Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Oct 06, 2008
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Director

Steven Spielberg

Release Date(s)

2008 (October 14, 2008)

Studio(s)

Lucasfilm (Paramount)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

[Editor’s Note: This review contains minor spoilers.]

I have to admit right up front, I have mixed feelings about this film. I really wanted to love it, but when I first saw the trailers for it earlier this year, I started getting this bad feeling. Some of you might know what I’m talking about: That first trailer had serious pacing problems. It just really lacked... something. Energy, charm, flair... something. So I had very low expectations when I finally went to see the film on opening weekend.

Fortunately, Indy IV turned out to be better than I was expecting. It wasn’t amazing or anything, and it certainly wasn’t as good as the previous films, but it was an enjoyable enough way to spend couple of hours in a movie theatre. I was glad I’d gone to see it. I’d enjoyed seeing Ford again as Indy. The film hit all the expected nostalgia beats. Then it was over. I left the theatre feeling content... and completely forgot about it. That’s where the trouble begins.

You know how some films really stick with you? They get inside your head, so you keep thinking about them for days afterward? Yeah... this film isn’t one of those. That fact really stuck me a few days ago, when I popped in Paramount’s new Blu-ray version to watch the film again in high-def. About a half-way through, I realized I was bored with it. Not the disc – the disc is great. But I was so bored with the film itself, that I had a hard time sitting through it all again. I was actually glad when it was over. And, for the first time, I was disappointed.

I’m not going to get into the plot here, because you’ve either seen it already or you haven’t, in which case I’d rather preserve what little suspense the film manages to scrounge up for you. You know the basic drill anyway: Indy stumbles across clues to an archeological mystery and gets drawn into a race against the bad guys to reach some exotic local first, and there must solve an ancient puzzle, etc. You know... this isn’t rocket science, but it’s usually a lot of fun. Usually.

To be sure, there’s plenty here that’s good. All of the classic Indy charm is on display, and Harrison Ford really delivers. I suspect he hasn’t had this much fun working on a film in at least a decade, and it shows on screen. What’s more, Cate Blanchett chews up the scenery as the sinister Russian moll, Irina Spalko. She’s the most purely perfect thing in the whole film. Her character would have been right at home in ANY of the Indy films, much less this one, so casting her turned out to be a real coup. For the entire first half of Indy IV, you’re thinking, “Okay... I remember this” and it’s a really good feeling, like putting on an old comfortable pair of jeans. You know the kind – they’re worn out and they’ve got a couple of holes in them, but you just kind of smile fondly every time you put them on before you go about your business. The first half of this film is kinda like that. The thing I really liked is that Spielberg and DP Janusz Kaminski not only shot this on film, the cameras and film stock they chose had the effect of perfectly recreating the vintage look that all the Indy films had. Indy IV looks like it could have been shot back in the 1980s, and the feel is perfect. I’ve heard that Lucas tried to get them to shoot this digitally, and thank god Spielberg had other plans. More on all that in a moment.

On the down-side, Indy IV does still have pacing issues that start to show up once the globe-trotting begins. The editing is off just enough to really suck some of the dramatic tension and energy out of even the most fast-paced action scenes. It becomes apparent after a while that what’s missing in this film is a real sense of jeopardy, of genuine danger. In the previous films, it always felt like Indy was just a half-step away from disaster. Not so here. I don’t know how old Indy is supposed to be in this film, but he’s got to at least be in his late sixties, right? So once you see him survive his little refrigerator tumble without breaking a single bone, it’s pretty hard to feel like he’s ever in much danger after that. The other problem is that this story has really been the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. Unless you’re an Internet or movie geek newbie, there are absolutely no surprises in this film that you either A) didn’t already know about or B) couldn’t see coming from a mile away. About ten years ago, I read an early script for Indy IV by Jeb Stuart, subtitled The Saucer Men from Mars, and this film covers much the same ground. Bits of other infamous drafts appear as well, and the amalgam is at times clunky, with a little too much exposition weighing things down. The whole movie ends up feeling a bit like a victory lap after the big championship game... but taken years after the actual game has ended and the fans have moved on.

Anyway, let’s talk about the Blu-ray. Disc One features the film in full 1080p widescreen high-definition, and it looks absolutely fantastic. I’m talking really terrific here. The colors are warm and inviting, the contrast is deep and true. There’s a beautiful sense of atmosphere to the visuals. It’s pretty stunning. And that’s actually a bit of a problem. Remember how I said that Spielberg and Kaminski worked hard to ensure that this film looked exactly like the others? One of the things that meant, was that there was a certain specific grain texture visible when I saw this film in the theatre... and that texture is missing on the Blu-ray. It’s not that you don’t see light grain, because you do. But I remember being really struck and impressed by the grain texture during the theatrical presentation - by how well it matched the older films. That same effect is missing here. There’s plenty of detail visible in the image, so it doesn’t look like the usual degraining process was applied. It’s a little puzzling, but I’ve had to knock the video grade down a half point because of this issue. On the audio side, the sound is presented in a fantastic Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that delivers excellent clarity, rich and smoothly enveloping staging, supportive bass and very lively surround play. Paramount often manages to squeeze every last ounce of quality out of their surround mixes on disc, and this one is no exception.

Extras on Disc One include two of the film’s theatrical trailers, and a pair of production featurettes, all in full HD. The first, The Return of a Legend (18 mins) features interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, Ford and all the major creative players talking about how the idea to reunite for a fourth film came about. The other, Pre-Production (12 mins), offers a look behind-the-scenes at the development of the project right up to the start of shooting. The disc also features an interactive Indiana Jones Timeline, organized into three categories: History, Story and Production. You can navigate through each, learning more trivia and details that provide background to the film, and you can occasionally view video clips that illustrate the topic at hand. It’s pretty cool actually.

Disc Two adds more than three hours worth of additional HD video bonus material, starting with the elaborate Production Diary: The Making of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull documentary. This is broken into segments that run from a few minutes to nearly a half-hour in length, and detail the actual shooting effort from beginning to end. The segments include Shooting Begins: New Mexico (14 mins), Back to School: New Haven, Connecticut (10 mins), Welcome to the Jungle: Hilo, Hawaii (7 mins), On-Set Action (28 mins), Exploring Akator (14 mins) and Wrapping Up! (7 mins). You get to see many key moments in the filming, you get to hear from virtually everyone involved. It’s also very cool. Additional featurettes cover the post-production, props and other key aspects of the film. These include Warrior Makeup (5 mins), The Crystal Skulls (10 mins), Iconic Props (10 mins), Adventures in Post-Production (13 mins), The Effects of Indy (23 mins) and Closing: Team Indy (4 mins). Again, all of this material is in HD (with the occasional bit of SD footage mixed in). Rounding out the extras, you get to see a trio of the original pre-viz sequences in HD, and there are a series of extensive photo, portrait and artwork galleries spanning the entire production. It’s worth noting that the special features were all produced by Spielberg’s longtime documentarian, Laurent Bouzereau, and he’s done a fine job of it. Fans should really enjoy going through all of this material. And I have to be honest: I got a special thrill out of seeing all the HD footage from the previous Indy films that’s intercut throughout these documentaries and featurettes. To top things off, all of the extras are wrapped together with tastefully animated menus that fit right into the classic Indy canon, featuring vintage airplanes tracing lines of travel over world maps. There are even optional subtitles for these extras – a very nice touch that will be appreciated by those with hearing issues.

In the end, at least this much is true: The quality of this 2-disc Blu-ray release is really quite outstanding, though I’m still a little put off that the film actually looks too good here. For all its flaws, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an enjoyably familiar experience. Like warm milk on a sleepless night, it goes down easy and somehow manages to do the job. Perhaps our old pal Todd Doogan said it best, when he described the film thusly: “It’s totally watchable.” Exactly. Only not quite as much the second time around, for me at least.

If you really love this film, buy it without hesitation and you won’t be disappointed. As for the rest of you, well... here’s hoping the earlier (and far superior) Indy films arrive on Blu-ray sooner rather than later.

- Bill Hunt

 

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