigantic, blood-red Fresnels between crags in the walls and within the lava pit where Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) nearly meets her end.

Indy aficionados might grumble at Paramount's decision not to include commentary tracks for each film, but that sort of treatment would probably have been too stuffy for this larger-than-life series. The seven included featurettes should satisfy most thirsts for Jones lore, as each of the films receives a lengthy, trivia-packed treatment. We see Harrison Ford mock-stapling the famously uncooperative fedora to his head in between takes on Raiders, and we learn that Sean Connery played most of Last Crusade's zeppelin scene without pants; we see Tom Selleck's original screen test for the role of Indy, and we hear Capshaw confess that she had to be slightly drugged in order to act through Doom's insect-infested spike-room sequence.

What Spielberg claims to love most about the series is "the craft," and the four fascinating technical supplements (covering the stunts, sound, score and special effects) show us why. In order to get the films financed, Lucas demanded that they be created quickly and cheaply using "a lot of old tricks," and it's a testament to the filmmakers' skill that those tricks still hold up so well in our age of digital deus ex machinae. Futuristic action franchises like The Matrix have their appeal, but when it comes to timeless thrills and sheer breakneck bombast, The Adventures of Indiana Jones, "old tricks" and all, will always set the standard.

- John Pavlus

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.