Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Blu-Ray) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: PG-13 (for adventure violence and scary images) Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; Spanish, French 5.1 Dolby Digital Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; English SDH+ Time: 122 minutes Disc Format: 2 SS/DL BD’s Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date: 2008 Blu-Ray Release Date: October 14, 2008 After being kidnapped in Mexico while digging in the dirt, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his pal, George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone) are taken by their Russian military captors to the mysterious Area 51 in the Nevada desert. They are introduced to the hot-yet-cold Red in charge, Col. Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) who needs Indy’s help to find an important crate containing a mysterious artifact that will further Russia’s plan of world military and nuclear domination. Indy finds the artifact, and betrayal by Mac, but escapes his captors and flees into the desert. He comes upon a pristine community, but he deduces what the true nature of the place is for and uses a clever means of escape. Indy finally makes it back to Marshall College only to find he’s been fired, and an almost missed message, delivered in the form of young Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), sets him and Mutt to look for a missing colleague of Indy’s. Their quest leads them to South America, where danger is avoided by both wits and mitts, and new allies and enemies are chasing the intrepid archeologist to the end of this world, and maybe another. Certain film are impervious to criticism, that no matter if it’s a complete stinker, it will still draw in the crowds due to its name, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is no different by still taking in hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the things that amazed me is I had never heard so much criticism of a picture from the average Joe than I have with this one (and this was after years of bitching over Star Wars prequels). I was at my gym the weekend after it opened and there was a group of what I would call average Joe’s, and they were literally picking apart the picture scene by scene, dissing everything from Ford to director Steven Spielberg to the plot to the effects… and it went on and on. This is the same group of people who had gone to see, say, 10,000 B.C. or Drillbit Taylor and report, “Oh, it was funny” or “Oh, it was good”, but with Indy suddenly everyone became Roger Ebert. I debated the merits with a friend of mine who said Indy had become a superhero in this one, that his on-screen deeds of daring-do were not believable. I argued that the previous three pictures had similar unbelievable stunts (such as the opening to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Indy’s submarine ride in Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name a couple), but now, nineteen years later, the current picture is being faulted for its outrageousness. This picture, much like its Lucasfilm brethren, the aforementioned Star Wars prequels, will stand forever in the shadow of its predecessors. No matter how good or bad Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may be, it will be compared to the three that came before. It is not only unfair to do to this picture, but it is unwarranted. I had talked with several friends of mine who saw the picture a couple more times, and each of them said they liked it more on repeated viewings. When I watched it again for this review, I had the very same impression. My original criticism of the picture was the ever hit-and-usually-miss screenwriter David Koepp (Jurassic Park and The Shadow for example), Spielberg, and co-executive producer George Lucas were working too hard to reference what had gone on in the previous movies. There are numerous call-backs and nostalgic elements that harkens back to the other movies, but the script is acknowledging their existence since it is part of Indiana Jones life. There are even references to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles which only sought to contribute to and re-enforce the life’s work of Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. Vitriol was also thrown at Ford and if he was up to the task at age 65, and he is. Ford does most of his own stunts and he is not only invigorated by putting on the fedora but also by chasing after Russians, native warriors and Marion Ravenwood (a clearly grateful Karen Allen). I would not go as far as to say Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is without issues. Ford obviously took some time re-acquainting himself with his character as he is just off in the Area 51 scenes; he comes across as flippant and arrogant. Allen is obviously happy to be involved again, and her all too quick fall back into love with Indy seems forced. Mutt does double duty as a sidekick and a plot device, but never really succeeding at either. Instead, he seems to re-enforce Spielberg’s fascination with family issues. The plot takes these repeated viewings to really “get” just what the hell they’re looking for and why (perhaps a by-product of the numerous writers who have tried their hand at “Indy IV” over the years). Lucas seems very interested in once again wrapping up the story in a nice, neat package, without trying to explain certain continuity facts brought up in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. But maybe those are stories for another day. Yet there is a lot to like, too. If nothing else, the movie is a great exercise in movie-making fun. It has everything that makes Indy Indy: great chases, the idea that the mind is as powerful as the fist, humor, exotic locales, and exceptional production values. It holds fast to the 50’s sci-fi pictures it’s trying to emulate: it acknowledges the paranoia of the time and the thought of something else out there. It also does as the previous movies did in using the macguffin (here the crystal skulls) while truly addressing the relationship’s between father’s and sons, mentors and students, and the importance of education and history. I was satisfied at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and while the TV show went a whole different direction with the franchise, I enjoyed it immensely for what it was. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does not sour my nostalgia for the previous films, so intimately tied to my teen years, it just acts as the odd, less famous younger brother at the table. Maybe in time we’ll accept it as one of the family. Video: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment. The Blu-Ray disc is encoded in the MPEG-4 AVC codec at 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Cinematographer Janus Kaminski was trying to emulate the look of the original three pictures and the work of Douglas Slocombe, but instead, this image looks much whiter due to Kaminski’s use of light diffusion in almost every scene. Due to this, the picture takes on an electric, hot look always reminding you where the light source is. Slocombe’s work on the originals made it look almost like a documentary in places, or a travelogue for far off places, while Kaminski’s looks like dressed up HD demo material, and that’s really not a complaint. Colors are excellent, even slightly over-saturated, and flesh tones look rich and accurate. Detail is exceptional going so far as to notice some of the makeup caked on the actors if you look close enough, and some CG based scenes stick out (such as the sword fight between Mutt and Spalko during the jungle chase). Fine detail is also excellent, such as in Indy’s house you are able to make out titles of books, lettering on pages and see the detail on printed pictures. Sharpness is good with clearly delineated lines between objects, with no edge enhancement noticed. The picture exhibits good dimensionality as well, showing depth to the opening scenes in the warehouse at Area 51 among other places. Black levels are deep and inky and show good detail. The print is clean and free from any dirt or debris. Having seen this in the theater, it is an accurate representation of the projected film, if not slightly brighter. Audio: The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is pretty much non-stop from start to finish. The track utilizes the surrounds at a minimum to provide ambience to the slower, quieter scenes (such as those at Marshall College), but then they become equal partners to the fronts once the action picks up. Panning effects were a kick as bullets, huge razored wheels and screaming monkeys and swarming ants come at you from all different angles as they move across screen. John Williams score blends in seamlessly with the effects, providing even more activity to the fronts. Bass levels were deep and played well with the mid and upper frequencies. Much like the video portion, the soundtrack produces some excellent dimensionality putting you in the middle of the action, be it during the jungle chase or the trips over the water falls. Dialogue, while tied to the center channel primarily, integrates well with the channels and sound very natural. First rate sound production coupled with equal reproduction in the home makes for a great viewing experience. Bonus Material: all items are in HD unless otherwise noted. Disc One Indiana Jones Timelines: “Explore the movie through interactive timelines that include video Featurettes, in-depth information and unique imagery…” There are three different timelines: Story Timeline shows key events of the movie’s storyline; Production Timeline is a making-of chronology of the movie; Historical Timeline talks about the real-world historical influences that are referenced in the film. The best of the three is the Historical Timeline as it gives some good background about the real world story elements in the picture. You are able to view movie and other clips as well, some of which were not in the other making-of pieces. The Return of a Legend (17:34): Spielberg starts talking about the nostalgic nature of ending the series after Last Crusade, and he almost seems surprised everyone asked him, Ford and Lucas if there was going to be another one. He continues on to explain how this new picture came about, the time it took to get it all together and more. There are interesting comments from and regarding screenwriter David Koepp, yet there is really no mention of the numerous other scripts and story outlines that had been done. Karen Allen shows just how thrilled she was to be put back into the spotlight this role brings up. Pre-Production (11:44): beginning in May, 2007 this piece introduces us to Spielberg’s creative process, specifically pre-viz. Kaminski notes how he wanted to maintain the lighting and look of the originals, but I still think this one separates itself from its predecessors for this very reason. There are also fun interviews with Ford where he was so proud the original costume still fit after all these years and LaBeouf’s explanation of Ford showing arriving on set. Trailers: curiously labeled “Trailer 2” and “Trailer 3”… Disc Two Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (1:20:52): the cast and crew discuss the making of the movie spread out over six different pieces: Shooting Begins: New Mexico, Back to School: New Haven, CT, Welcome to the Jungle: Hilo, Hawaii, On-Set Action, Wrapping Up! Each piece goes into depth about the five locations and the behind-the-scenes stuff is excellent giving us a great view of the making of this type of big budget picture. Some of this material was done as web docs on the Indiana Jones website, but these are the full, expanded editions of those. As I said in the evaluation of the video portion, Kamiski shot the picture to look very hot and bright with the light blown out, and here you get to see how he achieved that effect. I’m a complete geek for the look of pictures and how the cinematographers achieve the looks of a given project so seeing how Kaminski shoots is fascinating. There has also been much criticism of the use of CG effects intruding on the world of Indy, but watching these docs shows just how much was done practically, on sets, with set pieces for the actors to run around. The picture has approximately 570 CG shots, which, when you compare it to the Star Wars prequels that had upwards of 2000 CG shots, 570 really isn’t much. Warrior Makeup (5:34): we get to listen to Felicity Bowring (makeup department head) describe the process of costuming and making up the warriors. The Crystal Skulls (10:10): turns out the little buggers have a basis in history. Spielberg introduces us to them while Ford and Lucas add some more info. Stan Winston and his team and Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas also contribute. There are a lot of good close-up shots of the alien skeletons as well as good descriptions of how the model makers created them. Iconic Props (9:59): this piece goes into depth on the props, again, with good close ups and explanations of them. There are a couple interesting cameo props seen here but quite difficult to see in the film itself. The Effects of Indy (22:41): Paul Huston, one of the model makers on the original movies, jumps to this one as an ILM digital artist. Other ILM’ers contribute to show us their work for the digital effects, and Pablo Helman pops up to show us some of the miniature work. This is kind of a ho-hum piece as we’ve seen time and again how digital effects are done. Adventures in Pre-Production (12:45): Ben Burtt and John Williams are featured here to talk about the importance of their role in the production. I always enjoy seeing what Burtt finds in everyday life to add to these pictures, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Closing: Team Indy (3:40): Spielberg comments on the overall production and its success set to a montage of behind-the-scenes shots and the highlighting of key persons in the production. Pre- Visualization Sequences: consists of three parts: Area 51 Escape, Jungle Chase and Ants Attack. You see the animatics of these key scenes, but it may have been better to have them next to their finished counterparts. Galleries: consists of photos from various parts of the production: The Art Department (The Adventure Begins, Cemetery and Jungle, Akator); Stan Winston Studio (Corpses, Skeletons & Mummies, Aliens & Crystal Skulls); Production Photos; Portraits; Behind-the-Scenes Photographs. One of my favorites shows Lucas wearing a “Han Shot First” t-shirt. Conclusions: Quivering in the shadow of it’s predecessors, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes very close to re-igniting the passion, excitement and newness of past fortune and glory. The Blu-Ray is a treasure chest of bonus features along with great audio and video. Getting a glimpse of the first three Indy pictures via the bonus material only whets our appetite for their eventual BD release.