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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/14/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/13/2008

I am often in denial about my age, but I will come clean and say that I was a pre-adolescent when Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in 1981, and I was immediately caught up in the fervor. And, like so many, I couldn't wait to see the second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984. And, like so many, I was disappointed. By 1989, when Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade arrived, I was in college, far more interested in girls than Indiana Jones, and caught that one on HBO. So, I had no extreme emotions going into Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I was nearly a quarter of a century removed from being really excited about an Indiana Jones film, and I wasn't sure how a film in this vein would play today.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens in 1957. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his pal, Mac (Ray Winstone) have been kidnapped by Russian scientist Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Spalko takes the pair to a warehouse in the Nevada desert and forces Jones to reveal the whereabouts of a specific crate -- one which is highly magnetized. Following this, Indy is able to escape, but not before facing nuclear annihilation! Jones returns to his teaching post, but is soon asked to step down, as it's feared that he's had contact with communists. As he's leaving town, Jones is intercepted by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a teenaged "greaser" who has a message from one of Jones' old colleagues, Professor Harold Oxley (John Hurt). It seems that Oxley ventured to South America to find a lost city of gold. In the process, he found an unusual crystal skull and then disappeared. Wanting to help his old friend, Jones and Mutt head for the jungles of South America to find Oxley. Little do they know that Spalko and her team are following them, and that they all may have stumbled onto an age-old mystery much stranger than they ever expected.

I hate to be a "Negative Nellie", so let's talk about what Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does right. First of all, any issues aside, it is neat to see Indiana Jones back in action. Despite being 66 years old, Harrison Ford still has a twinkle in his eye and his smart-aleck reactions to dangerous situations are still funny. (And we see that he's still afraid of snakes!) This is a top-notch affair and many of the special effects are seamless and very impressive. The movie goes out of its way to nod towards the other films in the series, and these little moments will bring a warm feeling to Indiana Jones fans. Director Steven Spielberg shows that he is still one of the best at making the viewer feel as if we are there experiencing all of the awe-inspiring events. (I would be hard-pressed to say that Spielberg has a "style", but his use of the shot where the camera presses into a crowd is always effective.)

And, that's about it for the positives. For years, we've been told that Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford were considering doing another Indiana Jones film, but that they were waiting on the right script. Well, I for one am still waiting. The story here is so bizarre and corny that it doesn't feel as if it's part of the same series. Take the opening for example. The intent was clearly to invoke memories of the other movies by showing Jones in a hairy situation. But, the scene continues to grow out of proportion and we're left with a moment of staggering stupidity and we, the audience, are asked to suspend our disbelief while this occurs. The movie also lacks the sense of wonder found in the other films, especially the original. In that film (and The Last Crusade), Indy went to various exotic locales to solve a problem. Here, he simply goes to the jungle and stays there. And let me get this straight, Shia LaBeouf is a tough guy? Really? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull's biggest sin may be that it's very self-indulgent. The chase scene in the jungle (which makes no sense) goes on and on, and when it finally ends...we're treated to a fist-fight which goes on and on. I guess when you're Steven Spielberg and your best friend, George Lucas, is producing, no one is going to tell you to tighten things up a bit.

Some would most likely argue that Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford waited too long to make a fourth Indiana Jones movie, and that the world has moved on. I would disagree with that statement, as people are always ready to embrace a good film. However, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seems content to skate by on nostalgia and some gee-whiz moments. This simply doesn't cut it, as the story is hokey and the pacing of the film is abysmal. Will Indiana Jones return? If so, I hope that it's in a film which comes much closer to capturing the feel of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull goes over the waterfall on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing virtually no grain and no defects from the source material. The clarity of the image helps to deliver an impressive amount of detail and the landscape shots show a very nice amount of depth. The colors look very good here, most notably the lush green jungles. The image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is one of the better Dolby TrueHD tracks that I've heard, and it certainly has a higher than average bitrate. The track provides engrossing stereo effects, and we hear distinct, and often minute, sounds from the front channels. These sounds nicely correspond to the on-screen action. The surround sound is good and really enhances the scenes in the jungle. (And the burial ground fight scene.) The subwoofer effects are good, as the movie features many scenes where low, rumbling noises are involved. Overall, a great transfer.

The Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Blu-ray Disc contains several extra. Disc 1 kicks off with "Indiana Jones Timeline" which is an interactive feature where the viewer can explore world history (for entertainment purposes only), the story of Indiana Jones, and an overview of the Indiana Jones films. "The Return of a Legend" (18 minutes) explores the hows and whys behind the decision to make a new Indiana Jones movie. Lucas, Spielberg and Ford talk about the creation of the story, and bringing Ford back. Other cast members chime in as well here. "Pre-Production" (12 minutes) has pre-visualization designer Daniel Gregoire discussing the creation of an early look at the film before any film has been shot. There is also a discussion of the look of the film and the costumes, as well as LaBeouf's training for the movie. The Disc contains two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (81 minutes) is a very detailed feature-length documentary which traces the entire shooting process. Starting with work in New Mexico, the piece examines shooting in Connecticut and Hawaii, as well as studio work. "Warrior Makeup" (6 minutes) shows how the jungle warriors were decorated for their scenes using paint and special effects makeup. In "The Crystal Skulls" (10 minutes) there is a discussion of the real-life crystal skulls and then a description of the props for the movie were made. "Iconic Props" (10 minutes) looks at everything from swords to maps to books to mummies which were made for the film. "The Effects of Indy" (22 minutes) shows us the use of digital and visual effects in the film and it opens with an explanation of how things which were models in the first three films are now done in the computer. "Adventures in Post-production" (13 minutes) has comments from Michael Kahn about the editing, and then the piece looks at the sound design, sound effects, and music. "Closing: Team Indy" (4 minutes) is a montage showcasing the film's principal crew. We get "Pre-Visualization Sequences" for three scenes. Finally, we have five GALLERIES; "The Art Department", "Stan Winston Studio", "Production Photographs", "Portraits", and "Behind-the-scenes Photographs".

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long