"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" 2-Disc Blu-ray Review

October 10, 2008 by James Harvey

Personally, I don't think we needed a fourth Indiana Jones, and I still don't. I thought the third one wrapped things up quite nicely. But, for one reason or another, earlier this summer, we were treated to a fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise and, personally, I'm torn. One half of me is glad that I was right, that we didn't need this movie. The other half, well, kind of enjoyed it. When I heard the music, saw the fedora, and when the action and quips started rolling, I just couldn't help myself at all. It was Indiana Jones, and I was seeing his latest adventures. But now that all the excitement has died down and it is now heading to home video, does it hold up? Does it still give me goosebumps when the first notes to his classic theme kick in? It sure does.

In 1957, Indiana Jones finds himself pulled into adventure yet again. This time instead of Nazis coming after him he's pursued by Soviet agents led by Irina Spalko. She needs Indy to help them recover an extraordinary object stored at Area 51. Things take yet another turn for the worse when a young greaser named "Mutt" Williams shows up asking for his help. The rebellious young man informs Indy that two old friends, Professor Oxley and Mutt's mother Marion, have been kidnapped by Soviet agents. They are tied to a plot involving a mysterious crystal skull from Mayan legend. Can Indy beat the Commies and find the legendary crystal skull before it's too late?

I can't help but get riled up for this movie. It's just fun, from start to finish. Now, I can't with all certainty say "Indiana Jones is back and better than ever!" because he isn't. If I had to place this movie alongside the first three, I'd say it rates somewhere above Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, but below the other two. I seriously doubt they'll ever make an Indiana Jones movie as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and, to be honest, they didn't here. What they did was give the character one last shot at the spotlight and just had fun with it, from start to finish. How else can you explain the over-the-top opening sequence?

As the movie opens, with an Elvis Presley tune blaring in the background, we find that Indiana is in trouble yet again. The Russians, who replace the Nazis as the go-to villains for this adventure, are after a powerful device and, naturally, Indiana Jones is the man for the job. Remember that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Well, the majority of the opening sequence takes place here. Indiana fights back against the villainous Russians, led by an evil telepath played by Cate Blanchett, and manages to escape and finds himself on a nuclear testing site. Naturally, Indiana gets caught in the nuclear explosion (though finds survival in an old lead-lined fridge) and, well, that basically sets up the tone of the movie. The movie requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, which was very easy to do in the previous installments, but here? Well, it takes a lot.

To me, this movie both did and didn't feel like the Indiana Jones I grew up with, and a lot of that has to do with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It's quite obvious that Spielberg gave Lucas a lot of power when making this movie. How else can the overabundance of CGI-creatures be explained? There's a couple sequence that require a CGI gopher for no other reason than to be cute. Is Lucas trying to tap into the Alvin and the Chipmunks crowd with this? To get back on track, like I said, this movie both does and doesn't feel like an Indiana Jones movie. It does in the way that we revisit a lot of the same beats from the first movies, get a lot of references and appearances and, believe it or not not, Harrison Ford is able to jump back into Indy's skin without missing a beat. He does an absolutely great job at it, actually. It's all there! And why doesn't it feel like an Indy movie? Much like the recent Live Free or Die Hard, they've made Indy more than what he is. He's almost superhuman now, which robs the character of what made him so great, at least to me.

However, in terms of the movie, it doesn't stick out that bad. Like I said, it requires a major suspension of disbelief because he's tossed around like a rag doll countless times and is usually no worse for wear then before. And despite this, Ford is able to make the little missteps here and there work for his character. Maybe it's because Indiana Jones has become more of an idol than an actual man. That perhaps we expect more and more from each adventure, and, I suppose, that could be what Spielberg and Lucas set out to do in this one. They raise the stakes significantly and they give Jones a bit of a power boost. However, when I say "raise the stakes," I don't mean in any emotional or relevant way, I mean by making things bigger and louder and smashier (is that even a word?). The action sequences are huge compared to the previous movies. Even the opening sequence is arguably more complex and huge a set piece than any of the previous movies combined. The ante is upped quite considerably, and because of that, Indiana has to be as well. That would make sense, I suppose, as to why Indiana can do some remarkable feats that he's have trouble doing even twenty years earlier.

The supporting cast, namely Shia LaBeouf and Kate Allen, do fine with their work. Allen's character, Marion, does seem kind of pushed into the movie without any real reason besides a few laughs and a saccharine ending. LaBeouf, as Mutt Williams, handles himself quite well, even though he serves to mainly look surprised and, well, hopefully one day carry on the legacy of his father. Oh, and who's his father? Well, I won't say here, but I'm sure anybody reading this already knows. Aside from a great "Marlon Brando"-esque introduction to his character, he basically serves as Ford's opposite, snapping back witty comebacks and slack-jawed expressions. Cate Blanchett plays a rather forgettable super-powered Russian opponent and John Hurt is wasted in a bland, one-note role. So, well, Ford basically has to carry this entire movie on his shoulders, and does quite admirably, even though a lot of the rather ludicrous events.

Now, it sounds like I'm really sour on this movie and, I suppose on one hand, I am. But on the other hand, I have to admit it was great seeing Indiana Jones back on screen. Sure, we really didn't need this movie since The Last Crusade wrapped everything up quite well, but, still, I have to admit that when I was able to check my cynicism at the door, I had a blast. Yeah, it's not the strong installment of the series and it has a pile of problems, but, boy, it was a hell of a fun movie. I will admit that I miss the sense of tangible danger that both Raiders of the Lost Arc and The Last Crusade were able to create, which was basically non-existent here. Not once did I fear for any of the main cast. The film seemed to be on auto-pilot, moving from one sequence to the next and making sure the main cast, or most of the main cast, is somewhere on screen. Nothing felt natural. But, and I know this is the opposite of everything I just said, but it was fun. Maybe I am just hypnotized by seeing Indiana Jones back on the big screen, or maybe I'm too easily forgivable, but I enjoyed the movie. Once I understood that this movie was all about escalation and, well, "look what we can do" from Spielberg and Lucas, I'll admit that I enjoyed the sheer eye candy of this film.

Now, did it feel like an actual Indiana Jones movie? For the most part, no. Spielberg's directing style has c hanged considerably since he helmed the last one and it shows here. CGI has taken over and, well, it feels really odd to see Jones tussling in-front of a CGI jungle. And, speaking of jungle, Mutt as Tarzan? Man, that was a horrible scene. If you haven't seen the movie, well, you'll know it when you see it. Perhaps I enjoyed the movie because, actually, I had low expectations when going into it and was surprised when it wasn't flat-out horrible, but was actually an adequate attempt. There's no way I thought an Indiana Jones movie in today's modern digital world would work, and it sort of doesn't. The CGI effects and stunts all don't work with Indiana Jones and, well, this movie proved it. They had to make Jones a superman to even stay relevant and when you do that, you lose what made Indiana Jones so great in the original movies.

I suppose, in an attempt to make this review make sense, I enjoyed this movie. The nostalgia factor played into that, I'll admit. Now, the movie does have a lot of flaws, namely the weak script for one and the awkwardness of having Indiana Jones duking it out with CGI creations, but the movie does present a fair amount of eye candy. Now, I'm not using that as my rationale for giving this movie a passing grade. I also found the movie fun. Once I was able to wipe away any real expectations and just sit back and let my eyeballs be entertained, I will admit, I enjoyed it. It doesn't ring as a true Indiana Jones adventure to me, but it's still a fun movie. You'll need to suspend all disbelief and just accept that, somewhere along the way, Indiana Jones gained remarkable endurance to survive half the stuff in this flick. Now, some will argue that the movie fits the era it presents, and I suppose, in a way, that's true, but, to me, it just doesn't work that way. The movie proves to be a decent diversion and fun, but don't expect any more than that.

As confusing and jumbled as this review may be, I'm still going to give Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a Recommended stamp. It's a fun movie that should be a fruitful way of killing a few hours. If you can check your cynicism at the door and lower your expectations of what an Indiana Jones movie should be, I promise you're going to find yourself having a good time, all things considered. It's not a great movie by any means, but it's a decent diversion and is actually quite a bit of fun. Nothing more.

The Blu-ray:

Paramount Home Entertainment has given Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a solid Blu-ray release. Packaged in the standard Amaray clamshell casing, but with a snazzy foil cover, the two-disc set is firmly placed inside. The video transfer is dead-on solid, crisp and clear and just full of detail. Viewers should not be let down with what they see on screen. The sound is just as great and is easily reference material. Everything sounds crisp, clear, and as natural as can be. Just a completely solid presentation in every aspect.

The bonus features are nothing to sneeze at either. Right away, and most film enthusiasts should know this, there is no commentary. That's no surprise, right? Right. The first disc holds an interactive timeline feature which focuses on Story Development, History, and Production. As you scroll along the timeline, information and the occasional option to play videos will pop up, providing information on the creation of this flick. The "The Return of a Legend" featurette is also on the first disc, exploring bringing back on of cinema's most popular characters. The first disc is rounded off with a "Pre-Production" featurette and theatrical trailers.

Disc two is where you'll find the the most bonus content for your buck. The main feature on the disc is the nearly 90-minute "Production Diary," which follows the entire production of the film, up to shooting the final scene. It's a great way to see Ford, Spielberg and Lucas doing what they do best here. Very interesting, very watchable, and, all in all, a great look at how this movie came about. After that we get "Warrior Make-up," which is pretty self-explanatory, as well as the similarly self-explanatory "Crystal Skull," which looks at the creation of the props and assorted thoughts on it. The "Iconic Props" featurette looks at, well, iconic props from the Indiana Jones film franchise. An interesting look back, I have to say. "Adventures in Post-Production" looks at the editing done on the film, which essentially wraps up the featurettes. "Closing: Team Indy" provides video snippets of various members of the production team, "Pre-visualization Sequences" is just that, a look at three particular scenes in 3D conception. The second disc is rounded out by various production photo galleries. As you can tell, it's a packed second disc!

Overall, while Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn't the best Indy movie to come down the pipe-line, it's still fun. Sure, it's completely unnecessary, but it's a fun diversion, even with the assorted problems it has to tackle with. Fans of the franchise are sure to take some enjoyment out of the flick and will likely get a kick out of seeing Harrison Ford don that classic Fedora one more time. The plot is paper-thin and the feature villain is the weakest in the entire series, and the CGI and directing style doesn't really match any of the three previous installments (oh boy, that's a lot of problems), but there's still a lot of fun to be had here, there really is. I know, this entire review soundings damning, doesn't it? Well, if you go in expecting a fun, brainless adventures, I'm sure you'll be plenty entertained. Plus, this Blu-ray release is absolutely stunning! All things considered, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes Recommended!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrives on single-disc and two-disc DVD and two-disc Blu-ray on October 14th, 2008.

 

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