Before Indiana Jones was rescuing the Lost Ark, he was just a kid. A kid who got into a lot of trouble.

The Lowdown

All the movies in this set are geared for a young audience. They take the young character of Indiana Jones and place him in the company of historical figures having adventures while exploring historical locations and events. The show was set up to lead you through the life of Indiana Jones, providing the back story for the films and eventually concluding at the time period of the first film. The show did not make it through that endeavour, as it ended after a mere 31 episodes instead of the 70 planned. Each feature on these discs is a combination of two of the original episodes.

The first thing I noticed about this DVD set was the immense amount of features available. This might be the most intensive DVD set for the price I have ever seen. There are seven features in the set, which breaks down into fourteen different adventures. While the original television series was designed to jump around time, this set presents it in a chronological order. The original framing structure, where a very old Indiana runs across someone who reminds him of someone from his past, is removed and the volume is designed to move through time as the events unfold.

The entire purpose of the series was to give a younger audience a chance to learn about history though the fun adventures of a popular icon – Indiana Jones. As a famous writer featured in one of the final episodes in this set discovered, a kid needs adventure and excitement and danger, and through that you can give moral and educational lessons. This DVD set is almost perfect in that regard.

The first adventure stars a nine year old Henry Jones, Jr. played by actor Corey Carrier. This episode sets up the first half of this volume. We meet young Henry, who is not yet known as Indiana yet. His father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Lloyd Owen) has received the opportunity to travel the world giving lectures and has chosen to let his wife and son travel with him. He hires a personal tutor for young Henry, Miss Seymour, the same woman who tutored him as a child, and the series took off from there.

The outline of the stories remained constant through much of the first half of the volume. The family would arrive in a new destination and Henry would meet a new young friend. The two would go off together and get into trouble along the way, while meeting some of the more famous people of that era. Henry would learn a valuable life lesson and we would see the life of a person that would go on to be world renowned at that time in their lives. The stories were geared towards teaching children history and many things were explained along the way to help the child learn something important, whether it be about politics, religion, science, geography or any one of a number of subjects. Despite this educational tool, the stories never seemed boring and never seemed to be dumbed down.

The first story allows Henry to meet T.E. Lawrence. The first time we see Lawrence it is through a beautiful homage to the famed desert long shot from Lawrence of Arabia. The two go on an adventure where the seeds of archaeology are planted in Henry’s head as they discover the tomb of an ancient pharaoh. The story and the mystery of an ancient artifact that was stolen was never resolved in this story, but would be picked up later in the series. The story simply existed to show Henry as he began a life that would lead to the man that he would become.

Along the way he learns the art of bartering, the means of careful excavations, including detecting the booby traps that Indiana Jones is best known for triggering, the importance of learning the language of everywhere you travel, the art of the disguise and more. Later in the volume, you see where the iconic attire he wears developed: the first time he uses the bullwhip to defend himself, his fear of snakes and more. So many things are dropped in along the way, that it is just a joy for the fan of the films to witness.

It is the second adventure in the set that he first uses the name Indy. It is at this time he meets President Theodore Roosevelt on a safari in Africa. He also meets Frederick Selous, the British explorer that would be the basis for the fictional character Allan Quatermain. He would also cross paths with a young Norman Rockwell, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Giacomo Puccini, Leo Tolstoy and Jiddu Krishnamurti. While the fact that one young boy would meet all these historic figures seems unlikely, it is done in a way that comes across as natural. What amazes me the most about the show is how uncannily similar the actors are to the actual historical figure. Look at a picture online of Jiddu Krishnamurti and you would see an almost exact duplicate of the boy who they found to play him. Even a famed actor like Max von Sydow bears a stunning resemblance to his character, Sigmund Freud.

The writing and directing on these early episodes was solid consistently throughout. Notable for their inclusion was Mike Newell who directed Florence 1908 on “The Perils of Cupid” and Frank Darabont who co-wrote “Travels with Father.” Despite the talent and the solid stories, things seemed to be getting stale. While Carrier was a fine young actor and improved ten-fold over since he had begun the series, the basic outline was getting old. By the final episode with Carrier, it seemed it was time to move on to something different. When it seemed there needed to be a spark, this volume switched gears to the older Indiana, as portrayed by Sean Patrick Flannery.

The section starts off rocky. Indiana is now in high school in Princeton with his father. Both his mother and Miss Seymour are no longer around and no explanation is given up front. More shocking is that the Indiana Jones that seemed to relish running off to have adventures now seemed to be portrayed as an almost cowardly person. This first episode features a real adventure; however it is Indy’s girlfriend Nancy who would lead the way. Nancy was the daughter of author Edward Stratemeyer, the man who created Tom Swift, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and it seemed like this episode patterned her after Nancy Drew as she almost dragged Indy along with her as she tried to solve the mystery of who stole Thomas Edison’s top secret designs.

The rocky start would end after that first half of the episode, though as the next one was what Indiana Jones is all about. We get Indiana jumping on a horse in Mexico and racing after Mexican Revolutionaries as the famous John Williams score booms loudly in the background. It is here that Indiana dons his famous attire and uses the bullwhip. It is also here that the resolution from the very first episode is fulfilled. This is where the show goes from a kids show teaching important lessons becomes a giant adventure story with the historical facts used as a backdrop.  He encounters Pancho Villa, Winston Churchill, fights in both the Mexican Revolution and watches as the Easter Rising occurs. The volume ends when Indiana enlists in the Belgium army to fight in World War I.

I would assume that the second volume, due out in December, will follow Indiana’s war time life. This volume though is a very entertaining look at the fascinating story of world history in the early 1900s. If you are a history buff, this DVD set will be gold. If you are a parent, this is the perfect tool to use to teach your child about history. If you are a normal everyday Joe, this is a DVD set that will both entertain you and make you more interested in the historical facts of each episode. As someone who never really showed much interest in school over any history, this set has made me start investigating the characters involved and that in itself is something big. This is worth every penny and I cannot wait for volume 2 to be released.

The Package

The features account for ten and a half hours of entertainment, with each episode clocking in at around 1.5 hours each. That is not even the tip of the iceberg with this set. There are at least four to eight features with each episode. These are all historical features where you learn more about the characters and incidents encountered in each episode. There are 38 features, each clocking in at about thirty minutes and are just as worthy to watch as any episode. After watching an episode, I would challenge you to not be intrigued to watch these to find out more about the fascinating people you meet along Indiana’s adventures. Added to the running time of the episodes, you have 19 more hours of features to equal a mind boggling 30 hours of footage to watch over these 12 discs.

There is also a twelfth disc with an interactive timeline that is just overkill. I say that in a good way. You use Indiana’s journal to go through each of his adventures and see people he met and events that transpired along the way. With each character or event, you get individual videos about them and an index where you can see books, movies and website links to learn more about them. It is amazing the amount of research that went into this DVD set. There is also a game where you go through an adventure as Indiana and answer historical trivia questions along the way. Finally there is a lecture from H.W. Brands from the University of Texas, Austin that takes you through the history of history and is quite boring when compared to the rest of the package.

The set comes in a box that is designed to look like Indiana’s journal. When removed, it folds out with two discs overlaid in each section. The episodes are displayed in their original full frame format and are presented in Dolby digital. The picture at times seems a bit grainy, but more than not it looks great.