IAR Travels to Skywalker Ranch for 'Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures' Blu-ray

Monday, 17 September 2012 13:11 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR Travels to Skywalker Ranch for 'Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures' Blu-ray

Available for the first time on Blu-ray beginning September 18th is Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures, which includes all four of the feature films revolving around the exploits of everyone's favorite archeologist/adventurer.

The first film in the series - Raiders of the Lost Ark - has been meticulously restored under the supervision of director Steven Spielberg and sound designer Ben Burtt. In addition, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, have both been remastered along with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull marking the the first time all four films have been available together in high definition. 

The set also includes seven hours of documentaries, featurettes and interviews with cast members and filmmakers. The comprehensive collection also includes a brand new two-part documentary entitled "On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark - From Jungle to Desert and From Adventure to Legend." This new documentary features nearly an hour of rarely seen footage from the set of the film and archival interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford

On behalf of IAR, I recently had the pleasure of traveling to George Lucas' famed Skywalker Ranch in Marin County near San Francisco for a special press day in honor of the Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Blu-ray set. 

Before heading over to the ranch, we had a chance to see the restored Raiders of the Lost Ark on IMAX at a local theater in Oakland. The film looked incredible and absolutely still stands up as a classic all these decades later. If you are a fan of the film or the series in general, I highly suggest that you see Raiders on the big screen as it is currently playing in over three hundred digital theaters across the country as part of an extended theatrical run that began on September 7th. 

After the screening, we arrived at Skywalker Ranch and were taken to Lucas' three hundred seat state-of-the-art Stag Theater Screening Room. We had a chance to watch clips from the new 2 two-part documentary featured in the Blu-ray collection, as well as speak with Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt. In addition to working on all four Indiana Jones films and winning an Oscar for his work on both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Burtt is also the man responsible for creating R2-D2's voice, the lightsaber hum, the sound of the blaster guns, and Darth Vader's heavy-breathing in the original Star Wars films. 

Burtt began by explaining his contributions to the restored Raiders Blu-ray and what he did to preserve the sound design from the film's original release. "What I did on Raiders, for instance, is that we did some touch-ups of things. We had to expand the use of the surround tracks because that was available to us in a way now, which it was not available to us back then," he explained. "The interesting thing is, with some of the sounds that were in the original monaural surround track on Raiders, I still had the original stereo recordings of all those sounds. Fortunately, I had saved all of that and I could find it. So I was able to go back and take time to match up the recordings with what was there in the original release of the movie. I put them in stereo now, so I did add something to the movie, but it was the same content, now just more spatial, and with dimension to it."

"In a few places where we added a few additional sounds, I took them all off the Raiders library, what I thought were a few missing little body hits in the fight scenes that we may have missed," Burtt continued. "I took them off the same tape that I had back in 1981. I wanted to make sure that what was done was still in the same fabric as what was originally there, because I didn’t want it to stand out and be different. I know there have been some restorations of other films, because I’ve seen them on Blu-ray or DVD, in which they’ve actually changed the sound effects. They’ve composed something brand new into an old film, and that really throws me off, because I immediately recognize it, and I wonder why they would do such a thing," he explained."So I didn’t want to have anything like that. We added material which was from the original library so it would be consistent."

Burtt went on to discuss some of the differences between mixing films today and how the sound for Raiders was originally mixed back when it was first released. "It’s interesting because the original surround track for Raiders was obviously the first one done in the golden mixing facility in Los Angeles, before we had our own mixing operation up here," he explained. "The surrounds in theaters at that time in 1981 were very problematic; you didn’t know whether they would ever get played correctly, at the correct level, or if they would get played at all. So the original mix on Raiders was just left center, right across the front. We didn’t use the surround track, but we got the balance of music, effects and dialogue right and got everybody’s approval including George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Then as a separate mix after that was approved, we began to conservatively add in surround effects."

"The idea being that we knew the movie would work up front, and that’s what was going to be played at most theaters, with more of a guarantee of it being played correctly, and that if the surrounds worked, they would be a nice enhancement, but we didn’t want to put content in the surrounds that was essential to the storytelling because it might be lost," Burtt continued. "That’s just because we knew at that time many theaters were not going to be able to get it right, this is before THX existed, and any of the other digital revolutions which helped improve theaters. So now, going back and listening to Raiders, we realized that we were awfully conservative. But now we can have a richer experience, so we wanted to recreate it with the same raw material and that’s what we did. The surround is really basic but really redone. We put stereo music in the surrounds instead of monaural, that’s one of the things that was done."

The Oscar-winning sound designer also talked about the advances in sound design technology and where he sees it going in the future. "We kind of predicted this first as a joke years ago, we thought everything’s going to move into the surrounds, and it’s kind of gone that way to some extent. We had 5.1, then 7.1, and now we have 11.1, which we used on Red Tails. Then there’s the Dolby Atmos process, which is now being experimented with," Burtt explained. "I'd like to make it a more immersive experience. Once again, it’s a learning curve. When I first started out working in stereo, people might get distracted sometimes with something in the surrounds, especially if they were sitting too close to a speaker. So you had to be careful not to put a lot of dialogue next to their head or something that would distract them. But as time has gone on and filmmakers continually move the experience forward, it’s always changing and evolving. We’re at a point now where we’re doing a lot more all around the room, and we’re expecting it to be played that way, in home theaters as well as theatrical. I think as long as it’s justifiable in terms of the content of the movie, I like that we're heading in that direction."

While at the ranch, we also had a chance to speak with visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren whose VFX credits include the original Star Wars series, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as well as an uncredited acting role as "Nazi Spy on the Airplane" in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Muren began by discussing the visual effects in Raiders and how they hold up against today's standards of VFX. "I don't know if you want to compare the images of then to now because I do think the old ones hold up very well. Having been there and sort of living through it, there's something in the reality of it that sort of usurps any technical problems we might've had in those days and it gives it a very hand feel look to it," he explained. "So, I think the movies hold up extremely well, and not that the newer ones aren't good also, but the smell and feel of the FX material fit with the rest of the movie."

"What George (Lucas) and Steven (Spielberg) always wanted was to have audiences be able to experience a hyper adventure," Muren continued. "The FX were there to sort of supplement that. So, you can get out of reality and have a real thrill ride adventure. That's what they were going for in this film and that's where the FX needed to come in, to do things that just couldn't be done for real. It was really being able to use the FX in a way that was more pristine and more in the style of Steven's directing, and that's really hard to do or else those shots would just pop and look like they were done by a second unit and not the director himself."

Muren went on to discuss his favorite moment from the series that he helped create, which was featured in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. "We had the big mine chase in that, which was very difficult. There were shots that go on and on through this tunnel, and of course they couldn't do it for real. They had a nice tunnel that they could get some shots with, but not the vistas or the length of travel that they needed to carry the dramatic effect," he explained. "In order to build these long miniature sets, the size was dependent on the size of the camera because the camera had to go through the tunnel. I came up with idea of using just a Nikon still camera instead of shooting with one of the bigger movie cameras. I thought that if we just used a still camera to shoot still frame after frame after frame, and these shots that only ran like four or five seconds, we could get that on one load on a Nikon camera. That meant that all the sets could be smaller. They only needed to be a hundred feet long instead of three hundred feet long. It just saved a heck of a lot of money, which everyone was happy about because these films, no matter how they appear, were always done on very, very tight budgets. We always had to really work within that, but the work came out really great in that sequence, too."

In closing, Muren also talked about his uncredited acting role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. "It was really pretty neat. I got to act in one little sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was when Harrison goes on the airplane and there's the spy who's sort of in front reading Life Magazine. That's me," Muren exclaimed! "I'll tell you, that's the weirdest experience, going from behind the scenes to being in front of the camera with Spielberg looking at you and Harrison there too. It's like, 'What the heck am I doing here?' The plane actually couldn't fly, but fortunately it was nearby and we went over there and shot all those scenes in like one morning. That was a pretty darn neat experience. I thought it would lead to bigger acting parts for me, but sadly it didn't." 

Finally, after the presentation, we had the rare opportunity to visit the Lucasfilm archives room, which is where all the props, models, and concept art from the entire Star Wars series, Indian Jones series, and other Lucasfilms projects are stored. On display, front and center, were items from all of the Indiana Jones movies including Indy's outfit complete with whip and hat, the ark, the Sankara Stones, the Crystal Skull, and the Holy Grail. 

In fact, I'm a huge fan of The Last Crusade and I could not resist an opportunity to actually drink from the Grail. While I'm pretty sure we were not permitted to touch the items, I grabbed the Grail and pretended to drink its holy water while a fellow journalist snapped a photo of me. As the Grail Knight said in the film, "I chose wisely." 

While we were in the Lucasfilm Vault, we were only supposed to look at the items from the Indiana Jones films however, I could not help spotting a few items from the Star Wars series including a model of the Death Star, Princess Leia's Endor outfit, and R2-D2 himself!

If you would like a chance to see the props from the Indiana Jones films yourself, you can beginning October 12th at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California. They will be on display as part of the Indiana Jones: Adventures in Archaeology exhibit, which will run until April 21st, 2013. 

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures will be available on Blu-ray beginning September 18th.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is in limited re-release in theaters now!

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