"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" DVD Review

October 17, 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 screen—and 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 I’m 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 “popcorn flick.” Having said this, while watching Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I felt the same feeling of “what is this?” that others did, but by the end of it I realized that the film really wasn’t all that different from the other films. After talking to a few other people about it, all who seemed to dwell on the whole “Indy and Aliens!? No!” I’ve come to the realization that, to paraphrase Bruce Campbell’s character from Burn Notice, Indiana Jones fans can be a bunch of bitchy little girls. I’m 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 I’m genuinely amazed at how quickly fans were to trash on Skull.

Let’s look at the evidence, shall we? Raiders revolved around a mystical chest that, when opened, melted people’s 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 people’s perspectives of the series is time. We’ve allowed the Indy series to age like a fine wine over the years and we’ve 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 it’s probably the least respected of the series, which I can see myself, but it doesn’t 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 episodes…and one of those episodes dealt with freakin’ Dracula, so, again, mystical and supernatural things in the Indy universe isn’t new.

So that ends my rant on the haters that Skull attracted. While watching the film it was obvious that our characters themselves didn’t believe the alien conspiracy, so it’s 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 film’s oddness, but I won’t; 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. Mutt’s 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 bit…kooky. She seems like she’s 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 characters…but, I guess that’s what happen when you play a character that hasn’t seen the light of celluloid since 1981.

The rest of the film can be summed up in a few words, as it’s constructed of several action sequences and a rather astonishing finale that has CGI going into overdrive. Perhaps that’s another disconnect this film has with the audience is we’re so used to actually seeing Indy facing up against the crazy antics without the use of computers, but honestly it didn’t 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 isn’t 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 isn’t perfect, but it’s far from deserving of all the hate the fan community has put upon it. I’m 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 that’s exactly what it presents—as long as you aren’t too jaded to realize it. Highly Recommended.

The DVD
The first Indy film to arrive on Blu-ray and…I sadly won’t be reviewing that version. Instead I’ll be tackling the single disc edition for this review, although I’m sure those who were fans of the film will be scrambling for the two-disc DVD or Blu-ray editions. For the simple and curious, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s 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 that’s similar to the previous Indiana Jones DVD releases, with the tan map background. Menus are also similar in nature, which I’m 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 won’t be from a DVD standpoint—this 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. It’s 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 it’s 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 it’s great to see him slip back into the character so effortlessly.

You want more? You’ll have to check out the two-disc edition. This is where the single disc ends unfortunately, so right when we’re about ready to check out how the production of the film went (in an over hour long extra), we’re tossed back to square one. Quite honestly unless you’re just a very, very casual Indy fan, you probably shouldn’t even glance at the single-disc edition as you’ll just be left wanting more; for those that know they just want the film, however, then this one comes Recommended. Otherwise just head for the more deluxe outings.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 14th.

 

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