June 12th, 1981, one of the most revered franchises in all of cinema history begins with the release of the Lawrence Kasdan-written (The Empire Strikes Back), Steven Spielberg-directed Raiders of the Lost Ark, later retitled to include the Indiana Jones moniker. Conceived by George Lucas (Star Wars) and Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff), Raiders is a tribute to the action/adventure serials of the 1910s and 1920s, leaning heavily on finding excitement in the cross-section of unknown aspects of lost civilizations and the lore upon which modern civilizations are made. With the grand success of Raiders, a new franchise was born, and three more films followed with a fifth installment on the way. In order to honor the 40th anniversary of that first fateful Indy adventure, Paramount Pictures placed all four currently available films — Raiders, Temple of Doom (1984), Last Crusade (1989), and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) — in one 4K UHD collection, each with a restored picture treated with Dolby Vision and HDR-10 and Dolby Atmos remixed audio. The digipak collection includes each film on 4K UHD, a bonus Blu-ray with previously released special features, and a special edition map detailing Indiana Jones’s adventures. Is that enough entice adventurers new and old? Let’s dig in and find out.
The big selling point with this collection is that the Indiana Jones films are being given the 4K UHD treatment for the very first time. But, as has been noted with other restorations, just because something is upgraded to the newest technology doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the best version. For instance, audiences noticed a big change from theatrical to home release versions of the Lord of the Rings series when they released in Blu-ray, which were then adjusted further in 4K UHD. The Matrix underwent similar work when audiences noticed a heavy-lean on green tint in the Matrix sequences, so it was tweaked for the 4K UHD 2018 release. So how does Indy look and do we need to be ready to rage against the Paramount machine?
Nope, not at all.
When applied to images, high dynamic range (HDR) works best when it makes the film appear more natural. Especially when paired with 4K UHD, HDR can produce beautiful images thanks to the greater range of color over standard dynamic range (SDR) found on standard high-def 1080p discs. This results in inky blacks, warm reds, and vibrant greens, thereby producing an image that looks far more inviting and organic. In Raiders, this is most noticeable when Ronald Lacey’s Nazi inquisitor Toht threatens Karen Allen’s Marion with a red-hot poker. The deep shadows in the darkness of her bar are primarily broken by the yellow-orange-red of the hot-tipped poker, casting a brilliant color cascade across Toht’s face, making him appear far more menacing and evil as he moves closer to the camera. Similarly, in Temple of Doom, the Thugee ritual Indy, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), and Willie (Kate Chapshaw) find under the maharaja’s palace becomes even more filled with danger as the same vibrant reds, hot yellows, and dark blacks make up the bulk of the scene. As a whole, Temple of Doom is a dark film featuring a hero that’s a tad more interested in fame and glory than historical preservation (not that he doesn’t want to do that, too), and it’s with this scene that the film truly becomes a horror show. The fact that the visuals finally come to match it are merely a bonus. Last Crusade was less obvious in terms of changes, remaining as beautiful as ever, though clearly touched up to appear a tad more modern in coloring. The biggest differences will likely come to those most familiar with Crystal Skull as the entire picture underwent obvious color grading changes. While the images definitely appear more modern compared to the previous three thanks to the newer technology the film was shot with, the shift in grading helps Crystal Skull feel more visually in line with the previous three. (Head here for several examples.)
Another selling point with the 4K UHD release is the improved sound via remixed audio. EoM isn’t capable of testing the Dolby Atmos track, so we can’t speak to that, but we can confirm that there is a difference in sound which is (a) greatly improved on the 4K UHD disks and (b) diminished when streaming via iTunes. Until my Xbox One X got too hot to run the discs, it was the primary method of viewing the films and the sound came through crystal clear, the dialogue balanced wonderfully with the action, and the score delicately supported moments without overtaking anything on screen. It made everything, especially the action sequences, more immersive than I remember Indy ever being. Forced to shift to iTunes to watch the 4K edition of Crystal Skull, the audio was more flat in its compressed state. It still sounds good, but in comparison to the uncompressed audio on the discs, streaming will never be able to compete. If you don’t switch between them, it’s likely you’ll never notice the difference, but it’s worth noting if you plan to stream them.
As an anniversary edition, the restored video and audio are going to be the first thing you’ll be concerned about. The second, and the aspect that may make or break whether you pick it up, are the bonus features. Each of the four 4K UHD discs include the film and a few trailers for the respective film. Outside of that, the only bonus materials are located on the fifth disc in the set, a Blu-ray. It includes a hand-selected set of materials that cover each of the four films in a variety of areas. You’ve got a “Making of” for each film, plus a documentary on Raiders; a featurette exploring the stunts, music, sound, and special effects of the films; a tribute to the women of Indiana Jones; and a few other items. As uncovered by The Digital Bits, the bonus features included with this set don’t come close to including what the previous Blu-ray only Indiana Jones collection included. If you’re the type who likes to be able to explore every aspect of a series via their bonus materials, this could be a deal breaker. If you don’t live and die by this, it may be best to consider what they offer as a “Best of” or compilation version for folks who want to know more, but perhaps don’t need each featurette that was every released. One could speculate that it was a conscious decision to hold back in order to keep the cost of production and, therefore, the cost per unit down, or it could be that, with Indiana Jones 5 in production at the time of this writing, another 4K UHD set will come later, so why not save everything else for then. On the bright side, the digital edition appears to have far more in terms of bonus features than the physical release, so all may not be lost for folks who pick up this edition.
This is about the moment in the home release review where you come to realize that we started with the awesome (picture/sound) and slowly worked our way to the least impressive. That’s right, it’s time to talk packaging. There are two physical editions of the 4-Movie Collection: digipak and steelbook. As they sound, steelbooks are a tad bit more resilient thanks to the aluminum making up the case. Each film gets its own steelbook case with specific art on the outside and inside, and the Blu-ray bonus disc resides inside the Crystal Skull case. This edition can be picked up from Best Buy at a cost higher than the digipak edition. If you opt for the digipak, found at most sellers, you get all the discs, plus a nifty double-sided foldout map inside a cardboard case. Though the steelbook also comes in a cardboard case, the respective films get their own individual protective steelbook versus the digipak which just has each film in pseudo-stacked onto each other. Cardboard being cardboard, it is a tad flimsy and can develop wear fairly easily, so you’ll need to take extra caution when using it. For a better look at it, there’s a video walkthrough of the digipak at the end of this review.
With the influx in popularity of steelbook edition, it’s really going to up to you if there’s value in having individual editions of the films versus a more clear collection. On the one hand, the steelbooks offer greater protection and the ability to separate them if you run out of space on your shelves. On the other hand, there is the slightly higher cost and no map.
Though I only recommend doing this with built-in breaks, as well as plenty of drinks and snacks, watching all four of them in one day is not only entirely doable, but surprisingly delightful. And yes, you read that correctly, that says “four.” The much-maligned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is nowhere near as bad as I remember it being after leaving the Washington, D.C., theater in 2008. It seemed a little too campy and the inclusion of interdimensional beings felt like a step too far from the otherwise grounded-in-religious-mythology-of-humanity contexts of the previous films. But when you watch the films from start to finish, you can see the evolution of Indiana Jones, not just as a person, but as a character, very clearly from serious adventurer to something a bit more caviler and swashbuckling. You can also more plainly see the influences of the periods Lucas drew from (serials of the 1920s-1930s for the first three and then the stores of the Nuclear Age of cinema for Crystal Skull). With that in mind, the 2008 release is not the outlier audiences often consider it. Interestingly, the more humorous moments that were derided in Crystal Skull are far more abundant and celebrated in Last Crusade, the most joyous of the films and most like a road comedy out of any of them. By watching them back-to-back, it was easier to pick-up the darkness around the edges of Raiders, the total darkness of Temple of Doom, and the arc back into full-blown light before truly letting loose in Crystal Skull. With nearly 13 years’ time between watches, while the CGI remains fairly terrible, the concept and inclusion of Shia LeBouf as Mutt are nowhere as bad as remembered. Heck, Indy’s son being called Mutt just follows in the footsteps of the naming of characters after the creator’s and crew’s pets. Remember: “We named the dog Indiana.” With this in mind, make sure to give Crystal Skull another watch if you decide to marathon the collection. Should you do so, pay close attention to the life raft sequence in Temple of Doom and compare it against the fridge scene in Crystal Skull. Both are in line with the adventure serials which inspired the Jones chronicles and both are equally ridiculous.
Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection Blu-ray Bonus Features
- On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
- From Jungle to Desert
- From Adventure to Legend
- Making the Films
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary)
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD)
- Behind the Scenes
- The Stunts of Indiana Jones
- The Sound of Indiana Jones
- The Music of Indiana Jones
- The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
- Raiders: The Melting Face!
- Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-ups)
- Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (with optional pop-ups)
- Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute
- Indy’s Friends and Enemies
- Iconic Props (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)
- The Effects of Indy (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)
- Adventures in Post Production (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)
Available in 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital June 8th, 2021.
For more information on the 4-movie collection, head to the official Paramount Pictures website.