Whatever other problems he may have, George Lucas does not do things in a small or half-hearted way. His stories are big, his visuals are big, and his characters are certainly larger than life. Even when his characters are small, they are big. Thus, no one should be surprised that The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume 1, is a big boxed set of DVDs. There are 12 discs in all, 7 of which contain feature length (roughly 90 minute) films, and the rest are filled with special features. The features focus on Henry Jones Jr. (Indiana to you and me) between the ages of 8 and 10 (roughly) and then again at about 15 to 17 (depending on the exact year the episode takes place). The younger Jones, who is featured in more of the episodes, is played by Corey Carrier, whereas the teenager is portrayed by Sean Patrick Flanery.
The DVDs represent roughly one third of the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which has presumably been retitled so as to better fit the theatrical films' boxed set, which is called The Adventures of Indiana Jones). Additionally, it is important to note that the sequence of films included here, while they may go (almost) chronologically through Indiana's life, are not in the order the were presented on television. In fact, from the television debut of the series to the present DVD release many things have changed. I will not go heavily into the differences here, but it is important to note that they do exist. The changes mainly deal with pulling apart stories that originally aired together (for instance a Carrier story with a Flanery one) and putting two more chronologically similar pieces together.
All of the episodes, filmed throughout the world, bring not only the history of Indiana Jones to life, but a version of the history of the world too. Carrier, as Jones, goes around Europe, Africa, and Asia with his father (Lloyd Owen), mother (Ruth de Sosa), and tutor, Miss Seymour (Margaret Tyzack). Indy repeatedly finds himself making the acquaintance of innumerable famous people of the day. While it may sound silly to say this, these meetings are all too improbable. Though one of the main points of the series was to help make history fun and exciting, the idea that Young Indy meets T.E. Lawrence, Picasso, Degas, Norman Rockwell (these last three at the same time), Archduke Ferdinand, Tolstoy, and Freud (just to name a few) is a little too farfetched. Surely there was a way to make Indy's life interesting without him causing an international incident by sneaking off with Archduke Ferdinand's daughter. It certainly is all fun and amusing, but after Indy does things like sneaking out of his room at night to attend a party at Picasso's with Norman Rockwell, one has to believe that his father would have sent the young lad home to New Jersey.
The Carrier episodes have a completely different flavor than the Flanery ones. Flanery, as an older version of Indiana Jones certainly makes the acquaintance of several famous people, and while he gets himself into deep trouble on more than one occasion, he is far more aware of what he is doing. Consequently, Flanery's episodes are more enjoyable because his Indy, unlike Carrier's, has a sense of what is taking place around him.
Whatever their shortcomings may be, all the episodes are enjoyable to watch. The history, though improbable, is entertaining and accessible. More interesting than the history however, is the watching of Indiana Jones. For anyone that grew up with the films and the indelible impression they leave, seeing how Indiana Jones went from being a child to being an adult is more than welcome. Every interaction between Indiana and his father is necessarily viewed through the prism of the adult Indiana's interactions with his father from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Every semi-wince or frown Indiana's mother gives makes one wonder if the illness that will eventually end her life has begun. Every time he finds an artifact of any kind, one thinks to themselves that it clearly “belongs in a museum,” and hopes that Indy makes sure the piece gets there.
The special features that are included in this set are legion. The vast majority are in-depth documentaries on those that Jones meets, and explorations of the events in which Jones finds himself in the midst. Thus, the two documentaries that accompany Indy's trip to Greece with his father (during which his father talks about ancient Greek philosophy) are “Artistotle – Creating Foundations” and “Ancient Questions – Philosophy and Our Search for Meaning.” Discussions of the environment with Teddy Roosevelt in an episode lead to the documentaries “Theodore Roosevelt and the American Century” and “Ecology – Pulse of the Planet.” While all these documentaries are interesting and make for good accompaniment to the episodes, none is terribly earth shattering on its own.
The final bonus disc included with the set is an interactive one that necessitates the use of a computer. It features an interactive timeline that goes through that allows the users to go from the various characters and storylines to a more detailed description of the historical facts, along with titles of books and films that go into greater depth on the topic. Additionally, there is a “historical lecture” entitled “The Promise of Progress” and a game, “Revolution.” This game has Indy and his cousin head down into Mexico on Spring Break (a plot from one of the stories in the set). The main point of the game seems to be to have the player look things up in a guide book and answer questions (and thereby learn more about the world). It is an amusing, Oregon Trail-esque experience.
The real sell is, of course, not the game, nor the other interactive bonus features, nor the documentaries, the real sell is the lure of Indiana Jones himself. He may not be fully developed here, he is after all only the “Young Indiana Jones,” but he is exciting and fun, and completely believable as a precursor to the big screen hero.