Before Indiana Jones was rescuing the Lost Ark, he went to World War I as a member of the Belgium Army.
When I wrote my review for the first Volume of The Adventures of the Young Indiana Jones, I gave it a perfect 10 out of 10. I mentioned how the stories made me interested in learning about the historical figures that Indy encountered and the featurettes were fascinating and delivered so much depth. I could not wait till Volume 2 was released so I could continue to enjoy these educational discs. Volume 2 arrived but unfortunately dropped off in the enjoyment factor. The educational stuff is still there, but I just don’t really care about learning about these things if I don’t enjoy the episodes that accompany them. That may be a personal problem for me, but this set did not seem to be worth the time I put into it compared to the Volume 1.
At the end of Volume 1, Indy joined the Belgium Army because he believed he needed to help fight for the betterment of the world. The United States had not yet entered the war and the Belgium Army did not care that Indy was not only lying about his age, but also his identity. Volume 2 starts in August 1916, as Indy and his best friend Remy (Ronny Coutteure) are fighting in the trenches. The first two films in the set shows the horror of the trenches and have special effects that are surprisingly extravagant for a television series/movie. With huge explosions and massive ground warfare, a lot of money was put into the production value of these films and everything looked great.
As always, Indy comes across historical characters during his adventures. George Lucas said that he envisions these DVDs to be “films for a modern day high school history class.” He believes the series would be a good way to teach high school students 20th Century history. I would have to say that upon a quick study of the history lessons the films presents, much of it is done from an American perspective and not everything is completely accurate in the film’s plot itself. However, the extras that accompany each feature still elevate the DVD set above and beyond just a simple cinematic experience.
The first film, Trenches of Hell, is loosely based on the novel Storm of Steel by German officer Ernst Junger covering on his experiences on the Western Front. The film spends a great deal of time showing the effects of trench warfare and the seemingly ridiculous lengths the troops were forced to go just to gain a few yards at the expense of thousands of lives. It took only until the second episode (Demons of Deception) for Indy to start to question why they were fighting the war in the first place. It was during the Battle of Verdun, in which over a quarter of a million soldiers would die, that he started to wonder why they kept just sending the soldiers out to die for nothing gained.
As with the case of almost all the films in these sets, each one is two shorter episodes merged into one. The second half of this episode shows Indy captured in a POW camp where he is forced to escape. This is where the first half of this set seemed to lose me. I feel that repetition of themes is bad enough, but when the same character continuously gets into the same predicaments and then always seems to find a way to escape from them, it loses poignancy after awhile. It seemed that young Indiana Jones would always get captured and find a unique way to escape while hundreds of thousands of other prisoners failed. I guess that is what makes him a hero, but soon it just becomes a little too much and loses its ability to thrill.
The second half of Demons of Deception was much more enjoyable, as it took Indy out of the trenches and put him in contact with the Mata Hari, who he would lose his virginity to. The story of the Mata Hari was one of the better story lines in the set, written by Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia!!) and directed by Nicholas Roeg. It is stories like this that made Volume 1 entertaining, yet are missing for much of Volume 2.
Phantom Train of Doom takes the action out of the trenches and moves it to German East Africa, where we get one of the more exciting adventures of the entire set. The African front was one dominated by the Germans, thanks to undefeated General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. Indy would cross paths with the general after joining up with a group of rag tag soldiers led by Frederick Selous. Selous was the first character from Volume 1 that Indy would cross paths with once again in Volume 2. The last time they met, Indy was only 9, and Selous was a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt. This episode was very important in the growth of the character of Indiana Jones, as Selous would teach him the importance of improvisation. This lesson would be put to use through much of the rest of Volume 2.
Oganga, the Giver and Taker of Life would be the last episode with Indy as a field soldier in this volume and was another strong episode. He would meet Albert Schweitzer, a German doctor who held no political alliance, and lived his life to help all people. By the end of this chapter, Indy feels he does not need to be fighting this war and instead seeks to find a way to stop the war. This is where this volume finally finds its legs.
Indy joins the Belgium secret service and would later switch over to the French secret service and it is at this point that the character of Indiana Jones finally seems to find a comfort level. We meet the Lafayette Escadrille (which were featured in the film Flyboys), The Flying Dutchman, The Red Baron, Emperor Karl I (the last Emperor of Austria) and Franz Kafka. Frank Darabont wrote many of these episodes which present us with various famous faces along the way including Christopher Lee, Catherine Zeta Jones and Daniel Craig. The adventures of Indiana Jones as a covert spy trump anything we saw of Indiana Jones, grunt soldier.
There is one exception to the greatness of the second half of the season. Espionage Escapades was probably the worst episode of either volume so far. The film was set up as a slapstick misadventure and failed horribly. We are to the point in the series where we are watching Indiana Jones become the man we would grow to love, and by the final episode he has almost made the transformation. However, with Escapades we get something that does not fit at all with everything around it. The first half of the episode is average at best, as Indy is set up with a group of foreign spies as they attempt to find a way to discredit the Germans. Unfortunately, they target a double agent who is working for America and almost destroy the entire operation. The second half of the episode is even worse as he is teamed with a French Colonel named Clouseau. The name alone should let you know what to expect, but the entire episode is simply set up to put Indy in slapstick situations which undermines all the character development built so far. The purpose of the misadventure? Indy was sent to a hotel room to await a phone call, only to find the room’s phone is gone. Due to the bureaucracy of the nation, he must go through all sorts of red tape (including a quizzical trip to jail) to get the forms stamped by the various divisions in order to get a new phone. The phone call in question? Well, that was a MacGuffin. See, the phone call was a mission to send Indy to find a way to get a telephone installed somewhere else.
It was not funny and it was a waste of time.
Overall, Volume 2 picked up where Volume 1 left off and gave people who love war movies an eyeful of great cinema. For those who don’t care about movies based around trench warfare, the set is a little hard to get started on. However, as a series about how Indiana Jones became the man he would become, it is a nice walk through history and once the espionage storyline starts, it picks up steam and concludes in a nice finale that made the trip worth it. It’s not up to the level of the first set, but it is a decent foray that adds to the story. I felt the first set was completely worth the price, but with this one I can’t say it is up to that standard.
The picture and sound remain amazing for these sets. There were some synching errors during a few of the episodes, but overall it looked and sounded great.
The extra features that were so abundant on Volume 1 return here, but at a bit of a lesser density. Where the first volume gave us four featurettes for each episode, this one gives anywhere from two to four, an unfortunate drop off. The DVDs sell themselves on their extra features but when the second set fails to match the excellence of the first one, it makes you worry about that third and final set that will be released this year. They are still great features, though, going into detail over various battles and people involved in the war. A couple of my favorites include Flirting with Danger: The Fantasy of Mata Hari and Blood Red: The Life and Death of Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron). I still recommend these sets for anyone with kids, as it is a valuable tool for teaching history in an entertaining way.
Just as with the first Volume, there is a bonus disc with an interactive timeline, a historical lecture (War and Revolution) by H.W. Brands, Professor of History from the University of Texas at Austin, and an interactive game.