Paramount gives Indiana Jones a sparkling new 4K makeover
By Jim Bray
Paramount studios obviously cracked the whip on the people who do their restorations of films, because their, and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' swashbuckling series, has just been released in the UHD format and it looks and sounds fantastic.
They've even stuck in a whole Blu-ray of extras that I didn't expect to see!
Indiana Jones first came to the big screen back in 1981, when Lucas got together with his friend Spielberg to bring to life his vision of an action film that hearkened back to the old Saturday afternoon serials that used to be shown in movie theatres. The result, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was a huge hit – and a deserved one, too.
I remember when my wife and I first saw Raiders at a theatre in Ottawa, Ontario, while we were back in the belly of the beast visiting my parents. We loved the movie so much – and knew my Dad in particular would also love it – that we dragged him to the first showing the next day. And he loved it, too – or at least he made the appropriate cooing noises when we asked him.
Since then, there have been three sequels of varying quality – though every one of the films is eminently watchable – and now there are rumours that they're going back to the well again. To which I quote Sean Connery as Henry Jones Senior in "Last Crusade:" "Let it go".
Anyway, Spielberg, Lucas et al brought the action serial concept to the big screen with their typical production values (which means they were terrific from a technical point of view), and the subsequent video releases have all done their best, whether from pan & scan videocassette through laserdisc, DVD and, finally Blu-ray.
Blu-ray, obviously, was the best since it was high definition, widescreen presentations with high end lossless audio, and all four films in that particular boxed set (and the individual releases that followed) were very good. But as much as they did a fine job with what they had, there was one small fly in the ointment: Raiders.
The oldest of the four films looked better than ever on Blu-ray, but it paled compared to the rest of the films when it came to picture quality, probably because it was the oldest.
As it turned out, all it needed was another good restoration and remastering, and I'm delighted to note that Paramount has given Raider just that with this new 4K "Ultra UHD" (with HDR/Dolby Vision) release for its 40h anniversary (can it really have been that long?). It truly is quite lovely to behold.
And that's only the beginning! According to Paramount's press blurb, "for the first time ever, all four films are available together in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision and HDR-10 for ultra-vivid picture quality and state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos audio. Each film has been meticulously remastered from 4K scans of the original negatives with extensive visual effects work done to ensure the most pristine and highest quality image. All picture work was approved by director Steven Spielberg."
It shows. While Raiders benefits the most, all the films look simply scrumptious with the new restoration/remastering.
Check out the clean and clear picture quality! Detail is extremely fine, especially in close ups (but not limited to them) and the colour and textures are spectacular, with deep, deep blacks.
The uptick in video quality actually creates a more film like look, with some grain allowed to stick around but not enough to make the image look dirty or fake. It's almost as if you're watching the film for the first time even though, if you're like me, you've seen it a zillion times already. You really must see it to appreciate it – and if you have the ability, try the old Blu-ray first; you'll be amazed.
Paramount also says all four films' audio were remixed at Skywalker Sound, and they brought on board famed sound designer Ben Burtt (who has worked his aural magic for Lucas films ever since the original Star Wars) to create the Dolby Atmos versions of the soundtracks. "All original sound elements were used to achieve the fully immersive Dolby Atmos mixes while staying true to each film's original creative intent."
I don't do Dolby Atmos and won't as long as I use my current home theatre (too much work and expense adding channels and speakers all over the place), but the audio "dumbs itself down" (er, is backward compatible) to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (which is backward compatible to 5.1). That's how I listened to the titles and I'm pleased to report that the audio has never sounded better, either.
Take Raiders (please!). This movie came out when Dolby Surround was pretty well in its infancy and the surround channel was merely monaural (if memory serves, the first "stereo surround" movie other than a couple of one-off titles such as Ken Russell's Tommy was Spielberg's Jurassic Park, in 1993). Yet there's plenty of great surround in the new mastering and they've done a fine job.
Raiders' overall sound isn't up to the standards of the others, at least not quite, undoubtedly because it's the oldest and was recorded on analogue equipment. Yet even here, the quality is a marked improvement from the previous home video versions. Bass rumbles beautifully (for example, when the big rock starts chasing Indy in the opening sequence, or the thrumming of the flying wing later).
It's almost enough to make me run out and add the extra channels and speakers for Atmos!
Take all this goodness and apply it to the other three titles in this collection and you'll see that buying this boxed set is going to get you a whole bunch of cinematic goodness. In fact, the weakest part of the package is the package itself, a cheap box that takes work to get the discs out of without ripping it. But that's pretty nit picky!
The set also includes codes for digital copies of the films and there's also a fold out paper with reproductions of the films' "one sheets" with an Indy timeline on the reverse side. It's kind of lame. Er, physically challenged.
The unexpected but most welcome bonus in the box is a fifth disc, a regular Blu-ray that's crammed with what Paramount says are seven hours of "previously released bonus content."
It may not be new stuff, but there's a lot of great information there and I enjoyed almost all of it.
Here's a selection of what you get:
On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
Making the Films
Behind the Scenes
There's a lot of meat here and quite a bit of fluff, but it's fun fluff – just like the movies!
I can't stress enough just how great this remastered and restored boxed set is. If you're an Indiana Jones fan, chances are you have the Blu-rays already, and that's great. But if you love your video and audio quality as much (or nearly as much) as the stories themselves, you really owe it to yourself to pick up this 4K UHD boxed set.
Then unload the Blu-rays on a friend, or eBay, or whatever. It's that much of an upgrade!
Copyright 2021, Jim Bray