Movie Talk

Steven Spielberg says ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ looks better than ever in IMAX

Raiders of the Lost Ark'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (Photo: Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection)

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" was one of the biggest Hollywood hits of all time, and next month it will finally be projected on screens gigantic enough to suit it.

It was announced on Tuesday that the first Indiana Jones adventure will have a limited one-week run on giant-sized IMAX theaters across the country starting on September 7.  The picture and sound have been digitally re-mastered to look and sound better than they ever have before.  The IMAX conversion process was so thorough, it even won over the toughest audience you could imagine: director Steven Spielberg.

In a phone interview, the three-time Oscar winner told me he was "dubious" when he was first approached by the team at IMAX about bringing "Raiders" back.  Spielberg said, "I didn't know if the 1981 print would stand up to a full IMAX transfer, so I came expecting a sort of grainy, muddy, and overly enlarged representation of the movie I had made [31] years ago. And I was blown away by the fact that it looked better than the movie I had made [31] years ago."

Watch the exclusive trailer for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' in IMAX:

Spielberg said he was particularly impressed how the IMAX conversion was able to make up for some of the limitations he faced when he originally shot the film over three decades ago.  "All the shadows in the earlier scenes that we shot in Hawaii [were] always kind of muddy anyway on 35mm," Spielberg explained, "because we couldn't schlep all of our big arc lights down into this valley."  The restored version of the opening scenes was quite a revelation for him.  He said, "Suddenly, there was definition in the shadows, which I had never seen before. And the shadows weren't murky and washed out; they were sharp as a tack." Spielberg joked, "I sat there, I think, probably with my mouth open a little wider than it normally is."

Steven SpielbergSteven Spielberg (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)Spielberg commented that it wasn't just the image but also the sound that has been revitalized in this process.  When the giant boulder comes rolling down after Indiana Jones, Spielberg said, "You'll see it full size, and you'll feel it in your stomach."  He said that sound designer Ben Burtt didn't recreate any new effects, but was instead able restore the original elements to make them clearer and louder than ever.

While in the past few years films like "The Lion King," "Titanic," and "Star Wars: Episode I" have found box-office success through 3D re-releases, Spielberg said he would never take "Raiders" into the third dimension.  He said, "I wouldn't be interested in doing 'Raiders' in 3D because 'Raiders' is not really a modern movie. I don't see it popping out at me.  I think the film is dynamic enough without having to lay on a 3D conversion process."  He did note, though, that work is going on now for a 3D version of his "Jurassic Park" for that film's 20th anniversary next year.  "That's the only movie of all of my films I have agreed to post-convert into 3D," he stated.

Spielberg also made it clear that he would not be making any digital tweaks to "Raiders" to fix any problems or mistakes in the original movie.  And he's well aware that expanding the image on the big IMAX screen will only make those goofs — like when Jones is facing down a cobra and you can see the snake's reflection in the safety glass that separates them — all the more apparent. But, he said, "I think that the fans are going to love that even more, because they're the ones that picked them out in the first place."

When I asked Spielberg if there was any news about a fifth Indiana Jones film, he answered, "I'm up for it, but it's up to my partner, George [Lucas].  He's the big boss man of the stories.  He comes up with the concept, and then we all work together on the scripts, but he hasn't presented me with a concept yet."  Since Spielberg is not the kind of guy who usually has to take orders from someone else, I asked if he enjoyed the different dynamic that comes from working with Lucas. He said, "Well, that's been my relationship with George ever since I met George in 1967. [Laughs] He's always called the shots.  So I'm accustomed to being a kind of a blue-collar guy for George's Indy ideas… I'm just waiting to see what he's going to come up with, if he even decides to do a movie."

"Raiders" might not be the last Spielberg movie you'll get to see in IMAX. He said there were no plans currently to convert any of the other Indiana Jones films into the large format, but he did have a personal desire to bring another one of his films back:  "I think the only other movie I would ever think about going out on an IMAX screen… would be 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.' Forty percent of that film was shot in 70 millimeters, so the conversion would look extraordinary if we ever did put it up on an IMAX screen."

Spielberg revealed he might also be considering IMAX for the next movie he has lined up to direct as well. He said, "I'm going to do an IMAX camera test, [both] a 2 and 3D test for my next movie 'Robopocalypse,' and I haven't decided whether I'm going to use the IMAX cameras, and I haven't decided whether it's going to be 2D or 3D yet, but I am in September going to start doing some tests."

Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford (Photo: Everett Collection)I posed the question to Steven Spielberg that if he could go back in time three decades to speak to his younger self what advice might he give.  Spielberg responded, "The person who was shooting 'Raiders' at that time is still giving advice to the person who's making pictures today, not the other way around… He's telling me to do what you did back in 1981: 'Stop thinking. Less thought, more action.'"

"We went on an adventure to make an adventure, and we were kids then," Spielberg recalled. "I think whenever I'm around the Indiana Jones series in any way… it makes me feel the way I felt in 1980 when I made the picture.  For me, the movie is a little bit of a fountain of youth."

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" will be on IMAX screens for one week starting on September 7. Then all four films in the series will be released for the first time on Blu-ray in the "Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures" box set on September 18.  And if that's not enough to satisfy your Jones for Indiana, AMC Theaters will be having a one-day marathon of all the movies back to back on September 15. Advance tickets are available at amctheatres.com/indianajones.

Watch more clips from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark':

Clip: Throw Me the Idol Clip: Inevitable Clip: Staff of Ra Clip: Beneath the Truck