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By Thomas Wheeler

With the debut in the theaters of the very long-awaited fourth Indiana Jones movie, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", we have also seen a return to the toy aisles of a very nice array of Indiana Jones action figures. And this is perhaps even more long overdue.

Think about it. Kenner produced a capable enough like of action figures, for the time, based on the original movie, "Raiders of the Lost Ark". These figures were very much like Star Wars figures of the time. Same size, pretty much the same construction, same detail level. LJN produced a small and short-lived like for the second Indiana Jones movie, "Temple of Doom", which remains the most poorly regarded of the Indiana Jones movies. And there were no toys for the third movie, "Last Crusade", even though it is generally well-regarded.

Hasbro very obviously intends to make up for that. About the only thing you can say that the new Indiana Jones toys have in common with their predecessors is a certain structural resemblance to Star Wars figures. Of course, if you consider how much more advanced, better articulated, and certainly more detailed most Star Wars figures are these days compared to their ancestors, that's pretty high praise.

Unlike some action figure lines based on specific movies, which tend to endure for the season of the film's release and then vanish from the shelves (or even more embarrassingly, hit the clearance bins), Hasbro clearly intends for Indiana Jones to be an ongoing presence in the action figure aisle -- and I sincerely hope it works out. It's a cool concept with four movies and if they want to stretch it, you've got that Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV show and probably some other stuff I don't even know about.

Indiana Jones is not as extensive a universe as Star Wars. But there is still plenty of resource material to work with, which hasn't been touched toywise to any great extent in twenty years or more. Hasbro's got plenty here to keep the line going.

The action figure line is focused on a series of 3-3/4" figures that are either individually-packaged with some small accessories, or in deluxe packs that are either two-packs, or have more extensive accessories. There are also some very impressive vehicles which I hope to add to my collection at some point, but for now, I'd like to focus on one of the deluxe packs.

Based on a scene from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the first movie, the set is entitled INDIANA JONES WITH ARK.

Makes sense. If a movie is going to be called "Raiders of the Lost Ark", there had better be an Ark. So -- precisely what was the Ark?

According to the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant -- well, for starters, it wasn't Noah's Ark. I think if that movie served one considerable purpose in the Christian world, it was to clear up forever the misconception that there was only one Ark in the Bible, and it was a big boat. There was another, and it was called the Ark of the Covenant. So -- what was it?

It was a large, ornate box, or chest, really, built at the command of God to the early Israelites, to contain certain sacred items. It was, for all intents and purposes, where God's presence dwelt among the Israelites during much of the Old Testament. They carried it around with them, and ultimately, for a time, it was lost to their enemies, and eventually rediscovered during the time of King David and finally placed in Solomon's Temple.

The Ark was covered with gold inside and out, and on each end of the cover were two winged gold cherubim whose wings were outstretched to cover the top of the Ark.

So what was in the Ark? According to Scripture, the Ark contained three holy items: a golden jar that contained manna, the substance with which God fed the Israelites while they were in the wilderness after they were freed from slavery in Egypt; Aaron's staff, which budded even though having been uprooted from its original plant; and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Precisely how the Ark might've ended up in an archaeological dig in 1930's Egypt for the Nazis to try to track down, I'm not even going to speculate. Here we must entirely enter the realm of fiction. Suffice to say that within the movie, Indiana Jones' longtime archaeological rival, Rene Belloq, had tracked down the necessary clues to locate the Ark, and, as was his intent, to harness its power in service to the Nazis.

That ultimately didn't end very well, as despite performing what he believed to be an appropriate ceremony to safely open the Ark, he ended up withered and dead, his associate Toht got his face melted off, and a whole bunch of German soldiers ended up electri-fried. Whatever else was in that Ark, it apparently contained a fair measure of the wrath of God.

So where does Indy fit into this? The Nazis, digging at a site called Tanis, didn't quite have all the clues. They'd briefly come into the possession of a medallion that seemed to indicate its location. But they only had one side of the medallion, which had been burned into the hand of Toht. The other side gave some further directions, which only Indy and his associates had.

With that information in hand, Indy and Sallah headed, in disguise, to the Tanis dig, and started excavating in the proper location. Of course, numerous cliffhangers later, the Ark still ended up in the wrong hands -- briefly, anyway. But it still made for a heck of a movie.

So, how's the toy set?

Pretty darn cool. Remember that I said that Indy and Sallah infiltrated the Tanis site "in disguise". So what we have here, to start with, is one of the few Indiana Jones figures presently in the toy line where he's not wearing his traditional fedora and such. In fact, Indy is dressed in rather Arabic-looking fashions, with a turban-like cloth tied around his head, and a large robe with a fabric belt tied around the middle.

The head-cloth is molded as part of the head, and Hasbro should be given credit for molding the head in flesh-tone plastic and painting the head-cloth. Something just always bugs me a bit when the face is the part that's painted, on almost any action figure, and I've encountered plenty in other lines where it isn't necessary.

This particular one should also be complimented for having neatly-painted eyes. This has been something of a problem with the Indiana Jones line for some reason -- sloppy eyes. Now, in fairness, we're talking about very small figures here, and Hasbro is having the eyes very extensively painted -- whites, colored irises, pupils, and a line above them representing upper eyelashes. That's about four paint steps right there. On the other hand, if they're going have this done on a regular basis, then their painters need to improve their precision and their aim just a bit. Fortunately, this particular Indy is neatly painted, one of the best I've seen to date -- and I'm pretty picky.

Indy's robe is cloth. Now, usually I tend to be of the opinion that cloth accouterments on an action figure in the 3-3/4" scale generally don't work very well. The figure is simply too small for cloth to work. As a rule, I tend to believe that an action figure needs to be around 7-8" in height before you can get away with cloth clothing that's going to look decent. However, if there's one exception to this, it might be a long robe. And Hasbro certainly has enough practice with that. Just ask all those Jedi Knights they've made.

The robe is an off-white and very nicely made. It's held in place by a white cloth belt that matches the color of the head-cloth, and is attached in the back by a little piece of velcro. The robe is removable, and Indy is wearing his traditional clothes underneath, sans jacket. However, you're sort of left with an Indiana Jones figure who looks like he's pretty much dressed as he usually is, except for the head-cloth.

The figure is nicely articulated, poseable at the head, arms, elbows, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Additional accessories include a pistol, a gun belt underneath the robe, a coiled whip, and a pouch slung over one shoulder.

Then we have the Ark. This is also a very nicely made piece, well in keeping with the Ark as it appeared in the movie. Certainly a prominent item in the Indiana Jones saga, a drawing of it appeared on a wall in "Last Crusade", and the Ark even had a bit of a cameo in "Crystal Skull". Hasbro's been including various artifacts with many of their single-packaged figures, but obviously the Ark was too large to be among those. Toywise, it measures about 2-3/4" x 1-3/4" x 2-1/8" in height -- counting cherubim.

Honestly, the toughest part of purchasing this set was finding one where the wings of the two cherubim were neatly aligned to each other. It seemed that a fair portion were assembled, and the little cherubim are glued into the lid and are molded from a rather flexible plastic, where one's wings were slightly higher than the other's. Once again, this is me being nit-picky, but if at all possible, I wanted one where they were as precisely aligned as possible, and I finally found one.

The overall sculpting of this item is superb. All of the ornate details are very finely sculpted with a great deal of precision, especially around the lid. The side panels are nicely done, portraying what I believe is meant to be the parting of the Red Sea. The precision of the overall sculpting is really outstanding. Honestly, you could set this "toy Ark" on a fancy dresser and someone would think it was a fancy jewelry box or something -- it's that good, and Hasbro should definitely be commended for their respect and attention to detail on this item.

It's been entirely painted in a nice metallic gold. No weathering or other colors worked in, nor should there be any. Just a straight metallic gold with a really superb finish. I'm not saying that this is representative of the Ark of the Covenant from the Holy Bible. But I will say that as a scale representation of a version of that Ark as portrayed in a movie that I believe tried to treat the history of it with a decent measure of respect, this little Ark is very nicely and very impressively made.

So, what's my final word here? If you're any sort of longtime Indiana Jones fan, you really HAVE to have this set. It represents the central object of the first movie that got the Indiana Jones legend started. How can you NOT have it in your collection? And the Indiana Jones figure that comes with it, dressed as he is, is certainly one of the more distinctive versions of the character offered thus far.

As such, the INDIANA JONES RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - INDIANA JONES WITH ARK Set definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!