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DVDs: Battling The "Indiana Jones" Effect

10/17/2008 05:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's a strange but understandable phenomenon of pop culture. When the creators of a beloved character or franchise bring it back to life after a hiatus, people are so glad to see their favorite hero or fantasy world again that when the revival is just a shadow of its former self or when the revival even sullies the memory of the original and makes it hard to remember why you loved it in the first place, heck when it's so bad that you literally throw up (as the guys from South Park insist), people will still embrace the event anyway. Imagine if your beloved Great Aunt Mabel were brought back to life -- sure she's a zombie and it's a little upsetting, but you can't help being tickled over hearing her walk and talk again, if only for a little while.

The most obvious recent example of this are the three Star Wars prequels. I don't know anyone from 8 years old to 80 who doesn't think those three movies are anything more than mediocre, at best. And yet they grossed $3.3 billion worldwide at the box office alone. And God help me, if they released a fourth one tomorrow, I'd line up to see that as well. But there are plenty more where that came from. Helen Mirren played Inspector Jane Tennison of Prime Suspect in two absolutely brilliant miniseries. The gaps between the weaker and weaker sequels became longer, but still at the end we cheered her on. Sylvester Stallone trudged out Rocky Balboa 16 years after the last entry and 30 years after the Oscar-winning original. And simply because it wasn't quite as godawful as the last three, we bought into the absurd premise of one last fight. The Godfather III came out 16 years after Part II and was nominated for an Oscar, for God's sake. I'm sure we could list many more examples from movies, TV shows and books.

Now that same hypnotic effect doesn't occur when someone brings out a new Tarzan or a new Robin Hood. Every generation will have their own spin on legendary characters. (Yes, I'm already looking forward to Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes.) But that built-in audience is not under the same hypnotic effect as the fans who will flock to a movie when the people who first created it or the actor who first originated it brings that tale back for another go-round.

That's my explanation for why I didn't storm out of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($39.99; Paramount). (Here's some good news. There's a single disc edition for $5 cheaper with few of the OK extras. They shouldn't even bother to put that out. But the Blu-Ray edition is EXACTLY THE SAME PRICE as the regular two disc edition and has all the same extras. Hurrah! Let's hope every studio quickly realizes that if they want to keep the $18 billion DVD gravy train rolling that Blu-Ray can't be an excuse to jack up prices. Let it provide a jump in picture and sound quality -- which it most certainly does -- not a jump in cost.)

Once the contact high of seeing Indy again has worn off, a second viewing on DVD is the perfect antidote for the "Indiana Jones Effect." I have a personal animus against "amusing" reaction shots of animals. No great movie ever included them. (The exception that proves the rule? The Thin Man.) Spielberg shows not one, not two, but THREE animal reaction shots of gophers or groundhogs or prairie dogs or whatever those little fellas are in the first few minutes. Cate Blanchett was game but you can't be a great villain if all you do is bark out "bring the map!" to your underlings. And did Shia LaBeouf REALLY swing through the trees like Tarzan? This isn't a godawful movie the way the first three Star Wars movies are; Harrison Ford is too good and seeing Karen Allen again too much fun. But it's not a patch on the original. The best antidote to the Indiana Jones Effect? Watching Raiders of the Lost Ark again. It's one of the great adventure films of all time. And seeing it again will remind you of what a truly great Indy film should be.

So tell me, what movie or TV show or book series snookered you with the Indiana Jones Effect?

TERRENCE MALICK'S IMPRVOVED MASTERPIECE -- I'm an unabashed fan of director Terrence Malick, who delivered two masterpieces in the 1970s (Badlands and Days Of Heaven), went on vacation for 20 years and then delivered two more masterpieces, The Thin Red Line and now The New World, which is just out in a new extended cut the studio says was overseen by Malick. It's 23 minutes longer than the initial Oscar-qualifying release and 37 minutes longer than the standard theatrical cut, which I avoided because I loved the longer version so much. This new, 172 minute version ($20.98; New Line) is just breathtaking. It tells the story of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. The arrival of the British in America is like watching a spaceship land in Central Park; you completely understand the panic and astonishment of the "naturals" (who are soon termed "savages" when their help is no longer needed). Just as wonderful, when Pocahontas travels to England, you see that world through her eyes and it's just as strange and exotic as you or I going to Mars. But here's the highest compliment I can pay: I believed it. When Smith and others are rowing up river or standing in the middle of a field and staring at the indigenous Americans who are sniffing at them in wonder, I believed it. I wasn't thinking about the cameras or the actors or the fact that they might have to pause filming when a plane flies overhead. I was utterly caught up in watching people in 1607 land in America and seeing that world with virgin eyes. This isn't through simple accuracy -- it's a remarkable alchemy of brilliant cinematographry, famous and unknown actors, well-worn costumes and a million other details. Heck, the music of Wagner shouldn't make me believe I'd been transported back 400 years. But I did.

BOXED SET ROUNDUP -- Sure. the only movie you really need to watch in The Ultimate Matrix Collection on Blu-Ray ($129.95; Warner Bros.) is the original. But all of them look smashing on this premium-priced Blu-Ray edition and it does contain an overwhelming amount of top-notch bonus material, including The Animatrix and enough behind-the-scenes footage, commentary and documentaries to keep you busy for literally a week. Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Definitive Collection ($99.95; A&E) collects 12 TV movie-length mysteries of Poirot (though, oddly, they're not listed in the order of the original airdate). Poirot has to be one of the most confusingly packaged TV series around. You've got 45 (I think) roughly one hour mysteries followed by 16 TV movie length adventures (four more just aired in the UK and aren't included in this "definitive" edition). David Suchet is a definitive Poirot, though he's best appreciated in the early episodes, which are all packaged this way and that in numerous compilations. This set has solid mysteries for fans and is nicely compact, though with four more movies already done it's sure to be replaced in a year or so with an even more defintive set of TV movies and hopefully one day the entire series in order. At least they're well presented. Truly distressing is the new Jewel In The Crown 25th Anniversary Edition ($39.95; A&E). A great miniseries just one notch below Brideshead Revisited, Jewel has long been available in a bulkier, more expensive set with a shoddy transfer of the original footage. In the UK, they recently put out a remastered version with some modest extras. But while THIS version may be cheaper and more compact, it appears to be the same cheap-looking version put out all those years ago. If you've never seen it, this is better than nothing, I suppose.

SPORTS -- Ringside Ali ($34.95; ESPN) is the latest sports release to make excellent use of the DVD's potential. They spotlight 15 major fights with a generous 10 hours of footage and throw in a three and a half hour documentary to boot. History Of The Cleveland Browns ($26.98; Warner Bros.) with two discs and 4+ hours seems modest in comparison. Sports Night: The Complete Series ($69.99; Shout) is a tenth anniversary edition loaded with new extras that celebrate the show that first made clear what a distinctive talent creator Aaron Sorkin was. The Long Green Line ($29.99; LGL) is a bare-bones, affectonate look at legendary long distance running coach Joe Newton.

DOCUMENTARIES -- Errol Morris has never made a boring or uninteresting film. His latest documentary Standard Operating Procedure ($28.96; Sony) looks at the abuses of Abu Ghraib. Instead of demonizing the low-level soldiers who have borne the brunt of legal and public condemnation, Morris lets them speak for themselves. He also challenges our instinctive assumptions about what constitutes abuse -- not to say standards are too strict but to say they are not strict enough. The clear message is that these soldiers were not acting on a whim but following orders, which doesn't excuse their actions but does show the blame deserves to be spreader farther and much higher up the chain of command. Hollywood Singing and Dancing ($29.99; Great Musical Treasury) is a fine look at the history of musicals for film buffs, with about four hours of movie and extras, hosted by Shirley Jones. Regular or Super: Views on Mies van der Rohe and Monte Grande: Francisco Varela ($28.98 and $29.98; Icarus) are two thoughtful documentaries about original thinkers: the architect and the scientist/researcher. Finally, Capricorn One Special Edition ($19.98; Lionsgate) is of course the documentary cleverly disguised as a fictional film starring Eliott Gould that blew the lid off the the hoax of landing on the moon.

KIDS -- Liberty's Kids: The Complete Series ($59.98; Shout) contains all 40 episodes of the fine animated series about the American Revolution seen from the point of view of young people, with Walter Cronkite as Benjamin Franklin and guest stars like Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Stiller and many more. SpongeBob SquarePants: Who Bob What Pants? ($16.99; Paramount) is a cute new TV movie starring the most famous sponge in history, as well as bonus episodes. Silverhawks: Volume One ($44.98; Warner Bros.) is an animated adventure series from the creators of Thundercats that unfortunately includes just half (albeit 32 cartoons) of its one and only season. Veggietales: The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything ($29.98; Universal) is the latest, aggressively gentle adventure starring the Biblically-minded vegetables like Larry the Cucumber. Yo Gabba Gabba: The Dancey Dance Bunch ($16.99; Paramount) contains four episodes of the goofy, sweet puppet show, although I'd rather people get an entire season than just a few fun episodes. Barney I Love You Gift Set ($24.98; Lionsgate) collects three DVDs and one CD of the kid-liked, parent-despised dinosaur.

MOVIES -- Mongol: The Rise Of Genghis Khan ($27.98; New Line) is the first of three movies about the empire builder (or warlord if he took over your country) and it's a very old-fashioned biopic in both the good and bad sense of that term. The Edge Of Heaven ($27.99; Strand) is a melancholic look at Turks in Germany (especially parents and children) that proves the more specific and unique a story is, the more universal it can become. Can't Hardly Wait ($19.94; Sony) is the tenth anniversary edition of the amiable high school comedy with a great cast that includes Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry and especially Lauren Ambrose locked in a bathroom with would-be black boy Seth Green. Sex Pistols: There'll Always Be An England ($19.98; Rhino) is a 2007 concert film in which the most shocking aspect is that they almost seem lovable now. And just because a movie's old doesn't mean it's a classic: witness the less-than-stellar Ingrid Bergman's Arch of Triumph ($14.98; Lionsgate) and Visconti's Ludwig ($39.98; Koch Lorber) (both of which are more complete than some editions but not the fullest versions available), and the so-so One Touch Of Venus ($14.98; Lionsgate).

HORROR -- People have a seemingly unquenchable love of being scared. Indulge it with the Ghost House Underground Collection ($159.98; Lionsgate), which brings together eight films from around the world, all given a stamp of approval by Sam Raimi. Or you could go for the four middling Hammer films on Icons Of Horror Collection 3($24.96; Sony). But the fool-proof pick seems like Halloween 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set ($89.97; Anchor Bay), until you realize you bizarrely get Halloween in three different versions (including Blu-Ray)...and Halloween 4 and 5? That's so odd it really is scary.

TV ON DVD -- Star Trek was such an iconic series (despite lasting for only three modestly rated seasons) it even inspired the spoof series Quark: The Complete Series ($19.94; Sony), which includes eight lame-brained episodes with at least the right man in the lead role: the droll Richard Benjamin. The Universe: Complete Season Two ($44.98; History/A&E) features 18 terrific looking episodes about dark matter and supernovas, all of it perfect for families. The Edwardians ($49.98; BBC) is a 1970s miniseries, one of many fine projects that might have made Anthony Hopkins a star but didn't (until he dined out as Hannibal). The Beverly Hillbillies Season Two ($49.98; Paramount) contains all 36 episodes of the dumb fun sitcom that was such a remarkable and immediate hit we wouldn't see its like in popularity again until The Cosby Show. The Sarah Silverman Show Season Two Volume One ($26.98; Paramount) is not wildly popular (and personally I prefer her reined in a bit, as when she appears on Letterman) but in this day and age sitcoms that appeal to a small, naughty group can flourish. Too bad they didn't just wait for the entire season to air; 12 episodes for this price would be great -- six episodes and half a season feels incomplete. Finally, two minor series that will be welcome for completists: Burt Reynolds starred in B.L. Stryker: The Complete Series ($54.95; TV Guide) and George Peppard is the Polish-American hero Banacek: The Complete Series ($44.95; TV Guide). Annoyingly, both of these short run series have been put out in single season sets within the last 16 months or so. Why not just put them out in complete sets to begin with? Nash Bridges: The Complete First Season ($39.98; Paramount) and CSI: The Eighth Season ($84.98; Paramount) and Rules Of Engagement Second Season ($29.95; Sony) and Lil Bush Season Two ($26.98; Paramount) and Life With Derek First Season ($29.98; Koch) and Scott Baio Is 45...and Single and Scott Baio Is 46...and Pregnant ($19.96; Anchor Bay) all do it right. You get full seasons, usually with some good or great extras. Kelsey Grammer's cancelled sitcom Back To You Season 1 ($39.98; Fox) gets it almost completely right except for that wishful thinking of saying "season one." They should have faced the facts and said "the complete series."

So tell me again, have you ever fallen prey to the "Indiana Jones Effect" and when did it happen?