"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" 2-Disc DVD Review
October 13, 2008 by Zach Demeter
It was years in the making and it seemed that the day would never come. Script rumors swirled and when quizzed about it, Lucas, Spielberg and Ford all noted that they were still working on it. Production finally began and fans eagerly awaited the trailer to witness just what the crew behind the immaculate Indiana Jones trilogy would bring. While some walked away from the film feeling underwhelmed the general consensus was that it was just nice to have Indy back on the screenóand with nearly a billion dollars in box office sales worldwide, it was clear that even with a plot that felt a bit strange, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull still felt like home in all the right places.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finds Indy (Harrison Ford) trying to outrace a brilliant and beautiful agent (Cate Blanchett) for the mystical, all-powerful crystal skull of Akator. Teaming up with a rebellious young biker (Shia LaBeouf) and his spirited original love Marion (Karen Allen), Indy takes you on an action-packed adventure in the exciting tradition of the classic Indiana Jones movies. Co-starring Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent and produced by George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and directed by Steven Spielberg.
Before what is going to be an inevitably long review, I want to note a few things: I grew up on Indiana Jones, a trilogy that was only second to Star Wars in my house and as far as Iím concerned it is one of the greatest trilogies to watch. It packed in history, action and genuinely entertaining scripts and characters to create a fantastic world to escape into and the Indiana Jones films alone were the very definition of ďpopcorn flick.Ē Having said this, while watching Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I felt the same feeling of ďwhat is this?Ē that others did, but by the end of it I realized that the film really wasnít all that different from the other films. After talking to a few other people about it, all who seemed to dwell on the whole ďIndy and Aliens!? No!Ē Iíve come to the realization that, to paraphrase Bruce Campbellís character from Burn Notice, Indiana Jones fans can be a bunch of bitchy little girls. Iím well used to the complaining from fans when it comes to sequels to trilogies (I was a diehard Star Wars fan from the summer of 1997 up until Revenge of the Sith bowed out of theaters), but Iím genuinely amazed at how quickly fans were to trash on Skull.
Letís look at the evidence, shall we? Raiders revolved around a mystical chest that, when opened, melted peopleís faces off. Doom brought about a pair of magical rocks that turned people demented and allowed a sweaty bald man to rip out your heart with his bare hands, while Last Crusade, arguably the greatest film of the series, had Indy drinking from the fountain of youth as a ghost told him which Jesus cup to choose. How, I ask you, is a race of aliens that farfetched from the Indy universe? Not to mention the time period of the film fit the Roswell conspiracy frame perfectly.
The main element, of course, that affects peopleís perspectives of the series is time. Weíve allowed the Indy series to age like a fine wine over the years and weíve slowly digested its absurdities. We can explain away our acceptance of the first and third films due to their religious connotations and the concept of Christianity has been around well before these films, but what about Temple of Doom? What about that film is believable? Nothing. As is itís probably the least respected of the series, which I can see myself, but it doesnít keep me from enjoying it on occasion. Not to mention fans of the Young Indiana Jones series will pick up on references in the film from a few of those episodesÖand one of those episodes dealt with freakiní Dracula, so, again, mystical and supernatural things in the Indy universe isnít new.
So that ends my rant on the haters that Skull attracted. While watching the film it was obvious that our characters themselves didnít believe the alien conspiracy, so itís not as if it was just shoved down our throats and we were left with little choice but to accept what was going on. We were convinced as Indy was convinced and to me that is enough of a reasoning for whatever Lucas and Spielberg wanted to do. I could go on another rant about how everyone blames Lucas for this filmís oddness, but I wonít; Lucas, Spielberg and Ford all agreed on the plot so each one of them is to blame as much as the other.
While watching the film the first time I, as I previously mentioned, was kind of wondering what the hell was going on, but the second viewing felt much more comfortable and natural. I knew the oddities that were coming up and I eventually grew accustomed to the film and even warmed up to some of its sequences. Muttís swinging through the vines with monkeys is still incredibly stupid to me, but other than that the rest of the film remains exciting and engaging. Although I do still find Marion Ravenwood to be a bitÖkooky. She seems like sheís in a dream state for the entirety of the film and has little resemblance to her character of old. Indy still acts the same, but Marion may have well just been someone else entirely. Although she did win me back over during that sequence between her and Indy in the car, so there are some elements that came through that reminded me of the old charactersÖbut, I guess thatís what happen when you play a character that hasnít seen the light of celluloid since 1981.
The rest of the film can be summed up in a few words, as itís constructed of several action sequences and a rather astonishing finale that has CGI going into overdrive. Perhaps thatís another disconnect this film has with the audience is weíre so used to actually seeing Indy facing up against the crazy antics without the use of computers, but honestly it didnít feel too intrusive until the very end, at which point it hit you over the head.
Although there was a definite change in style for this film, it just separates itself from the rest of the pack as Temple of Doom did. This film will no way go down as the best of the series and may end up tying with Doom for most disliked, but that isnít enough of a reason for me to even begin to write this film off. It kept me entertained and seeing Jones on the screen again after all of these years really was just a treat to see.
The film isnít perfect, but itís far from deserving of all the hate the fan community has put upon it. Iím sure with time the dislike of it will die down and with rumors of another Indy outing in the wings I doubt this will be the last we see of the fedora wearing man. And with that notion I say bring on the refrigerator nuke antics. The series is about having fun and thatís exactly what it presentsóas long as you arenít too jaded to realize it. Highly Recommended.
The first Indy film to arrive on Blu-ray andÖI sadly wonít be reviewing that version. Instead Iíll be tackling the two disc edition for this review, although Iím sure those who were fans of the film and have already adopted the high-definition format will be scrambling for the Blu-ray editions. For the simple and curious, Kingdom of the Crystal Skullís single disc edition still presents a decent bit of information on the film with its two short featurettes, but the two-disc editions are where this film really shine. Regardless of which version you choose, both DVD editions arrive with embossed foil reflective slip covers, with the theatrical poster adorning the single disc edition and the teaser poster tossed onto the two-disc edition. Inside of the sets are the discs themselves, which have art thatís similar to the previous Indiana Jones DVD releases, with the tan map background. Menus are also similar in nature, which Iím sure fans will recognize once they give the film a spin.
Video and audio are as impressive as the previous Indiana film releases as well. Although, visually, this film is quite a bit different than the previous films what with the update in technology and the majority of the film spent in locals filled with darker colors, the film still looks fantastic. Black levels are solid and there is nothing in the film that screamed at me that it was lacking in any way. The films transfer is backed up by an equally forceful Dolby Digital 5.1 that swings itself around the room and throws out plenty of front end as well. Overall if you have issues with this film, it wonít be from a DVD standpointóthis is about as crisp and clear as DVD video and audio gets. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are included, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
First in the extras department we have two short documentaries to check out, both of which really only whet the appetite for more, which the second disc delivers in spades. "The Return of a Legend" (17:37) talks briefly about what the process was like to bring Indy back from the dead, starting all the way back in 1994. Itís a little too quick of a recap of the history though, as there must have been more to the reconstruction of the series than a simple seventeen minutes, but itís clear that everyone interviewed here were eager to get the film going. Next we have the "Pre-Production" (11:47) extra, which has our cast and crew warming up for the film, complete with Ford getting back into character, which is an incredible treat to see. Ford alone is the reason to see this film and itís great to see him slip back into the character so effortlessly.
Flipping over to the second disc we feast our eyes on the big kahuna of the extras: "Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (80:10). This is an absolutely exhaustive extra and if you were disappointed at the lack of commentary, youíll quickly be sated by this extra. Every aspect of the production is covered here and Spielberg leaves no stone unturned. Plenty of cast and crew interviews are mixed up into this extra, which truly is the highlight of the set. It pretty much puts to shame all of the previous Indiana Jones movie DVD extras as well with how comprehensive it gets.
The rest of the extras on this disc arenít nearly as expansive, but thatís to be expected. "Warrior Makeup" (5:37) focuses on the hair and makeup used for the temple guards in the film, while "The Crystal Skulls" (10:13) focuses on the historical aspect of the film (yes, there is oneójust like the other three films, this was based on actual myths), which his quite fascinating although the remainder of the extra focuses on the actual skull props used in the film. "Iconic Props" (10:03) takes viewers on a tour of the props used in the making of Kingdom, which is a real delight to see as well.
"The Effects of Indy" (22:44) focuses on the ILM work done in the film, which isnít quite as extensive as youíd think (although it is definitely in use more than the previous films in the series, obviously). "Adventures in Post-Production" (12:47) gives us a short glance at the post work done on the film, while "Closing: Team Indy" (3:45), a slide show of key cast and crew on the film, wraps up the ďmainĒ extras. Following these is a series of pre-visualization (14:09) sequences, some photo galleries and the teaser/theatrical trailers for this film. Those with an XBOX 360 will be treated to a demo of the LEGO Indiana Jones game, which, if you havenít played it, I highly recommend. Those with PS3s that are down in the dumps can find the same demo available for download on the Playstation Network.
Overall this two-disc edition is a Must Own for fans of the film and is otherwise Highly Recommended for those who arenít going to run out day one for this release. Iím sure the Blu-ray release trumps this one greatly in the video and audio department, but for those who arenít ready to jump into the Blu, this two-disc DVD will work just fine as the video transfer lends itself quite well to being upscaled.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 14th.