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Right now it’s pretty easy to get swept up in Indiana Jones fever. With Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on the horizon, Lucasfilm has hit consumers with a wave of nostalgia in order to get anticipation to reach a fever pitch by the film’s release date of May 22. This wave would include action figures, T-shirts, the re-release of the original films, posters, and last but not least, the release of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones on DVD. Most assuredly, viewers hungry for the escapades of Dr. Jones can pass the time leading up Indy’s new adventure in a variety of ways, but after you’ve worn out your new copies of the original trilogy, the newly released final volume of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones is a terrific substitute until Crystal Skull hits theaters.
With the first two volumes, chronicling Indy during his adolescence and then in his formative years during World War I, already on disc, this final set shows Jones adventuring during the end of the Great War and during his time in college, eventually leading up to Indiana becoming the man we would eventually know in Raiders of the Lost Ark. We get to see Indy make important decisions about his life and his destiny, and for fans of the series and this character, its fun to see him grow to be the hero we know and love. Along the way, we even get to see him interact some of the most important figures of the 20th century, giving us further insight into the historical era these stories take place in.
Now, from the outset, it is important to note that the series is not able to compete with the Jones films on a visceral level. Expecting Temple of Doom-style thrills would be a huge mistake and lead only to disappointment, which is a shame because often times this is a series with terrific tales to tell. We get to see Indy globe-trotting from country to country and getting mixed up in various plots and adventures, from spying for French intelligence to discovering his true love for Jazz.
Playing the young Jones with an amazing amount of boyish charm is Sean Patrick Flanery. It’s one thing to face off against pirates and monsters, but Flanery is faced with a much more insurmountable task in this role; living up to Harrison Ford’s legacy. Still, his work here is quite admirable, showing a lot of charisma, even with the daunting task handed him. As the character starts to change and mold itself into the Indy we know, we also see Flanery grow more and more into the role and get more comfortable with it, making his own mark on this mythos.
Also helping substantially are the production values for the series, which for the time period these episode were made, were second to none. We see Indiana travel all over the world in his adventures, most of the footage shot on location in exotic destinations. It’s this level of authenticity that gives this series a lot of extra appeal, and I would imagine would also make this series a useful tool for those wanting to explore the moments in history covered here. Gorgeous tropical islands and gothic castles are all shown with movie-quality cinematography as well, adding wonderful atmosphere to every episode.
The stories told within the episodes themselves vary way more than the movie series has ever done. The seven feature length episodes contained in Volume 3 are all over the place, and in no way is that a bad thing. I love seeing Indy in “Tales of Innocence”, competing with Ernest Hemingway (Jay Underwood) for the affections of a young Italian girl, all while fighting off the Germans. The second half of the installment then shifts to North Africa where Jones fights off Berber tribesman for the French Foreign Legion. “Winds of Change” has the adventurer dealing with bigotry, as well as coming back into contact with T.E. Lawrence (Douglas Henshall). “Hollywood Follies” has Indiana helping John Ford make a picture, meeting up with Irving Thalberg (Bill Cusack), George Gershwin (Tom Beckett), and Wyatt Earp (Leo Gordon) along the way.
For pure adventure, there are two episodes on this set that can’t be beat. First up is “Masks of Evil”, which matches the historical intrigue that the series has developed up to that point then manages to fuse that motif the Pulp-style exploits that the character has always been famous for. The first half of the episode has Indy trying to help Turkey become a full fledged nation while working for French Intelligence. This is a terrific example of how this show was able to strike out on its own, putting Jones in a Third Man-style story with spies and assassins dueling it out on in the shadows of Istanbul. Then, the second half of the episode takes our hero to Transylvania, and you can guess how much fun it is to see Indiana Jones stop Dracula from building an army of the undead.
The episode closest to all of the movies in quality and tone though, is “Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye.” This is the Indy we know and love; looking for a buried treasure, falling for a pretty girl, taking on all comers from one-eyed Germans to bloodthirsty pirates, and then coming face to fact with what’s really important in his life: archeology. The episode reminded me of the transformation Jones goes through in Temple of Doom, where he goes from grave-robbing adventurer to idealistic messiah. While his crisis is not as grand here, you can see the character really grow and change as a person on screen, which is kind of the point of the series to begin with.
Unfortunately, the series’ biggest weakness is simply that it really can’t compete with the movie franchise for thrills and real nostalgia. This is never more evident than in the episode “Mystery of the Blues,” which shows Indy really coming into his own with his love for Jazz and then fighting Al Capone. The installment should have been the crown jewel of the show, with bookend segments that even feature a bearded Harrison Ford as an older Jones on the run from gangsters while protecting a Native American artifact. Unfortunately, all the episode does is bring into focus its shortcomings next to the films, with Harrison Ford lighting up the screen in his short segments, and John Williams’ score getting the blood pumping, making its absence in the rest of the episode much more resonant.
All in all, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume Three – The Years of Change is a rollicking good time with its educational benefit working as an added plus. Getting to see this character in this period in his life is a fascinating journey, and if that’s not enough, moments like watching Indy battle pirates in a kung fu fight make this worth you’re automatically. So if you’re tired of watching Raiders for the millionth time or if you’ve got young ones that you want to introduce to Indiana Jones and don’t want to subject them to face-melting Nazis or Thuggee rituals, this may be the way to go.
As with most Lucasfilm products, this box set looks stunning on DVD, especially considering this is a ’90s TV show. Presented in its original Fullscreen format with an aspect ratio of 1:33.1, the mastering on these looks great, with little to no damage visible on the show’s print. The sound on these sets is also quite good, with the Dolby Digital 2.0 sound coming across much better than many of the shows on DVD from the same era.
Documentaries – Like the previous DVD sets for this show, one of the biggest reasons to get this series on DVD is for the ridiculous amounts of documentaries contained on each set. Nearly each documentary goes around 30 minutes, and there are 31 of them found on this set alone. For educators looking for reference material for a classroom, I could recommend no better DVD series that could help get youngsters interested in this time period in history, as we get to see so many aspects of the world during this time in history.
While I do wish there was production material from Lucas talking about this series on these discs, the documentaries that are here offer a wealth of info, from looks at Al Capone’s criminal empire to Bronislaw Malinowski’s incredible anthropological pursuits. My favorite documentary on the set For the People, Despite the People – The Ataturk Revolution, deals with the rise of Mustafa Kemal, or, as he came to be known, Atatürk or “father of the Turks”. This is a fascinating look at this man and how he changed Turkey from a backwater country into a modern democracy, a subject I had no previous knowledge of whatsoever.
Other documentaries like Louis Armstrong – Ambassador of Jazz and The World of John Ford give wonderful summations of the careers of two of the most gifted artists of the past century, and Dracula – Fact and Fiction looks at the world’s most famous vampire from his historical roots to how Hollywood made him a legend. Also, the last disc boasts the historical lecture, entitled New Gods for Old by Professor H.W. Brands. Though it’s actually the longest of the docs, at over an hour, it’s also the driest.
Despite that, I simply can’t say enough about these wonderful looks at history and how interesting they all are. If you’re a history buff, this is an amazing set that covers so many aspects of this era that it nearly boggles the mind. If you’re got a few days to just sit around and watch TV, this is an enthralling way to spend your time.
DVD-ROM Feature: Interactive Timeline
DVD-ROM Feature: “Hunting for Treasure” Interactive Game
As a consumer, you may be a little hesitant to plop down the 80 bucks for this set, but the entertainment value nearly makes it worth it. For Indiana Jones lovers, this is one of the last pieces of the mythos that had yet to come out, and looking at this DVD set, it was well worth the wait.
Paramount presents The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume Three – The Years of Change. Created by George Lucas. Starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Harrison Ford, Anne Heche, Bob Peck, Ronny Coutteure. Running time: 660 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: April 29, 2008 . Available at Amazon.com.