A DVD Refresher on the Indiana Jones Trilogy — Let's Rate Them

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On a dragass DVD week dominated by the drab and preachy The Great Debaters, the painfully unfunny Mad Money and the totally unwatchable Untraceable, Indy comes to the rescue. With the fourth installment — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — just nine days away from your local multiplex, the DVD gods have picked an ideal time to re-release the first three Indy chapters in spanking new editions. Director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas have done intros for each movie, there are new bonus features not included on the 2003 DVD package, and the images jump off the screen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound to goose them. But the big question before the May 22nd opening of Indy 4, is how to rank the first three. To refresh your memory:

Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981

Lucas wanted to do a film about a daredevil archeologist set in the 1930s and modeled on that era's cliffhangers. So he sketched a plot that pits his hero, Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones, against the Nazis, who are searching for the Ark of the Covenant — a golden chest said to contain the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments. Hitler is hot to have it. Indy, armed only with a bullwhip and his sharp-tongued lady love (Karen Allen), sets out to save the Ark for democracy. Historical fact does not figure prominently in these proceedings, but fun does. Ford's satirical approach to macho is priceless. And director Steven Spielberg stages an exultantly good-humored, head-on, rousing series of traps and escapes, raising movie escapism very near the level of art. The opening scene with Indy being chased by a giant ball inside a jungle cave is a true DVD demo classic.

Indiana Jones the Temple of Doom 1984

The sequel took a few hits from critics who complained about the gore, children being whipped and kicked, and one man's heart getting torn out of his chest as a sacrifice. (The PG-13 rating was practically invented so this blockbuster wouldn't get an R rating). Tame by today's standards, the movie begins with Indy hooking up with singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw, the future Mrs. Spielberg) and Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), a twelve-year-old Vietnamese handful. They both help Indy restore a sacred stone to an Indian village. "Fortune and glory, kid," Indy tells Short Round, as succinct an explanation as you'll find for the film's appeal, and Indy's. Spielberg admits he may have gone overboard with the heart ripping. But the opening is still a sensation with Capshaw singing "Anything Goes," mostly in Chinese, at a Shanghai nightclub in 1935. Indy is among the listeners. A brawl ensues, causing Indy, Willie and Short Round to flee via roadster, tri-motor plane, life raft, and elephant.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989

Chapter three boasts a secret weapon: Sean Connery cast way against type as Indy's prissy dad Dr. Henry Jones, a professor of antiquity whose nose was buried in musty parchments when his young, motherless son needed a guiding hand. When dad goes missing while searching for the Holy Grail, it's Indy to the rescue. Sonny boy is barely through the window when Dad beans him with a vase. "Junior?" he asks. "Don't call me Junior" moans Indy. Strafed by an enemy plane, Dad starts to chase a flock of sea birds with his umbrella. But Indy's exasperation turns to admiration when the rising flock blinds the pilot and sends the plane into a nosedive. Ford and Connery have a mocking rapport that makes the film fly, along with Spielberg's nonstop stunts. Watch out for the plane in the tunnel.

OK, enough nostalgia. Let's rate them. I think you'll agree that No. 1 is Raiders, the first and the best of the series, arguably in the top three adventure movies of all time. No. 2, from my point of view, is The Last Crusade, thanks to the Ford-Connery combo that becomes Ford and Shia LeBeouf in Indy 4. And holding up the rear is Temple of Doom, which moves in fits and starts, but is far livelier than memory serves after watching the DVD. All reasonable arguments accepted.

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