#057

The Adventures of Indiana Jones
Paramount DVD box set

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One of the most anticipated DVD reissues arrives with just as much bonus packaging as you’d expect - but not a minute more. It’s safe to say that, after the original Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones films have become sentimental favorites for anyone who could get into PG-13 films just after Ronald Reagan took office.

Released over the course of the 80s, this George Lucas/Steven Spielberg collaboration was every bit the box office sensation it needed to be. True to form, though, the series began as a quick, “low budget” film made for fun, and quickly grew into the sort of massive action spectacular that you’d expect from its creators.

Critics of today’s action flicks are fond of calling them “B movies with A budgets”. The Indiana Jones films, however, were meant to be tributes to the astoundingly cheap cliffhanger serials made by Republic Pictures in the 30s and 40s, and to be truthful, this inspiration fell well down the alphabet, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the triple Zs.

Evil Nazis and voodoo dolls, murderous thugee cults and human sacrifice, booby-trapped tombs, rats, snakes, and lunging skeletons – the Indy films are the biggest sleazy midway ride ever committed to film, a classic example of spending millions to turn off the lights, shout boo, and stick the audience’s hands in a bowl of wet spaghetti.

The first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is probably the last moment when either Lucas or Spielberg showed the verve of young filmmakers, and the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, attempted (unsuccessfully) to recapture that freshness by showing Harrison Ford’s Indy as a boy (played by River Phoenix) in the opening sequence. The less said about the crude, loud, bludgeoning second film, Temple of Doom, the better.

Each movie comes without commentary tracks, and all of the bonus material – the usual retrospective “making of” films and featurettes on production details like stunts and music – is on a fourth disc, available only with the box set. It might seem like a bit of a rip-off, but it’s in the nature of the Indy trilogy, the essence of supersized popcorn cinema.

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28 Days Later
20th Century Fox DVD

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The two alternate endings provided with Danny Boyle’s zombie horror-thriller, packaged with a narrated storyboard version of an entirely different plot diversion, might be fascinating DVD bonus material, but they also suggest a fatal lack of conviction on the part of the filmmakers.

The “making of” featurette included with the package is also unusual, less a production diary than a documentary, complete with authoritative talking heads, that tries to sell the imminent threat of a catastrophic killer plague in the near future. It might be the first time that someone has tried to sell a picture with the suggestion that you should see it before you die, and that time’s a wastin’.

The film itself is an austere piece of work, like George Romero’s bleak, genre-creating Night of the Living Dead re-imagined through a phlegmatic English sensibility. It’s also nowhere near as terrifying as it needs to be, which might have something to do with the fact that you don’t need flesh-eating zombies around if you want to be afraid of groups of young Englishmen after all the pubs have closed.

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Warner Legends Collection
Warner Bros. DVD box set

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The Warner Bros. film library is one of the richest around, so it’s no surprise that, with a bit of imagination, the company has been able to produce the sort of rich, intelligent, two-disc DVD packages that were once a hallmark of companies like Criterion.

The three films packaged in this box set provide a snapshot of the studio before, during, and after World War Two. The Adventures Of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn, is a lavishly escapist Technicolor epic from the last years of the Depression. Yankee Doodle Dandy, featuring James Cagney, is a patriotic, rousing musical from the war years, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart, is the sort of dark, morally weary postwar film you’d expect from the era of film noir.

A feature-length documentary history of the studio completes the box set, which also includes a two-hour biography of Sierra Madre director John Huston, Looney Tunes that spoof the featured films, and a really informative documentary on the history of Technicolor pictures. Individually, each DVD set is virtually definitive, but packaged together they’re a must-have for fans of golden age Hollywood.

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Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Packaged to echo the clever, retro graphics of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, this 1966 heist film represents the slick, futuristic airport modernism that films like Spielberg’s recent hit and Down With Love strove mightily to evoke.

The film, equal parts The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven, revolves around James Coburn’s supernaturally slick con man as he puts together a bank robbery at Los Angeles International Airport while juggling a train of false identities. Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round manages the rare feat of keeping the heist’s details utterly mysterious until the last minute, and inserting a final, acidly ironic twist at the very end. No bonus features, unless you count the brief cameo by a very young Harrison Ford.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.