Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (US - BD)
Marcus Doidge give his take on the new Indiana Jones adventure on Blu-ray...
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) returns for another adventure. Now with a 1950s backdrop and some sci-fi themes, Indy sets out with Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) to find Professor Harold 'Ox' Oxley (John Hurt) who has discovered a truth behind the crystal skull myth.
Hotly pursued by the Russians, led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), Indy reunites with old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) as they adventure toward the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
So I guess I better give a bit of background about my feelings to the previous instalments and the makers, as is the etiquette with a movie that comes with this much history, starting with Uncle Steven and Uncle George.
I think George Lucas gets a pretty rough deal. Since the attacks on Phantom Menace in 1999, Lucas’ ‘skills’ have be torn apart and pecked at by everyone who can post on an internet forum, not all of it unfounded. I personally think the guy is genius and what he’s achieved in film is something that will be celebrated long after he’s gone. As for the Star Wars prequels, put simply, I love them to bits. There, I said it. I love and miss the ten years of excitement they brought and I loved having Star Wars back on the big screen edging us ever closer to completing the saga.
As for Spielberg, there’s a vast number of people around my age (30, if it helps) that can thank their love of film to Mr ‘Berg. The guy does spectacle like no one else and despite a few missteps along the way, the guy still manages to pull career defining movies out of his baseball caps like it’s the easiest thing in the world. My favourite ‘Berg movie by a long, long way is E.T. but a vast amount of his directing catalogue as well as his produced projects reside snugly in my all time favourite list.
I think the Indiana Jones movies to date have been a blast but I wouldn’t say I regarded them as favourites or held them dear to my heart. (I was always a Han Solo over an Indy kid). I’ve re-watched the hell out of them over the years and recently introduced my kids to the man with the hat and whip and with every single viewing, I’ve found something else to like about them or enjoyed elements with an adult viewing perspective that was probably lost on me as a kid. Despite loving it, I don’t think Raiders of the Lost Ark is the perfect adventure movie and I don’t think Temple of Doom should be sneered at or mistreated as seems to be way of things. I also think that The Last Crusade isn’t the franchise running out of steam and in many ways manages to make the franchise better because of the sheer amount of heart it has on display. Basically, I think they are all great fun and while they each have their low points, they more importantly have high points of giddy greatness. Ignoring all the conjecture over which is the best Indy movie, there’s no denying that at the centre of all of these chapters is a truly great character: Indiana Jones himself.
For me, Indiana Jones as a character is what makes all of these movies what they are. No matter the limitations the movie might have had or if the story didn’t quite grab the audience, Harrison Ford’s performance is absolutely stellar work and it just gets better throughout the original three movies. He’s ice cool in Raiders, he adds the comedy with touching subtlety in The Last Crusade and I don’t know if anyone will agree with me on this one but Indy at the end of Temple of Doom, on a rope bridge, clothes torn to pieces, holding that big ol’ machete whilst surrounded by hordes of voodoo guys wanting their ancient stones back, is just Indy at his iconic finest. This character transcends what’s going on around him and it’s his actions that define him so well. Trapped/ friends in danger/ on a rope bridge above croc-infested waters… what to do? Everybody else would give up and/or die. We all know what Indy would do and that is what makes him so damn special. He is one of the few genuine movie legends but the big question in 2008, is could this still work like it used to?
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens perfectly. Those roadster tires tearing across the gopher mound, that 1950s car, that Elvis track—seriously I was in movie heaven. The American Graffiti feel, the Spielberg camera work, the feeling that there’s an Indiana Jones movie about to kick off. I was grinning from ear to ear and with this, my third viewing of the movie I still felt that this opener is the best of the year for sheer feel good factor. The Area 51 stuff sets the story up nicely with countless Spielberg visual tricks that really show off the man’s sheer genius when it comes to visual flare and despite a few teething problems with the dialogue I soon felt as if this franchise had never gone away.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the time that’s passed since the last Indy movie. After all, nineteen years is a long time and I’ll admit it took me until my second viewing to really decide if this actually worked, but it really does. As with much of Lucas’s work, he almost prides himself on the repetitive patterns in which the stories unfold yet somehow it all seems to go under the radar and just feels like the nostalgic check points we reach as we move through the adventure. As expected, we get an Indy being a teacher segment, with a small and charming role from Jim Broadbent. We get Indy meeting up with his co-adventurer, Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) the young greaser who has a bigger connection to Indy than we first realise (though it has to be said this was the worst kept secret in the build up to the movies release). Mutt is a worthy addition to the franchise, thanks completely to the talent that LeBeouf has shown in his already impressive career so far. The guy is a genuine talent whose act is all his own. He’s lucky that Spielberg seems to have taken him under his wing but it’s not like this kid is winging it, he does a great job for a role that could have been as hokey as Jeff Goldblum’s kid in The Lost World and there are very few young actors that could have carried this much weight so effortlessly.
The adventure really begins after we see the red line glide across the map (another must have moment) and we begin to discover what all this crystal skull stuff is really about. I really dig everything there is to dig about these skulls. They look great, I love the mythology behind them and I like how there iconic image instantly bring the Indy stories out of the war era and into the sci-fi laden 1950s. This element may have been what a lot of fans took a disliking to as it certainly takes the franchise down a slightly different route and may be a hard pill to swallow when you find out all the ins and outs about them but I commend everyone involved in signing off this story as the way to go because after a while of letting this all sink in, I really do like where it’s taken the Indy movies and how it sort of highlights that the previous movies really did push mythologies to their limits as well.
I can’t really go into much more without making this spoiler heavy but I can comment on my feelings on the big fan debate over the use of digital effects. They really do hit you immediately. From when the Area 51 doors open you know this isn’t the matte painting, sticks and sticky tape approach to film-making that we’re all accustomed to with an Indy movie. This is highly detailed big money ILM CGI and it takes a lot to get used to. On this Blu-ray release it actually feels quite seamless, despite knowing it’s there. The only real turkey shots are those much debated moments in the jungle and I say ‘moments’ because the majority of it looks fine. Shia fighting Cate on the jeeps as they plough through the dense jungle has to be some of the worst and most unconvincing effects work in recent years. We’re talking Dino stampede in King Kong (2005) badness. The shots from the front when you see actor’s faces look terrible but the reverse angle shots are all practical and very real. I guess what makes it worse is the fact that this franchise is so renowned for its practical stunts, especially with vehicles, that seeing this handled so badly for the sake of what is essentially just a ‘smack in the nuts’ shot is really disheartening. That said, all of the other incredible shots that don’t call attention to themselves have to be given credit and besides, there are a few shots in every Indy movie that looks terrible, so I’m willing to write this one off as just one of them things.
As Gabe said in his recent review, this transfer is stunning with a lot of moments that are a standard setter for the Blu-ray format.
Because of the movie’s modern techniques, it’s a tough argument to say that they’d managed to capture the look and feel of the original three movies precisely but I think they’ve managed it with enough respect for Kingdom never to feel too far removed from the rest of the franchise.
The transfer hides the majority of CGI effects far better than the big screen did, mainly because everything on screen is so clean and bright. With a lot of the film in warm natural daylight or beautifully lit sets this was always going to put the HD image in the realms of greatness but the image even manages to be equally impressive in the darker, dustier scenes and captures all of the beautiful detail from the set designers' work in wonderful HD clarity. You really can’t help but be impressed by this release.
Maybe as important as believing an older Harrison Ford could pull off Indiana Jones again after such a long time, is whether the movie as a whole feels like an Indiana Jones adventure. This is executed perfectly by the audio. Of course for the most part that means the main theme, which is used perfectly in the initial whip-swing that featured in the trailers. The theme almost goes up that little bit too loudly in respect to the moment but if it doesn’t make the hairs go up on the back of your neck, you’re probably dead. Again agreeing with Gabe, this isn’t one of John Williams’ strongest scores but every little piece of music whether new or old, still makes this feel perfect and thankfully no one tried to re-invent the wheel.
Besides that, the sound effects are great as always; though not using the overly loud bang for the hand guns like in previous instalments was a little disappointing.
The big event in the closing scenes, which is absolutely epic, really uses the surround system well. Its powerful, it’s dynamic and you really feel the real the power of many of the elements used, especially the water falls. It’s not the best sound mix ever and never had the wow factor that Iron Man did recently, but it’s still a great piece of work.
I don’t know about you, but while enjoying all of the Star Wars DVD features over the years they never quite seem to cover the elements I think they should (other than the Phantom Menace ‘The Beginning’ documentary—that was excellent). As for Spielberg movie features, I find them a little hit and miss. They either offer a great insight into the director at work or are too generic. Here, I found there was a little bit of both.
Disc one has a series of ‘Timelines’ (Production, Story and History) which are a nice addition to the movie on all fronts, though this might be a little heavy for one session and will be something you’ll probably need to go back to.
‘Return of a Legend’ (17:34) was probably my favourite feature out of the whole set. It’s honest, it’s frank and it spills the beans on bringing Indy back (though it leaves out Frank Darabont’s involvement). I found Spielberg to be more ‘cautious’ rather than ‘against’ jumping on board one more time and I really enjoyed the tale about Lucas’ persistence to feature the mythic icons in the movie and how he got round ‘Berg to include them in the end. I just wish there was a lot more of this style of feature throughout.
‘Pre Production’ (11:44) covers all the pre-viz, costume designs and casting leading up to actually making the movie and is culled from much of the EPKs from the build up to release.
Then there’s trailer 2 & 3 but no sign of the teaser trailer. This seemed quite a weird exclusion to me.
Moving onto disc two, the main event is ‘Production Diaries’ (1hr 20 mins) which picks up from the first day of shooting right through to the end and is split into chapters in the annoyingly way. You can watch it all under ‘play all’ but the end of each chapter comes with a black screen and copyright, so it’s a little annoying that it can’t run in one long doc but that’s a personal preference really.
I found the entire thing to be a little too much about the process of making a movie and not enough about the excitement of bringing Indy back to the audience. There were still some nice personal moments within the diaries with Spielberg and such but it wasn’t anything I’d ever rush back to, despite it being a great watch.
Beyond that, we get the smaller bits, that should really have been included in one big documentary in my mind, ‘Warrior Make-up’ (05:24) which is pretty obvious what that’s about, ‘Iconic Props’ (09.59) which details just how much work goes into whips, swords, dead-bodies and all those other things that makes Indy movies so cool.
‘The Effects of Indy’ (22:42) is the usual stuff, Blue screen this, multiple layers that, though the element with the miniature town getting blown to pieces was pretty impressive.
‘Adventures in Post Production’ (12:44) focuses mainly on John Williams as well as Ben Burtt and son which is always great. They are such a staple part of what makes this franchise so good and memorable. Also added to this is ‘Closing team Indy’ (03:41) which gives some nods and names to some of the key players involved in the cast and crew. All in all, a nice batch of features that could really have been one long documentary
Rounding up are three pre-viz sequences (which always bore me) and five art galleries, which include photos of model work, art work, portraits and on set pics, which are all pretty cool in their own ways.
As with all big franchises, Indiana Jones has a huge fan base that includes many different viewpoints of what’s good and bad and what works and doesn’t. This instalment has been met with very mixed opinions since its big screen release. I for one think it’s a movie that needs multiple viewing before you can really form a solid opinion on it. I say this mainly because I was as hyped as everyone else when I first saw it and it took me a good forty-eight hours to work out whether it had jumped the shark (or should that be ‘nuked the fridge’) or if it took the franchise somewhere new and exciting.
Watching it again within the comfort of my own home and after giving it plenty of time to sink in, I’ve got to say that I enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed all of the previous Indy movies. It’s fun, it still manages to feel fresh even though it’s a fourth movie in a series and I think everyone involved have obviously respected its legacy as the best adventure franchise out there.
At the very heart of it all, Indiana Jones as a character, is still every bit as Indiana Jones as he’s ever been and frankly that’s ninety percent of what makes all of these movies so damn enjoyable and if there's another instalment on the way, as is being talked about, I am more than willing to go on another adventure with him.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 14th October 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Interactive Timeline, Return of a Legend, Pre-Production, Production Diary, Featurettes, Galleries, Pre-Viz, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia LeBeouf, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 122 minutes
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