Steven Spielberg‘s Indiana Jones films are, quite simply, some of the most beloved action movies ever committed to celluloid. The franchise acts as a four-film highlight reel of every pre-show Saturday serial ever made, in other words: it’s just plain fun.
Photography on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) was overseen by Douglas Slocombe, a titan of cinematography with an unparalleled 50-year career. Slocombe served as an auxiliary cinematographer for Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘s India sequence and Spielberg, enamored, resolved to work with Slocombe again. Slocombe’s intimate knowledge of black and white photography brought a distinctive high-contrast and purposefully staged look to the franchise (“high-level visual math shit” as Steven Soderbergh puts it).
Indeed, at times, Slocombe’s Indy films feel like a monochrome serial was accidentally shot in color, which more than suits the original trilogy’s debt to the noirs and adventure pictures of the 1940s. Slocombe’s skill was such that by Raiders he had stopped using a light meter, and was able to judge exposure, levels, and contrast on sight alone. This is all the more impressive considering that Slocombe was losing his vision during the 80s, with The Last Crusade proving to be his final film.
Sporting eleven prior collaborations with Spielberg, Janusz Kamiński was brought in as the cinematographer on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Kamiński deliberately shot the film to emulate Slocombe’s visuals in order to secure a degree of continuity. “There’s a legacy and a strong following with these movies that you have to respect,” Kamiński told American Cinematographer. “An Indiana Jones film has to have that glossy, warm look with strong, high-key lighting. It’s suspenseful but not too dark — you always see things clearly.” Embracing the shift from war-era serials to B-movie monster features, Crystal Skull visually beats to a different drum. It’s the odd duck of the franchise to be sure, but an odd duck on its own terms.
The Indiana Jones films are a grand adventure, and to testify to this fact, we’ve pilfered the Blu-rays and selected fifty of the most beautiful shots from the franchise. And with that, take a peek at these priceless relics of action cinema:
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe
Directed by Steven Spielberg