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