The Bottom Shelf

Skywalking with Dr. Jahnke and Dr. Jones

October 24, 2012 - 4:29 pm   |   by
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I don’t cover or even attend very many press events. For one thing, I’m not a journalist and have never pretended to be one. I write opinion pieces, whether they’re reviews or columns or what have you. I’m more than happy to leave the reportage to people who know what they’re doing.

For another, most press events are a bit of a drag. Nobody complains about it much because, let’s face it, there are far worse things to do. But usually you just sit in an auditorium, hear a presentation, get in a brief Q&A and then maybe have coffee. Most press events are about as exciting as your freshman orientation.

But when I got the chance last month to attend the Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Blu-ray press day up at Skywalker Ranch…well, I’d have to have been some kind of idiot to pass up that opportunity.

We headed out to the ranch bright and early. Well, maybe not bright, exactly. This was San Francisco, after all, so the morning was grey, foggy and downright chilly. But by the time we made it to Skywalker Ranch, some thirty miles outside the city, the sky was a clear blue and the sun was shining bright.

Our first stop was the Technical Building, an appropriate location for a presentation by two legendary craftsmen. Visual effects artist Dennis Muren and sound designer Ben Burtt have both been indispensable parts of Lucasfilm since the original Star Wars. They are true pioneers in their fields with an armoire full of Oscars and other awards between them to prove it.

Muren reflected fondly on the franchise, graciously acknowledging Harrison Ford as the element that really makes the movies work with the visual effects taking a backseat to his iconic performance. Muren has a brief cameo in Raiders. He’s the shadowy character on the plane who lowers an issue of Life magazine to keep tabs on Indy. As Muren said, “That's the weirdest experience, going from behind the scenes to being in front of the camera with Spielberg looking at you here and Harrison over there. It's like, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’”

When Raiders was being filmed, the Tech Building hadn’t been built. So it was a bit of a thrill when Burtt revealed that many of the sound effects for the film, including gun shots, whip cracks and rock slides, were recorded right on the very spot we were now sitting. The mine car chase from Temple of Doom? Those clattering tracks you hear were recorded at Disneyland’s Space Mountain after the park was closed. In other words, Ben Burtt confirmed that he does indeed have the coolest job in the world.

After the presentation, we were brought over to the Lucasfilm Archives, which doesn’t look like much from the outside but essentially houses your childhood and mine. An array of props and costume pieces from all four Indy movies were on display. Everything from the actual Ark of the Covenant to the Crystal Skull was right there. It was more than a little breathtaking to see all this material gathered in one place.

But if I could choose just one of those pieces to have for myself, strangely enough it wouldn’t be the Ark or the idol from the opening sequence of Raiders. It wouldn’t be the Holy Grail or even Indy’s whip. It’d be the crate with the Nazi emblem that the Ark begins to burn through in Raiders. Don’t ask me why since I could probably just make one myself if I really wanted to. But for some reason, that piece of wood thrilled me more than anything else in the room. For lack of a better word, it made it real.

Skywalker Ranch could be a vineyard and it’d still be a magnificently beautiful area to visit. In fact, part of it is a vineyard. But the magic and memories that are everywhere you turn make it a very special place to movie lovers. It was a journey I’ll treasure for a long, long time.

- Your pal, Dr. Adam Jahnke


Here's a gallery of pictures from the event, and you can pre-order the Indiana Jones Blu-ray set below by clicking on the cover art:

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (Blu-ray Disc)

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