Release Date(s)1981 (June 14, 2022)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm Ltd./Paramount Pictures (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: D
The year is 1936. As the world creeps inevitably toward war, an American professor of archaeology at Marshall College, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), is informed by agents from U.S. Army Intelligence that the Nazi German military is conducting an excavation at the ancient city of Tanis, near Cairo in Egypt. Jones realizes at once that the Nazis can be after just one thing: the ancient Ark of the Covenant as described in the Bible, which Adolf Hitler believes can make his forces invincible. Hired by the U.S. Government to recover the Ark before Hitler gets his hands on it, Jones seeks out his old mentor, Dr. Abner Ravenwood—the world’s foremost expert on Tanis—in Nepal. But when he arrives, Jones learns from Ravenwood’s daughter, Marion (Karen Allen) that Abner is dead. He barely has time to process this when Nazi agents arrive and attack them. Barely managing to escape, Jones and Marion head for Cairo, where Jones’ friend Sallah (John-Rhys-Davies) can help them regroup, investigate the Nazis’ plans, and discover the Ark’s secret location first.
So many elements came together seamlessly to make this a landmark film. The direction is deft and efficient, with all of Spielberg’s trademark style and flair in evidence, but with little in the way of overindulgence. The pacing is brisk, but not too brisk—not modern, but definitely a new gear for action-adventure films of the period. The cast is perfect across the board, with Harrison Ford coming fully into his own here. He carries the story with an effortlessness that belays how hard he’s actually working. The stunt work is superb, the set pieces are satisfying, the costuming and period production design are pitch perfect. The script is wry, funny, and honest by turns, and always engaging. There are certainly some cultural depictions of their time, but then that’s how creative works are. Still the film has aged beautifully. And John Williams’ iconic score—arguably his best work apart from Star Wars—lends everything a certain kind of magic, gravitas, and energy... and even a bit of whimsy. This is an unquestionably great film, and one that’s withstood the test of time.
Raiders was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex-X cameras with Panavision anamorphic lenses (with some VFX work done in VistaVision format) and it was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for its wide theatrical release. For this new Ultra HD, the original camera negative and master interpositive elements were scanned in native 4K to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate, complete with grading for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included on this disc). The remastering work was approved by director Steven Spielberg. The result is a marvel, with a significant increase in resolution and fine detail. Skin, stone, and fabrics all show more refinement than ever. Some shots exhibit the usual anamorphic softness around the edges of the frame, and of course the film’s optically-printed opening titles and transitions are a generation down from the negative, so they look a little softer. A bit of DNR may also have been applied here and there to keep the grain under control in those situations. However, that grain is still visible at all times, and it remains organic everywhere. The HDR has deepened the blacks, while allowing for more shadow detail—even given the use of on-set atmospherics, the blacks are just much better here than on the previous Blu-ray release, where they looked a bit gray on occasion. Highlights are bolder—daytime desert skies, for example, and lightning flashes—and the brightest moments are just at the point of eye-reactivity. The Ark of the Covenant has a gleaming luster now that’s more brilliant. And the colors! Gone is the pale green tint that plagued the previous Blu-rays. Colors are richly saturated and accurate, exhibiting a more natural variety and nuance. What’s more, there’s been some effort to recomposite key VFX shots digitally to remove or de-emphasize matte lines. All of the elements within these shots—models, live action plates, matte paintings—now look more unified. But it doesn’t appear that there’s been any untoward, Star Wars-style revisionism. This film simply looks its best now, and better than it’s ever looked before at home by a wide margin. Diehard fans should be pleased.
Better still, the new English Dolby Atmos remix, which was supervised by Ben Burtt at Skywalker Sound, is spectacular. The original sound effects elements have been retained, but fidelity and positioning has never been better. The soundstage is bigger and more immersive now, with a full, muscular quality and excellent dynamics, all while preserving the original sonic character of the film. This is by no means a “modern” sound effects remix. Dialogue is clean at all times, staging is precise, movement is smooth and natural. The height channels complete the immersion and get active in set pieces, including the collapse of the temple and the rolling stone boulder in the film’s opening. Crowd noise in the Cairo markets, the clatter of gunfire, the heavy punch of explosions, and the crisp whip-cracks all have a satisfyingly full sound, supported by excellent low-frequency effects. There are all kinds of subtle little atmospheric cues, including water dripping in the surrounds as Indy makes his way deeper into the temple at the start of the film, not to mention the hiss and slither of snakes from almost every direction as Indy climbs down into the Well of the Souls. Williams’ bold and brassy trumpet fanfares ring out with outstanding clarity. What a treat this is! Additional audio options on the 4K include Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and Russian 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Danish, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai.
Paramount’s new 4K Steelbook release corrects a major flaw in their original Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection 4K box set from last year (see our in-depth review here), namely that the packaging was terrible. The new Steelbook case is durable, as you might expect, and it has the advantage of using the original poster artwork (though not the original title logo) that fans wanted in the first place. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it includes only the 4K disc from the box set. There’s no remastered Blu-ray copy of the film, nor is the set’s Special Features Blu-ray included here. That means all you get in terms of extras are the following:
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:03)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:33)
- Re-Issue Trailer (HD – 1:45)
You’re obviously missing out on a great deal of bonus content (again, see our review of the box set for a complete list). But you do at least get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert. And Paramount has chosen to include a mini poster this time, featuring the original 1981 U.S. one-sheet artwork by Richard Amsel. So that’s something.
Ultimately, the near total lack of extras makes this 4K Steelbook edition of Raiders of the Lost Ark very difficult to recommend for any but the most casual Indy fans, no matter how nice the new case might look (and how flimsy the previous packaging was). That said, the film’s 4K remastering is terrific, so if you’ve been reluctant to buy the whole box set until now—and you don’t care about those extras (perhaps because you already own the previous Blu-ray and DVD editions)—this no-frills Steelbook release might be just the thing you’ve been waiting for. Proceed cautiously, Dr. Jones.
- Bill Hunt