To celebrate the arrival of one of Hollywood’s greatest adventure series on Blu-Ray, we headed up to Skywalker Ranch in the heart of what can only be described as Lucas-ville. The special effects house was created by Lucas and his Star Wars team and on this day, the celebration involves the arrival of the Indiana Jones collection in stores in one prime package featuring all four films.
Two Lucasfilm maestros, who worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, Sound Designer Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren, Creative Director, Industrial Light & Magic, reflected with Movie Fanatic as the series is exalted anew.
What Burtt wanted to let Movie Fanatic know above all else about the film restoration is that nothing was altered for the sake of keeping current. “I know there have been some restorations of other films, because I’ve seen them on Blu-ray or DVD, in which they’ve actually changed the sound effects. That really throws me off. I immediately recognize it and I wonder why they would do such a thing,” Burtt said and smiled.
“I didn’t want to have anything like that. We added material which was from the original library so it would be consistent.”
The only adjustments Burtt and his team made were to provide a more encompassing audio experience. “We had to expand the use of the surround tracks because that was available to us now, which it was not available to us back then,” he said.
The sound designer was ahead of his time, as he saved everything ever recorded. “The interesting thing is, some of the sounds that were in the original monaural surround track on Raiders, of course, I had the original stereo recordings of all those sounds!”
Painstakingly, the team went through and re-mastered every sound through the Indiana Jones series. “I was able to go back and take time to match up the recordings with what was there in the original release of the movie, and put them in stereo now. It was the same content, now just more spatial, and with dimension to it.”
Muren added that he believes that the original films stand the test of time, technologically and story-wise. “I think the old ones hold up very well. Having been there and sort of living through it, there's something in the reality of it that sort of usurps any technical sort of problems we might've had in those days and it gives it a very hand-feel look to it. The smell and feel of the FX material fit with the rest of the movie,” Muren said.
The effects wizard admitted that much of the credit has to go to Lucas and Spielberg for filming the Indiana Jones series all over the globe. “If these movies were all made in studios it'd be one thing, but those real locations with the reality of everything, I think it really helps the FX of all the real things also.”
Muren also cautioned that although it would be easy to heap praise on the special effects team, the star of the film is, and always will be, Harrison Ford.
“Harrison is the movie. We were supplementary to all that. George (Lucas) and Steven (Spielberg) always wanted audiences to experience a hyper adventure that this guy is wild and crazy enough to get into,” Muren said.
The FX was there to supplement that. They also were given the mission to outdo the James Bond movies. “Bond movies were pretty much rooted in reality in their times. So, you can get out of reality and have a real thrill ride adventure, and that's what they were going for in this film and that's where the FX needed to come in, to do things that just couldn't be done for real.”
Raiders of the Lost Ark holds a special place for the veteran sound designer. “It’s interesting because the original surround track for Raiders -- Raiders was the first one done in the golden mixing facility in Los Angeles, before we had our own mixing operation up here,” Burtt said.
“The surrounds in theaters at that time in 1981 were very problematic. You didn’t know whether they would ever get played correctly. We didn’t use the surround track,” Burtt added.
“That’s just because we knew at that time many theaters just were not going to be able to get it right. This is before THX existed, and any of the other digital revolution which helped improve theaters. Now, going back and listening to Raiders, we say, 'Boy, now we can have a richer experience. Let’s recreate it with the same raw material.'"
If there’s one thing these guys want audiences to take away from the Indiana Jones experience, Muren stated it’s "the attention to the detail, the reality, the feel of a Steven Spielberg-directed scene -- even though he didn't direct the FX scenes, he certainly approved everything."