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Steven Spielberg
Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina, Wolf Kahler
Writing Credits:
George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Lawrence Kasdan

The creators of Jaws and Star Wars now bring you the ultimate hero in the ultimate adventure.

Join the legendary hero Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in one of the greatest screen adventures of all time with Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Accompanied by his feisty, independent ex-flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), the two-fisted archeologist embarks on a thrilling quest to locate the mystical Ark of the Covenant. Indy must discover the Ark before the Nazis do, and he has to survive poison, traps, snakes and treachery to do so. Explore the darkest jungles of South America, the bustling marketplaces of Cairo, and a top-secret submarine base with Indiana Jones as your guide to adventure.

Box Office:
$20 million.
Opening Weekend
$8.305 million on 1078 screens.
Domestic Gross
$242.374 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 5/13/2008

• “Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Introduction” Featurette
• “Indiana Jones: An Appreciation” Featurette
• “The Melting Face!” Featurette
• Storyboards: The Well of Souls
• Galleries
• “Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures Game” Trailer and PC Game Demo


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Raiders of the Lost Ark: Special Edition (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 2, 2008)

Back when Raiders of the Lost Ark hit screens in 1981, I felt no desire to see it. For reasons I no longer recall, my then-14-year-old self thought Spielberg movies seemed uncool, and I greatly resisted the movie. I only went because my Dad basically made me go.

Score one for the Old Man! I knew very little about Raiders before that screening but I became totally enraptured with what I saw. Whatever I did or didn’t expect, I surely couldn’t anticipate this, a rollicking adventure that seemed like the perfect movie.

22 years later, I still find it hard to dispel the notion that Raiders offers a virtually flawless flick. Set in 1936, we meet adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) during a lively sequence in which he nabs an ancient artifact from a South American cave. Back in the States, we learn that Indy also maintains a day job as an archaeology professor. However, his adventures frequently take him from the classroom, and when representatives of the US government come a-calling, he gets a new assignment to seek one of the greatest artifacts of all: the Lost Ark of the Covenant.

Hitler thinks the Ark possesses magical powers, so he orders his forces to pull out all the stops in their hunt for it. Since the US agents don’t want that to happen, they recruit Indy as the best man to beat the Nazis to the punch. His first stop? Nepal, where he goes to find a medallion that will help him find the alleged burial spot of the Ark. This opens some old wounds, however, as he runs into Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), the daughter of his former partner and also an old flame he jilted a decade earlier.

Despite their problematic past, the pair team up in the search for the Ark and head to Egypt, where Indy reunites with old friend/local helper named Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). On the Nazi team against them we find Belloq (Paul Freeman), a mercenary French archaeologist we already met back in South America. He heads a team that includes a diabolical enforcer named Toht (Ronald Lacey) and other nasties. The movie follows the race between the two groups to discover the Ark and deal with the ramifications if this happens.

One cannot overstate the impact Raiders made on movies back in 1981. It presented a genuine breath of fresh air, a lively and endearing flick that pounded on the viewer with relentless action. However much it battered us, however, we eagerly came back for more. If ever a movie merited being called a “rollercoaster ride”, it was Raiders.

Critics will knock Raiders as unoriginal, and it’s certainly true that the film doesn’t present anything particularly innovative. Really, as the filmmakers freely admit, it gleefully offers a modern version of the old movie serials of the Thirties and Forties. Raiders is nothing more than a cliffhanger without the wait between episodes.

However, originality can be severely overrated. As a flick like Nashville establishes, just because you do something different doesn’t mean the results actually seem interesting. Execution proves much more important than innovation. Maybe Raiders didn’t tread any new ground, but it explored its subjects so incredibly well that it felt fresh.

Make no mistake: in 1981, most of us had never seen a movie like Raiders. Director Steven Spielberg creates the ultimate expression of the adventure flick with an ideal hero and briskly paced action that grabs the viewer and never lets go. The film’s opening sequence remains possibly its most famous, and it perfectly sets the stage for what will come. A series of “how can things get worse?” challenges, it gets the ball rolling – pun intended – terrifically. Few movies have opened with such an amazing sequence.

That doesn’t mean it’s all downhill from there, though, as Raiders presents a terrific succession of action bits that all seem to top each other. Viewed objectively, none may seem quite as stellar as that opening, but the film nonetheless comes chock full of exciting and rousing moments.

Don’t take Raiders to be nothing more than a random collection of action set pieces without anything interesting to connect them. The film presents a great roster of characters, all headed by Indy himself. Ford was already famous for Star Wars, but here he becomes a true movie star. The first – and really only – actor to break out of the typecasting caused by the 1977’s classic’s success, Ford’s work as Indy showed that he could do more than pilot a starship. Indy makes him more of a classic action hero; without it, I don’t know if he ever would have become a megastar.

Indy remains the perfect hero. He’s one of those guys the women desire and the men admire. He doesn’t play better for one gender or another, as across the board, Indy seems irresistibly and unselfconsciously charming.

I don’t know if anyone but Ford could pull off my favorite moment in Raiders. After one extended battle that leaves him battered, Sallah tells Indy that the Nazis put the Ark on a departing truck. Despite his exhaustion and soreness, Indy slaps his glove and resolutely asks, “Truck? What truck?” This is a hero who won’t give up but who seems delightfully human all the while.

Ford doesn’t carry the movie alone, of course, and the film’s supporting characters certainly embellish it. Allen’s Marion offers a terrific heroine. Bluntly beautiful but not prissy, she seems spunky and smart and becomes a perfect match for Indy. Has any female lead in an action flick gotten a better introduction than her drinking contest?

Add to that Rhys-Davies’ understate and charming take on the stereotypical sidekick, Lacey’s insidious performance as the leering Toht, and Freeman’s glibly slick but nicely three-dimensional interpretation of the mercenary and you have a great roster of supporting personalities. All make the movie more real despite its cartoony origins, and they become important reasons for its success.

I could go on and on about the magic that is Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that it continues to present a virtually flawless piece of cinematic entertainment. It dazzled me when I first saw it 27 years ago, and it still knocks me out today.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio A-/ Bonus C

Raiders of the Lost Ark appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the film’s stature, I hoped for a killer transfer. Alas, the end result was more inconsistent than I’d anticipated.

Sharpness was one of the inconsistent elements. Much of the film showed good delineation, but more than a few soft shots appeared. Noticeable edge haloes caused some of these, and a mix of scenes looked a bit blocky. No issues with shimmering occurred, but edges could be slightly rough at times. As for print flaws, the transfer appeared totally free of them. I never noticed any form of defect, and the movie consistently looked smooth and clean.

Colors also seemed up and down. Most of the film exhibited fairly solid tones, but matters could look a little orange at times, particularly in regard to skin tones. Otherwise, the hues appeared pretty positive. Blacks were dense and deep, and shadows appeared nicely delineated and concise. Though parts of the transfer worked quite well, the inconsistencies left this one as a “B-“.

Let me provide two additional notes related to the transfer. First, many will note that the DVD’s case refers to this film as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Personally, I refuse to use that alteration of the original title, and I’m happy to report that the folks at Lucasfilm didn’t tamper with the credits on this DVD; it still comes billed just as Raiders of the Lost Ark.

One bit of digital noodling does occur, however, during the scene in which Indy falls among all those snakes. In the original movie, one could easily see Ford’s reflection in the barrier that kept him from one of the critters. The DVD uses technology to erase that impression. It does so smoothly and works well.

While not quite on a standard with modern mixes, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Raiders of the Lost Ark seemed splendid for its age. The movie employed an almost shockingly active soundfield that presented a great deal of auditory information. The score enjoyed solid stereo imaging, and the track offered much localized material. At times some of this seemed a little too localized, as a few elements didn’t mesh together terribly well, but those instances appeared minor. For the most part, the mix featured a lot of different auditory pieces that were placed appropriately in the environment.

These included a lot of elements from the rear speakers. Usually these stayed monaural, but I was surprised to note some definite stereo surround usage on a few occasions. For example, during the runway fight, a plane zoomed distinctly from left to right in the rear, and the shots on the dock as Indy and Marion prepare to board the boat also featured unique elements in the two back speakers. Whether mono or stereo, the surrounds added a great deal of information to the track, and they helped make it an engulfing affair.

Audio quality slightly showed it age but usually seemed very positive. The dialogue occasionally was a little hollow, and I noticed periodic examples of awkward looping. Nonetheless, the lines betrayed no signs of edginess, and they mostly sounded natural and distinct. John Williams’ rousing score came across as bright and dynamic, with great definition for the various parts. Effects also showed a bit of thinness, but not often. The various elements mostly seemed accurate and concise, and those pieces presented surprisingly vivid low-end. The bass of Raiders packed a real punch and helped bring a lot of life to the mix. In the end, this became a well above average track for a flick from 1981.

How did the picture and audio of this 2008 Special Edition compare with those of the original DVD from 2003? I thought both DVDs looked and sounded virtually the same. Compression might’ve been a little better for the 2003 disc since it included no extras, but overall, the pair seemed very similar.

The 2008 SE includes new supplements, however. The 2003 version came as part of a four-disc package; along with the film’s two sequels, a fourth disc of extras appeared. None of those components pops up here.

Instead, the 2008 SE mostly focuses on new featurettes. Raiders of the Lost Ark: An Introduction runs seven minutes, 47 seconds as it presents remarks from director Steven Spielberg and story creator/executive producer George Lucas. They discuss the film’s origins and inspirations as well as its development and aspects of the production. Raiders fans will have heard these thoughts many times already, but this nonetheless acts as a good intro to the flick.

For the 11-minute and 40-second Indiana Jones: An Appreciation, we hear from Lucas, Spielberg, producer Frank Marshall, executive producer Kathleen Kennedy, Indy IV screenwriter David Koepp, and actors Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Cate Blanchett, and Shia LaBeouf. Essentially, this show offers thoughts about the first three flicks from those involved with Indy IV. This means a lot of praise and not much substance.

The Melting Face! lasts eight minutes, 48 seconds and includes Spielberg, special make-up effects artist Chris Walas, and visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund. We learn how they melted Toht’s face and see a demonstration of the effect. This proves to be an informative – if disgusting – discussion.

Next we find Storyboards. This four-minute and 16-second reel shows drawings created for the “Well of Souls” sequence. We see the boards in the upper two-third of the screen with a small frame to show the movie at the bottom. The comparison format works well and gives us a good look at the sequence.

Under Galleries, we find four subdomains. These cover “Illustrations and Props” (110 images), “Production Photographs and Portraits” (190), “Effects/ILM” (94) and “Marketing” (46). All four collections prove very enjoyable, though I probably like “Marketing” the best since it includes a bunch of unused poster concepts.

Some promotional materials for Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures arrive on the disc. In addition to a game trailer, we get a link to a PC Game Demo. I wanted to give this a try, but as I write this review, the link isn’t yet active.

The DVD opens with a trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. No ad for Raiders appears here.

More than 25 years after its debut, Raiders of the Lost Ark remains one of the greatest movies ever made. It absolutely defines the action adventure and presents a virtually perfect piece of excitement. The audio is very good for an older movie, while the picture seems generally positive but erratic. Supplements are pretty ordinary, as they don’t tell us a ton about the flick. Despite the lackluster visuals and extras, movies don’t get any better than this, so Raiders of the Lost Ark comes with my highest recommendation.

Note than you can buy Raiders on its own or as part of a three-DVD “Indiana Jones Adventure Collection”. That set also includes Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The “Adventure Collection” retails for $59.98, which makes it a good deal if you want all three of the movies; individually, they go for $26.98 apiece.

One twist: the original 2003 Indiana Jones Collection remains on the market and now retails for $49.99. As you math majors already figured out, that’s $10 cheaper than this new set, and it also includes a bonus disc with extras absent here. Of course, this disc’s supplements don’t appear in the 2003 package, but I prefer the old release’s bonus materials to this one’s. If you only want to own Raiders, this individual DVD is the way to go, but for fans who desire all three flicks, grab the old 2003 set instead of the 2008 package.

To rate this film visit the Indiana Jones Collection review of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main