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Paramount Home Video presents
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Blu-ray) (2008)

Mutt: You know, for an old man, you ain't bad in a fight.
Indy: Thanks a lot.
Mutt: What are you, like 80?

- Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: October 13, 2008

Stars: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, John Hurt
Other Stars: Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent
Director: Steven Spielberg

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for for adventure violence and scary images
Run Time: 02h:02m:32s
Release Date: October 14, 2008
UPC: 097361386645
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Ever since the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, fans of the intrepid, whip-wielding archaeologist have clamored for another installment of his cliffhanging adventures. Yet as the years ticked by and star Harrison Ford inched closer to senior citizen status, the likelihood of such a project coming to fruition, let alone resembling past triumphs, seemed as remote as Indy cuddling up with a snake. Executive producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg, however, couldn't resist the lure of "Indy IV," and when the pair announced in 2007 that a suitable script had been found and production would soon commence, excitement and anticipation—along with a little trepidation—consumed movie lovers around the globe. For many, May 2008 and the premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull couldn't come fast enough, especially when sources leaked that Karen Allen would reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood, and such hot commodities as Cate Blanchett and Shia LaBeouf also would be onboard for the ride.

I was one of those Indy fanatics who waited impatiently for the next chapter, even as I worried that studio greed, Ford's advanced age, and Lucas and Spielberg's willingness to tap the well one more time might forever tarnish the legendary franchise. (Psycho is all but ruined for me today, knowing the grisly fate that awaits poor Vera Miles in the misguided sequel.) But my fears—and a few lukewarm advance reviews—couldn't keep me away from the theater on opening day, and as I watched the film with my three kids, a nostalgic wave flooded over me. Its clunky title notwithstanding, I found Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to be everything I hoped—action packed, witty, cleverly constructed, well acted, and just plain fun. Sure, some of the dialogue was hokey, some of the situations and plot developments predictable and overblown, but that's Indy all over. Ultimately, it was such a kick to see Harrison Ford once again don his scuffed up fedora, flash his cocky grin, battle foreign villains, and verbally spar with his now middle-aged Maid Marion that I dismissed any trivial criticisms. And to his credit, I thought Spielberg did a fine job recapturing the spirit of the previous Indy films while transitioning the character into the 1950s. Concerns soothed and senses satisfied, I left the theater buoyed by the experience, even hopeful another Indiana Jones adventure might be on the horizon.

So imagine my glee when the Blu-ray disc of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrived in my mailbox for review. But much to my dismay, I soon discovered the movie doesn't hold up nearly as well on a second viewing. No longer swept away by nostalgia or riding an adrenaline high, I examined the film with a more critical eye, and must admit I was underwhelmed. The plot, performances, even some of the chase sequences feel trite and labored, Spielberg struggles to maintain the picture's rhythm, and for the first time as Dr. Jones, Ford seems like he's working. Don't get me wrong, the film boasts some terrific action, and it's infused with all the whimsy and slapstick spills that have made the series so gratifying, but this time around, the threads holding everything together feel a bit tenuous.

Gone are any references to the Nazis and World War II; this Indy adventure is set in 1957, and pits our hero against Soviet foes, led by the formidable Irina Spalko (Blanchett), a.k.a. "Stalin's fair-haired girl," a brilliant but humorless agent (somewhat reminiscent of Greta Garbo in Ninotchka) obsessed with mysticism and the paranormal. With Cold War tensions rising as the Nuclear Age kicks into high gear, Irina and the KGB seek to discover the "next level of weapon" that will trump the Americans' atomic bomb. Crystal skulls seem to hold the key to this "new frontier of psychic warfare," and the Soviets will stop at nothing to harness their apocryphal powers. Indy hopes to thwart his rival's efforts and—aided by a tough young monkey named Mutt (LaBeouf)—save the archaeologist (John Hurt) who uncovered the coveted relic, as well as his feisty old flame Marion, who finds herself embroiled in the mess as well.

Spielberg largely succeeds in recreating the flavor of the older Indy flicks, from the maps used to chart Indy's travels to the booby-trapped caverns he must gingerly navigate. But instead of paying homage to 1930s serials, Crystal Skull salutes the cheapo alien epics of the '50s (an interesting choice that doesn't always work), while cleverly mixing in such topical themes as nuclear testing and McCarthyism. (Amazingly, even Indy is suspected of Communist sympathies by the FBI.) Age, of course, breeds cynicism, and this adventure sheds some of the innocence that distinguishes the previous films. Not surprisingly, Indy doesn't quite fit into this more modern era; like Kirk Douglas in Lonely Are the Brave, he often looks like he hasn't caught up with the times and especially the technology that's an integral part of the world. Such a frailty may lend his character more depth, but who wants an Indiana Jones that reminds you of your grandpa?

Spielberg, however, seems to have no qualms about embracing technology himself, and as a result, this installment flaunts more of a video game feel than previous Indy efforts. CGI is very prevalent, and in an odd twist, the storyline loosely resembles the old PC game, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, in which Indy (aided by a female CIA agent who sports a hairstyle suspiciously like Irina's) battles the Soviets for control of an ancient supernatural machine that, if properly rebuilt, could surpass the power of the atomic bomb. Such plot similarities could be mere coincidence, but in this age of video games being freely adapted into feature films, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Lucas and Spielberg (and screenwriter David Koepp) might recycle some elements from another platform.

Performance-wise, Ford struggles to recapture Indy's playful bravado, but he still knows how to finesse sticky situations, and it's a hoot to see him tackle the demanding rigors of the role. Allen looks thrilled to be back in front of the cameras, bringing ample spunk and charm to Marion, the quintessential spitfire, while Blanchett, as the raven-haired Russian whose tongue is as sharp as her rapier, is an inspired addition. Her dour expressions and disdainful line deliveries spice up the proceedings, adding a hint of camp to the thrills and chills. LaBeouf, however, takes his entrance on a motorcycle á la Marlon Brando in The Wild One a tad too seriously, and comes off looking stiff and smug much of the time. The young actor may be getting too big for his britches after the enormous successes he's experienced, and doesn't seem to fully embrace the light-hearted Indy spirit.

That spirit, however, is tough to extinguish, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—for the most part—keeps it alive. Whether you're a long-time fan of the series or new to the franchise, this updated adventure is definitely worth your time. They don't make heroes like Indy anymore, and even if Crystal Skull can't quite match its forerunners, it's still a rollicking good time, especially the first time through.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Spielberg tried hard to recreate the look of the previous Indy films, and he succeeds in spades. Warmth and a bygone glow distinguish the visual style, and those elements are not lost on Paramount's excellent 1080p transfer. The spotless source print offers up vibrant (but not oversaturated) colors, deep black levels, excellent shadow detail, and solid contrast. Though some of the film's natural grain seems to have been digitally removed, enough remains to keep the movie from looking (overly) processed. High-def, of course, betrays some of the technical wizardry, but rarely do any scenes look fake. Close-ups possess a striking 3-D quality, and fleshtones remain stable and true throughout. This is another winning effort from Paramount, one which will certainly please Indy's Blu-ray-starved fan base.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The immersive Dolby 5.1 TruHD track adds terrific atmosphere to the film, with subtle accents so crisply rendered it's tough not to feel a part of the action. Explosions, gunfire, and extraterrestrial effects take advantage of all five channels, but so do everyday sounds, which really make this track shine. Even front channel separation is wonderfully distinct, and well-modulated bass frequencies add notable power to various scenes. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, John Williams' iconic score has never sounded better, and the track as a whole is very well balanced, seamlessly blending music, effects, and conversation.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
8 Featurette(s)
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Pre-Visualization Sequences
  2. Extensive Photo Galleries
  3. Interactive Timelines (Blu-ray exclusive)
Extras Review: This two-disc special edition is packed with supplements, but there's only one extra that's exclusive to Blu-ray—a trio of Interactive Timelines on Disc 1. This fascinating feature allows the viewer to explore the film's narrative, production, and historical influences in chronological order, aided by educational text, photos, film clips, and newsreel excerpts. Links connecting all three timelines are also included, so you can switch among them to learn more about a specific topic. The historical timeline is especially interesting, as it proves almost every fantastical element in the film's plot is somehow rooted in reality.

Also on Disc 1, The Return of a Legend (HD) examines the evolution of this newest Indiana Jones adventure through interviews, on-set footage, and clips from all four Indy films. Spielberg grabs the lion's share of screen time, discussing how the fans and then Harrison Ford initiated the project, and he (Spielberg) was "the holdout." The director admits Ford's age was a concern and that he resisted the alien plot angle, while Karen Allen relates how she came to reprise the role of Marion Ravenwood. George Lucas and Shia LaBeouf, among others, share their experiences as well in this well-produced, absorbing 17-minute featurette.

Pre-Production (HD) runs almost 12 minutes, and takes us through all the early preparations, from pre-visualization (where Spielberg's ideas are transformed into 3-D computer images) to photographic and costume design, and the casting and seasoning of LaBeouf. Clips of LaBeouf in fencing class and Ford training with his whip highlight the extensive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews that comprise this informative piece.

Two Crystal Skull trailers, also in HD, complete the Disc 1 supplements.

Disc 2 opens with the meaty documentary, Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD), an almost 81-minute chronicle of the film's four-month shooting schedule. From the first shot to the very last, from the inaugural champagne toast to the final sip of bubbly, from New Mexico and New Haven to Hawaii and L.A., we're on location and on the soundstage with Spielberg, Lucas, dozens of technical personnel, and the film's stars. We see how sets are constructed, stunts coordinated, and effects devised, and gain perspective on character and style from a host of cast and crew interviews. Ford, Allen, Blanchett, LaBeouf, Spielberg, Lucas, and others chime in on various aspects of production in this slick yet detailed documentary.

The five-and-a-half-minute featurette Warrior Makeup (HD) examines the involved process of slathering mud, inking tattoos, and applying body art on the spear-wielding savages Indy encounters in Peru, while the 10-minute The Crystal Skulls (HD) delves into the design and construction of the skulls, skeletons, and aliens used in the film. Iconic Props (HD) also runs 10 minutes, and looks at such pivotal objects as Irina's rapier, Mutt's comb and switchblade, Indy's whip, and various books, letters, and weapon accoutrements that help define the characters and enhance the film's period feel.

The Effects of Indy (HD) takes us inside the various areas of special effects—model-making, color and contour, composites, miniatures, and particle simulation—as technicians provide a step-by-step breakdown of several key scenes. From prairie dogs and nuclear explosions to cliff-hugging car chases and an army of attacking "creepy-crawlies," the 23-minute featurette divulges almost all of Indy's visual secrets. Adventures in Post-Production (HD) runs 13 minutes and provides an inside look at the picture's editing, sound design, and scoring. Composer John Williams reveals the influences of swashbuckling, noir, and sci-fi themes on his new music for the film, and how he molded them to fit various characters, while sound designer and supervising sound editor Ben Burtt talks about digitizing the sounds from previous Indy films for use here, and using both organic and electronic sounds in the climactic scene.

Closing: Team Indy (HD) is a three-and-a-half minute salute to the collaborative efforts of the "Indy family," and features an array of visual curtain calls from both luminaries (Lucas and Ford) and average Joes (the stunt coordinator and caterer). Three Pre-Visualization Sequences (HD)—Area 51 Escape, Jungle Chase, and Ants Attack—show just how closely the computer generated, pre-production images mirror the finished film product, and the supplement package concludes with an extensive Galleries section filled with dozens of HD photos in five folders—The Art Department, Stan Winston Studio, Production Photographs, Portraits, and Behind-the-Scenes Photographs.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Years from now, audiences may dismiss Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as a lame attempt to reignite a beloved series, but for now, Steven Spielberg's film provides Indy fans with a nostalgic, entertaining, and at times, thrilling salute to one of Hollywood's most popular heroes. Imbued with the same vigor, humor, and style as previous efforts, Crystal Skull may not eclipse prior Indy adventures (though I think it's better than Temple of Doom), but it doesn't cheapen our memory of them either. Of course, Indiana Jones on Blu-ray is an experience in and of itself, and the superior video and audio quality of this release—as well as the top-notch extras (also in HD)—make it a worthy rental or purchase.


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