Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (4K UHD)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam (story by George Lucas and Menno Meyjes)
Stars: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Sean Connery (Professor Henry Jones), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alison Doody (Dr. Elsa Schneider), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Julian Glover (Walter Donovan), River Phoenix (Young Indy), Michael Byrne (Vogel), Kevork Malikyan (Kazim), Robert Eddison (Grail Knight)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1989
Country: U.S.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 4K UHD
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

As the kick-off film for the summer of 1989, which turned out to be one of the biggest in Hollywood history up until that point, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a conscious and deliberate throwback to a simpler, more crowd-pleasing formula. Five years after Indy was sent to hell in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), director Steven Spielberg and cowriter/executive producer George Lucas brought Harrison Ford’s rumpled and charming adventurer/archeologist back with more warmth, humor, and the addition of an amusing and touching father-son dynamic that cast the series and its main character in an entirely new light while also extending and deepening Spielberg’s thematic obsession with lost and absent fathers.

Like he did with the original Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which followed directly on the heels of 1941 (1979), a disastrous foray in big-budget comedy, Spielberg was returning to the center of the mainstream with The Last Crusade after experimenting in darker and more dangerous territory with a controversial literary adaptation (1985’s The Color Purple) and an historical war drama (1987’s Empire of the Sun). The Last Crusade is designed through and through to be a crowd-pleaser, and it works like a well-oiled machine, firing on all cylinders and delivering just the right blend of abject horsepower and fine-tuned finesse. It’s not quite the great film that Raiders is, if only because the original is, after all, the original. But, if you’re looking for two hours of pure-rush escapism, you can’t do much better.

The story takes place in 1938, two years after the events in Raiders. It opens, however, with a flashback story to a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix, who is marvelously adept at mimicking Harrison Ford’s mannerisms). Like the opening of the two previous films, it is tangentially related to the narrative proper in that it introduces several important characters and a theme, but otherwise can stand alone as a mini-story ala the James Bond franchise. Mostly, though, it plays to the audience’s knowledge of Indiana Jones, treating us to quick, clever insights into how Indiana got that scar on his chin and his terrible fear of snakes.

The thrust of the film’s narrative is much like Raiders, in that Indiana is racing against the Nazis to retrieve an important supernatural artifact, in this case the Holy Grail, the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper and that caught his blood at the crucifixion. The excitement of the journey is balanced by the introduction of Indiana’s father, Dr. Henry Jones (Sean Connery), a scholar with an obsession for Grail lore. If the opening sequence gave us surface explanations for some of Indiana’s quirks, watching him interact with his father creates a whole new sense of depth to the character, which is intriguing in its own right given that Indiana Jones was originally designed as a throwback serial adventurer of mythic proportions, a one-dimensional everyman-superhero who is defined entirely by his actions.

The father-son dynamic works beautifully, primarily because Ford and Connery have a natural chemistry and rhythm to their interactions. (For this reason, the film has no real need nor room for a romance, which is why Alison Doody’s Dr. Elsa Schneider is revealed to be a femme fatale fairly early on.) Connery is utterly convincing as a stern authoritarian—a tweedy, dry medievalist with his own set of preoccupations who reduces Indiana, an otherwise self-confident, if occasionally self-indulgent hero, to a child (one of the movie’s best unstated jokes is that Dr. Jones has no idea of the wild ride that constitutes his son’s life). Referred to by his father as “Junior” throughout the entirety of the film, Indiana becomes something we haven’t seen before: truly vulnerable. In its own way, this is a daring conceit that could have easily backfired if not handled well, and it gives The Last Crusade an emotional core with which the other films couldn’t be bothered. It, of course, also aligns neatly with so many of Spielberg’s other films that focus on broken families and absent father figures; in that sense, this development was nothing if not inevitable.

This being an Indiana Jones movie, the father-son dynamic is neatly encapsulated within a framework of escalating action and cliffhanger heroics. All of the essentials are there: dank catacombs beneath a Venetian church, a speedboat chase through the canals, run-ins with nasty Nazi villains, a motorcycle chase, an airplane chase that turns into a car chase, a desert horseback chase that plays like a supremely self-conscious reworking of Raiders’ infamous truck chase except this time with tanks, and a climax deep in the heart of a mountain that features deadly booby traps and the film’s central villain getting his much deserved comeuppance. If there’s one lesson in these movies, it’s that those who desire too much pay the ultimate price. Spielberg choreographs all of this with an expected balance of grandeur and humor, although he sometimes leans a bit too heavily on the latter. For example, museum curator Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) is brought along for the ride primarily to play the doofus, and while it’s funny at first, by the end he just seems loony.

Otherwise, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade works about as well as you could possibly hope. After the hellish, heart-ripping experimentation of Temple of Doom, audiences were looking for something brighter and funnier and more meaningful, and Spielberg delivered it with precision tuning masquerading as reckless abandon. If the movie at times borders on the sticky-sentimental, it always has at least one more slapstick joke up its sleeve or moment of pure-rush action to sharpen up those softened edges.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 4K UHD Blu-ray
Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection 4K UHD Box SetIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade is available on 4K UHD as part of the “Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection” box set, which also includes Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

Aspect Ratio2.39:1
Audio
  • English Dolby Atmos
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Subtitles English, English SDH, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, Thai
    Supplements
  • On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark two-part documentary: “From Jungle to Desert” and “From Adventure to Legend”
  • “The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark” 1981 documentary
  • “The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark” documentary
  • “The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” documentary
  • “The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” documentary
  • “The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” documentary
  • “The Stunts of Indiana Jones” featurette
  • “The Sound of Indiana Jones” featurette
  • “The Music of Indiana Jones” featurette
  • “The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones” featurette
  • “Raiders: The Melting Face! ” featurette
  • “Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies” featurette (with optional pop-ups)
  • “Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations” featurette (with optional pop-ups)
  • “Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute” featurette
  • “Indy’s Friends and Enemies” featurette
  • “Iconic Props” featurette
  • “The Effects of Indy” featurette
  • “Adventures in Post Production” featurette
  • Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer, and Re-Issue Trailer
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateJune 8, 2021

    COMMENTS
    In 2012, I wrote that Paramount’s “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” Blu-ray box set offered “hands down, the best the Indiana Jones films have looked on home video.” Well, here I am nine years later essentially saying the same thing: The new “Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection” box set, while disappointing in terms of packaging and a lack of any new supplements, nevertheless offers us the best presentation of these films, with the upgrade to 4K UHD/Dolby Vision significantly increasing the level of visual quality. All four films have been given new scans and look like new, with Raiders of the Lost Ark being particularly impressive, having been subject to extensive film and digital restoration that results in a crisp, clean, intensely filmlike transfer (thank you, Paramount, for keeping the grain!). The palette of Raiders is fairly limited, mostly browns and grays, but flesh tones and the occasional burst of bright colors (as in the ending) are nicely toned and well saturated. All signs of dirt, damage, and age have been carefully removed, and the film has been color corrected and timed, yielding what I imagine to be its best presentation since its theatrical release in 1981. Temple of Doom looks just as good, although it is a much different looking film. The color schemes that dominate the film are much different than the more earthy tones that dominate Raiders of the Lost Ark. The bright reds and strong contrasts of the Beijing opening sequence are gloriously presented (this is the first time I can remember seeing the film where Spielberg’s directorial credit didn’t bleed into the dragon’s mouth behind it), as are the dark tones and shadow detail of the scenes in the Temple of Doom. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is arguably the most colorful of the first three movies, with expansive blue skies, intense stained glass windows, and, of course, Venice, although it also features plenty of earthy tones in the desert scenes. The image is sharp and clear, with excellent detail, even in the darker sequences such as the journey through the Venetian catacombs. And, of course, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, being the newest film in the series, looks spectacular, even though all the digital effects and polishing that went into its production result in a shinier, less gritty look than its predecessors, despite having been shot and cut on film.

    As for the soundtracks, all four films have gotten complete remixes supervised by Ben Burtt, the Oscar-winning original sound designer, at Skywalker Sound, and the results are absolutely magnificent. The Blu-ray soundtracks were great, but these are even better. Now, there is always the risk that such remixes will fundamentally alter the soundscape and interfere with our aural memories, but that is not at all the case here, as Burtt has effectively expanded the soundscape and deepened the effects without altering the balance. The soundtracks have excellent dynamic range and consistently impressive and enveloping use of the surround speakers (check out the opening sequence in the South American rainforest in Raiders and notice how well the surrounds create a living ambient environment, or note the intense directionality in the motorcycle chase sequence in The Last Crusade.

    The supplements here are simply a repackaging of those that appeared in the 2012 “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” Blu-Ray box set. And, while they are great, one wishes some new material had been included, especially since that set failed to include a bunch of suppelments from the original Crystal Skull Blu-ray and the 2003 Raiders DVD.

    On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark is a two-part, 60-minute documentary that is comprised entirely of never-before-seen outtakes, alternate takes, deleted scenes, and on-set footage shot during the production and circa-1980 interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, and several others. The footage is fascinating in that it gives us an unadorned, fly-on-the-wall peek into the creative process, whether it be Spielberg working out the Nepal gunfight with the stunt coordinator, or the construction of the Well of the Souls set. The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark is an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary from 1981 that has been pulled from the archives and dusted off. We also get three making-of documentaries covering each of the first three films. Together they run a full two-and-a-half-hours, although they are not equal in length. The Raiders documentary is the longest at almost an hour, while The Last Crusade is the shortest at just over half an hour. They are all excellent documentaries featuring all-new interviews with everyone involved in the films, including Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, and a host of others. Sprinkled throughout the docs are storyboards, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as many revealing tidbits in the interviews. From the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray we have a much shortened version of the making-of documentary, trimmed down from 80 minutes to about half an hour.

    A number of shorter behind-the-scenes featurettes from previous DVD box sets are also included. From the 2003 set we get four featurettes that focus on specific aspects of the films’ production: “The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones,” “The Sound of Indiana Jones,” “The Stunts of Indiana Jones,” and “The Music of Indiana Jones,” each of which runs 10 to 15 minutes in length. There are also a number of featurettes from the 2008 “Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection” box set. The 9-minute featurette “The Melting Face!” looks at the special effects involved in the gory climax of Raiders and features interviews with Spielberg, make-up effects maestro Chris Walas, and visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund. It also includes a recreation of the effect using all the same techniques. There are also two featurettes, both of which you can watch with or without pop-up trivia. “Creepy Crawlies” (12 min.) is about the use of snakes, insects, spiders, rats, and other skin-crawling vermin in the films (it features interviews with members of the cast and crew, although the most interesting part is a brief glimpse of an ill-fated attempt to use mechanical snakes for Raiders). “Travels With Indy” (11 min.) looks at all the various locations used in the Indiana Jones movies. “Indy’s Women,” includes nine minutes of excerpts from a 2003 interview with Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, and Allison Doody that was convened by the American Film Institute in honor of the original trilogy being released on DVD. “Indy’s Friends and Enemies” is an 11-minute featurette that looks at the most memorable characters in the series (love interests, villains, and sidekicks) and features interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, producer Frank Marshall, and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Willard Huyck, and Gloria Katz.

    Finally, we have three featurettes that originally appeared on the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray. “Iconic Props” (10 min.) is hosted by property master Doug Harlocker, who actually spends more time talking about specific props made for that film than the “iconic props” like Indy’s whip. “The Effects of Indy” (23 min.) explores the film’s visual effects, both practical and digital, which includes everything from the miniature town built for atomic destruction, to the complex use of computer programs to create tens of thousands of ants (although, not surprisingly, there is no mention of that awful, awful monkey sequence in the jungle—perhaps they were too embarrassed to discuss it). “Adventures in Post-Production” (13 min.) features interviews with composer John Williams, sound designer Ben Burtt, and editor Michael Kahn, who actually edited the entire film on film, rather than digitally.

    Each disc includes a teaser trailer and theatrical trailer for its respective film, while Raiders also includes a re-issue trailer.

    Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)




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