In March of 1992, Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Television, and ABC Television gave viewers the first episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a series which explored the formative years of Henry Jones, Jr. a few decades before the events depicted in the Indiana Jones Trilogy.
Part Indy prequel, part history lesson, this was one of the rare television projects personally overseen by George Lucas, and it was intended to entertain fans of the archaeologist/adventurer while at the same time introducing many of them to important persons with whom a young Indy might have interacted with as he followed his father, Professor Henry Jones, Sr., and mother Anna on a global lecture tour as a ten-year-old, then later getting into more Indy-like situations during World War I and the post-war Jazz Age.
The idea of Lucas' fictional hero interacting with real historical characters wasn't new; in 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Man with the Hat has a short but darkly amusing run-in with Adolf Hitler in 1938 Berlin. (It's a tiny sequence and is somewhat inaccurate, as it shows Hitler autographing the Grail diary with his right hand instead of with his left.)
The series, though, expanded on this "gag" quite a bit, and the future "obtainer of rare antiquities" heard T.E. Lawrence tell stories about mummies amid the Giza Pyramids, discussed the nature of love with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung at a dinner table in Vienna, and was privy to his mother's brief flirtation with Italian composer Giacomo Puccini in Florence.
Each one-hour installment was bookended with a thematically-linked introduction and coda featuring a very old Indiana Jones (George Hall), who still wore his famous fedora and leather jacket but was now missing one eye and wore glasses. And although most of the series featured "teenage Indy" (Sean Patrick Flannery), there were at least seven episodes in which Corey Carrier played a pre-teen "Junior."
Although The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles boasted a troupe of excellent actors, fine directors (Mike Newell, Bille August), acclaimed script writers (Frank Darabont, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Jonathan Hales) and some of the best production values ever seen on TV, the series never really caught on, and was canceled by ABC after its second season.
Pity, really, because Lucas' plan was to bridge the gap between the first TV episode and the films with 70 or so stories, many of them shot on actual overseas locations and produced by Lucasfilm's best artists and technicians.
Over the years, Paramount Home Video has released episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles on videotape, but until October of 2007, the series was unavailable on DVD.
On October 23, Lucasfilm, Amblin Entertainment, and Paramount Home Video/CBS DVD released Adventures of Young Indiana Jones - Volume One, a 12-disc collection of seven "movies," which are really two re-edited episodes tied somewhat together, and supplementary documentaries, plus the TV-movie Travels With Father and the direct-to-video compilation "feature" The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Spring Break Adventure.
Although its content is taken from the original TV series, this box set is not Season 1 of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, so if you are a fan of the show and are hoping to get it as it originally aired, put the thought out of your mind right now.
Yes, the idea is essentially the same (Young Indy travels the world and interacts with famous persons while learning valuable life lessons), but the presentation is different.
Gone, for instance, is the "hopscotch" nature of the original show, which eschewed a purely chronological approach and alternated between the pre-teen Indy (Carrier) and teen Indy (Flannery). When the show aired in the early 1990s, one episode would be set, say, in 1908 Egypt, while the next would show events taking place 10 years later.
The seven "mini-movies" here follow roughly an eight-year span along the Indy timeline, starting with My First Adventure (1908) and ending with Love's Sweet Song (1916).
Also gone are the "Old Indy" bookends starring George Hall as a John Ford-like retired archaeologist. Not a major loss for the most part, but there were a few of the episodes where the short intros and codas did add emotional impact to the series. New viewers won't mind, but older fans might be disappointed by the deletion of the scenes with 93-year-old Henry Jones, Jr.
What does remain, though, is the series' ambitious scope and executive producer Lucas' intent to mix entertainment with enlightenment. Whenever possible, Lucasfilm's crew went to exotic locations (Egypt, Vienna, London, and Paris, for instance), giving the show a distinct feature film look that is still pretty impressive and is consistent with Steven Spielberg's features.
The acting is good, too, with Sean Patrick Flannery stepping into the Young Indy role originally played by the late River Phoenix in most of the episodes, and the younger Corey Carrier does a great job at capturing the "tween Indy" as reluctant student to his formidable tutor, Miss Seymour (Margaret Tyzack) and budding adventurer with a penchant for getting into trouble.
As dismayed as I am over some of the changes, I still think this is a good, if not perfect, box set for Indiana Jones fans. I like the concept of splicing chronologically-close episodes into movies, although at times the transition from one story to another is, shall we say, abrupt.
Nevertheless, for Indy fans, this first of three Volumes should be a treat, not just because the show's excellent production values are more or less intact, but because its six supplementary discs are replete with short documentaries that delve more into the real persons and events which provided the background for such stories as Young Indiana Jones and the Perils of Cupid in which a precocious Indy falls in love with Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand's daughter, Princess Sophie.
This set is due to be supplemented by Volume Two in December 2007, with a third and final box set scheduled to be released in early 2008, a few months before the premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Format: Box set, Color, NTSC, Full Screen
Region: Region 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 12
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Paramount Home Video
DVD Release Date: October 23, 2007
Run Time: 649 minutes
Seven feature-length mini movies: My First Adventure, Passion for Life, The Perils of Cupid, Travels With Father, Journey of Radiance, Spring Break Adventure, Love's Sweet Song
38 companion documentaries
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12