- Buy the DVD
All photos © Paramount
Reviewed by Will Harris
he years have been good to Indiana Jones, and we’re not just talking about how comfortable Harrison Ford looks in the old fedora in those advance pictures from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
Back in 1992, when it was announced that George Lucas was going to bring Indiana Jones to the small screen by exploring the famous archeologist’s adventures as a young man, it was hard to imagine anyone but Harrison Ford playing the role. Okay, sure, maybe River Phoenix could pull it off, since he’d already filled Ford’s shoes during a flashback sequence in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” but there was never any chance he’d return to television. Soon, the premise became even less promising, when it was revealed that half of the episodes would focus not only on Indy’s teens but, rather, his pre-teen years. Maybe that’s why the series never really took off as well as Lucas might’ve hoped: after 44 episodes, a.k.a. the equivalent of two seasons (even though it continued to pop up on ABC for the better part of three years), the network ceased to chronicle Indy’s exploits.
Diving into “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” feels like an absolute revelation, perhaps because they’re emerging with a new Indy film in the wings (rather than coming on the heels of one), or maybe it’s because just about anything seems fresher when you’ve stepped away from it for 15 years. In fact, given the eventual career path of the character who gives the show its title, it’s not inappropriate to compare the experience to that of finding a lost artifact.
Since working on the series, of course, Lucas’s interest in pursuing the prequel path has gotten a bad rap. Whatever you do, don’t lump this into the same pile as those recent “Star Wars” flicks (a.k.a. “The Young Anakin Skywalker Chronicles”). It’s debatable whether young Indy’s adventures should be considered canon or merely apocryphal, but either way, they’re highly educational and almost absurdly intellectual for something that aired on network television. Can you imagine the network that brought you “The Bachelor” indulging in a series nowadays that, at one point, finds a young boy in a discussion about love and romance with Sigmund Freud? Hardly.
There was little rhyme or reason to the order in which ABC originally aired the episodes of the series, so it’s a pleasure to find that the DVD set has re-organized them to run in some semblance of chronology. As a result, it isn’t until the eighth of the 12 discs when Corey Carrier cedes his role as pre-teen Indy to Sean Patrick Flannery as college-student Indy. It does, however, prove less jarring when the material isn’t bouncing from time period to time period every time you turn around. Additionally, it provides more of a sense of growth in the character this way, with the wide-eyed Carrier actually pulling off the innocence of a child in the 1900s without feeling like a cliché. The episodes where we see Indy battle his way through his first romance and struggle to find common ground with his father are particularly brilliant. The sentimental side of the show is often forgotten with the dual-pronged focus on Indy’s interaction with historical figures and the subsequent action sequences. The Flannery episodes would seem on the surface to be closer in tone to the films, but even when the lead character is 9 years old, there’s still a surprising amount of action to be found. In truth, though, the most important aspect of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” is its ability to present intelligent, family-friendly drama in a setting that – strange but true – actually provides a certain amount of education in the process.
By the way, if you’re wondering about the “in absentia” bit in the above citation of the show’s stars, that’s because the late George Hall, who appeared in the book-ending sequences of virtually every episode as a 93-year-old Indy, is completely absent from this set. In an attempt to dismiss the episodic nature of the show and make each pair of adventures feel instead like two halves of a full-length film, Hall’s opening and closing bits have been unceremoniously excised. This isn’t exactly the first time a project with Lucas’ name on it has opted to indulge in the rewriting of history, however, so at least Mr. Hall’s family can commiserate with Sebastian Shaw’s relatives.
Special Features: Wow. Just wow. There really isn’t any parallel to the scope of what George Lucas and his fellow producer, Rick McCallum, have embarked upon with the release of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” Taking full advantage of the fan base for the series, and embracing the educational aspect with all their might, they’ve opted to provide original documentaries and featurettes tackling virtually every historical figure and event to rear its head within the seven episodes included in this first volume. It’s actually rather overwhelming, especially when you consider that there are a grand total of 12 discs involved here, but you can envision history teachers around the country dancing jigs of joy. (“Hey, kids, wanna watch a cool show and learn something at the same time? Awesome! I’ll just be down in the teacher’s lounge…”) In all seriousness, though, don’t be at all surprised if this set starts to turn up in high school libraries around the country. If you’re looking for something to jump-start your own kid’s interest in history, this is it.