|Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull|
|Written by Bill Warren & AVRev.com|
|Thursday, 09 October 2008|
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The cast is great. Harrison Ford hasn’t seemed both this relaxed and this committed to a movie in years—maybe he needed Indiana Jones as much as Indiana Jones needed Harrison Ford. He’s completely credible as an action hero and as the occasionally distracted super-archaeologist he is underneath. And he trades barbs with Karen Allen with romantic-comedy zest and wit. He’s perfectly cast as this smart, often-apprehensive adventurer. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might not have had the impact it did had, as originally intended, Tom Selleck played Indiana Jones.
Although Karen Allen has been doing movies and TV shows ever since “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” including “Malcolm X” (1992), “King of the Hill” (1993), “The Perfect Storm” (2000) and others, much of her time has been spent on her New England farm. Despite quarreling with Spielberg during the shooting of “Raiders,” she's back now, and is great fun--she seems like she's having great fun, too. She’s as tough and inventive as Indy himself, and every bit as ready to argue. She and Ford work very well together.
There was much speculation as to whether Shia LaBeouf's Mutt Williams is the son of Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood that it's something of a letdown to discover that, yes, he is. He's Henry Jones III, in fact. The most amusing element of this relationship is Indy instantly switching from "do your own thing, kid" to "finish school!" as soon as he learns Mutt's his son. LaBeouf has a few 1950s-sounding lines (he suspects Indy of having “smog in the noggin”) and gets to do a lot of action stuff, including swinging Tarzan-like through the jungle, accompanied by a passel of monkeys. Since he’s a black-leather-jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding 1950s-type “hoodlum,” he plays with a switchblade knife a lot, but is of course basically a good kid under it all. Then there's that swordfight with Blanchett--who herself is clearly having a grand time being this cold-hearted, brilliant bitch, who instantly and correctly sizes up Indiana Jones as an opponent to be respected.
Ray Winstone, unfortunately, has relatively little to do; it’s hard to get a grip on his character or even his reason for being in the movie—I couldn’t see how he affected the plot. John Hurt, on the other hand, does affect the plot, because as his dementia clears up, he’s the one who explains everything. Sean Connery was approached to play Indy’s father again, but backed out relatively close to the start of production; perhaps Henry Jones, Sr. would have occupied the plot position that Professor Oxley does—but it’s hard to imagine Connery playing a doddering fool for half his time on screen.
Composer John Williams is also back, though the movie is so busy you might not notice the music until the (long long) end credits roll. That familiar “Raiders” theme turns up again and again, cuing us in that this is indeed the real Indiana Jones. Janusz Kaminski is the cinematographer, taking over from the retired Douglas Slocombe (whose last movie was “…Last Crusade”). Reportedly, Kaminski tried to follow Slocombe’s lead in the style of photography—his own is different—but I doubt that most audiences will notice. It looks like it’s supposed to look, a big-scale, showy adventure, with scenes on deserts, in a New England college town, in the jungle and in that lost city of the title.
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This Blu-ray boasts a 1080p/AVC encode presentation. I was expecting reference material, but the film's transfer falls just short, not by much. The black levels are excellent, making the image pop. Colors fluctuate, but usually on purpose. You will find pushes to blue and orange in some sequences, while others favor green and red. The CGI is cheesy as ever, which as expected, but it holds up well on Blu-ray. The CGI'd landscapes are very solid, yielding no posterization or green screen grain bleed. The vintage look that Spielberg was going for succeeds at some points and fails at others. The forest sequence is not akin to Indy films. However, the graveyard scene and opening desert sequence are very much in the style of the original Indy films. The contrast is good. It is overblown at times, but this is again intentional. Finally, there are no noticeable artifacts or edge enhancement. In fact, the image can appear soft at times. Still, details remain strong. The source is impeccably clean as expected for such a high-budget and recent film. While the image does not blow me away, it is still far more impressive than most Blu-ray transfers. Let's hope that this transfer is a sign of what is to come with the original Indy trilogy on Blu-ray.
The audio quality, presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, is about the same as the video quality. It is so close to being reference material, but falls short. Many will overlook the obvious blunder of the transfer because the film is of such epic proportion. The audio track is dull. In better words, the audio track is very much bass and mid-range sounding. Other than that overall dullness, the soundtrack is amazing. Dialogue is crisp, clean, and well balanced. The surrounds are always engaging – especially during the climax of the final sequence. It will give your home theater surround system a complete workout. The bass is incredible. There is always low frequency noise going on. It will completely fill the room. The forest champing sequence is a great demonstration of the low frequency power in the soundtrack. Because the audio track sounds so wonderful beyond the limited dynamics, it still gets four and one half stars.
This Blu-ray release contains two Blu-ray discs. The first disc contains the feature film and the some of the bonus materials, while the second disc is pure bonus material. Spielberg, as usual, has put a nix on the commentary track, however, the extensive material nearly makes up for this exclusion. The bonus materials are presented in a arc, making the special features, for once, easy to follow. All materials are presented in 1080p HD.
Starting with the first disc, there is a featurette, "The Return of a Legend" that runs about 20 minutes and looks back at the long development of the film. "Pre-Production" is about 11 minutes covers exactly what the title says including script elements, casting, etc. Exclusive to the Blu-ray release is a section called, "Indian Jones Timelines." Lastly, there are two clips and a teaser and theatrical trailer.
Disc two contains the bulk of the features. The "Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is a collection of sequences, totally about 80 minutes. Much of these segments are spent exploring the shooting process of the various production locations. "Warrior Makeup" is a 5-minute feature covering the design of the temple natives. "The Crystal Skulls" is a 10-minute feature covers the history and basis for the skulls. "Iconic Props" is a 10-minute featurette covering the props used in the film. "The Effects of Indy" is about a 20-minute featurette that takes a trip to ILM and discusses the film's CGI. "Adventures in Post-Production" is a 12-minute feature that explores the fine-tuning elements of the film editing process. "Closing: Team Indy" is an extremely short clip on the closing of the film for all cast and crew. "Pre-Visualization Sequences" (of which there are three) explorers the CGI rendered sequences of Area 51, Jungle, and Ant Attack. Lastly, there are a bunch of Galleries, including production stills and portraits.
Is this as good as “Raiders of the Lost Ark”? No, of course not. That was made by a bunch of young men with ants in their pants, out to wow the world. And they did. Not only that, they established an entire subgenre of movies, then continued to provide the best examples of that subgenre. Indiana Jones movies can profitably be compared only to other Indiana Jones movies; the imitations always lack key ingredients. This one has all of them, if presented somewhat less compellingly than before.. If it’s not the best Indiana Jones movie (I think it’s third best), it’s still a by-george, for-real Indiana Jones movie. I hope there are more to come. But fellas, please don’t wait so long next time.