Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 2-Disc Special Edition
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 122 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: October 14, 2008
Review Date: September 26, 2008
Seeing as how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has been directed, produced, written, and acted by the same basic team of artists who have been with the series from the very beginning, it should come as no surprise that this fourth installment in the phenomenally popular Indiana Jones series is cut from the same cloth as its predecessors. While not really constituting an advance on what has gone before, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should give many fans exactly what they expect: quips, quests, and quarrels. Some may be disappointed that the show doesn’t attempt to push the series farther than the previous sequels, but with this installment coming almost twenty years after the last one, it’s understandable that the filmmakers would not want to upset any apple carts and instead have chosen to go over familiar territory with only cursory changes to the landscape.
It’s 1957, and anthropology professor Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds himself on a quest to find the lost city of Akator, home of the legendary El Dorado (City of Gold). He’s given a clue sheet offering directions to his locale by a rebellious young man Mutt Williams (Shia La Beouf) who has come by it from his estranged mother Marian (Karen Allen). On the clue sheet is also information concerning the need for gaining possession of a crystal skull which is a necessary key to unlocking the city once it’s found. The problem is that a group of Russian spies headed by cutthroat Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) is also hot on the trail since the legend goes that anyone who comes into the possession of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls will have limitless power. Naturally, with Jones’ expertise in translating ancient dialects and finding lost objects, the Russians are eager to capture him and force him to help them locate Akator.
Everything one would expect to see in an Indiana Jones movie is here: the opening breathless adventure that establishes the identities of the antagonists, the many chases (particularly on motorized vehicles), the cunning and cruel head adversary, a turncoat among the ranks of the heroes, and an object of supernatural power in a far off land waiting to be discovered and put into use. Steven Spielberg directs all of the marvelous chases with their derring-do and comic highlights with the same aplomb he brought to the first three films in the series. He has more CGI at his disposal this time out (and he uses it lavishly though in the case of the giant ants, it‘s fairly predictable), but the hallmarks that made the series really special: the series of miraculous stunts involving everything from jeeps to waterfalls and the bracing camaraderie of the core company once they’re united on their quest is solidly in place. And he’s made sure that the script by David Koepp includes enough winking references to both the Indiana Jones legacy and the Cold War period (a peep at the Ark of the Covenant, the expected snakes and other creepy crawlies, references to the KGB, Ike) to keep the mood a bubbly mix of the merry and the macabre.
Harrison Ford might not have donned the fedora and brown leather jacket for twenty years, but he returns comfortably into his iconic role without missing a step with a comfortable ease that’s a pleasure to watch. Karen Allen’s feisty Marian also makes a welcome return though one wishes she had been given even more to do. Instead, Shia La Beouf actually exhibits the devil-may-care bravado as Mutt that gives the movie the same kind of kick in the pants that Sean Connery did for The Last Crusade. One could almost envision a further set of sequels featuring La Beouf as the next generation of archeological action hero (that is if he isn‘t too encumbered doing sequels to Transformers). Cate Blanchett does well by her cookie-cutter villainess with Igor Jijikine as the equally nasty Col. Dovchenko a worthy accomplice. Ray Winstone has some very good moments as fellow undercover operative George "Mac
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may not reveal any new facets in the diamond of the original creation, but the different setting in which it’s been placed still makes for a wonderful, prized possession.
The anamorphically enhanced 2.40:1 transfer of the theatrical release is presented in a clean and creditable DVD package. Though the opening scenes are a bit disheartening with a surprising softness in long shots, the image soon improves in sharpness and color saturation with warm skin tones and excellent black levels. Sharpness improves to such an extent that the use of CGI in many shots is painfully obvious. Overall, it’s a very good image, but I don’t think the clarity and depth of field quite matches the three Indy releases in the previous DVD box set. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is everything one hopes for in an action picture of this kind. Full use of the surrounds is expected and delivered marvelously with superb use of the LFE channel that will rattle your windows on several occasions. There are also some exciting pans across and through the soundstage which keep excitement ratcheted to the max. With the indelible John Williams music filtered engagingly through the various channels, this is an outstanding audio mix.
Both discs in the set contain special features. All are in anamorphic widescreen.
Disc one begins with “The Return of the Legend,” a 17 ½ minute summation of the genesis for this fourth Indiana Jones saga featuring Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, and screenwriter David Koepp. This and all of the other features were produced by Laurent Bouzereau.
An 11 ¾ -minute featurette on the pre-production preparations for the film include information on Spielberg’s use of CGI storyboards for pre-visualization, the preparation of the Indy costume in multiple copies, the casting of Shia La Beouf and his workout regimen with fencing and motorcycle control, and Harrison Ford’s reuniting with his whip.
“Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is an 80-minute documentary that covers every facet of the production from the first day of shooting in New Mexico for the Area 51 scenes through location work in Connecticut and Hawaii, and then back in four different Hollywood studios for the rest of the principal photography.
“Warrior Makeup” is narrated by makeup artist Felicity Bowring showing the five to six hour makeup jobs needed for the various Akator tribesmen. This featurette lasts 5 ½ minutes.
“The Crystal Skulls” finds us visiting the Stan Winston studio to see how the title skulls were arrived at for the final design and how they were manufactured along with the crystal skeletons for the climactic sequences. This featurette runs 10 minutes.
“Iconic Props” discusses the multitude of props necessary for use in the movie. Propsmaster Doug Harlocker gives us a 10-minute tour of the warehouse where props for the film are stored while discussing which props needed to be made and which ones could be found outright.
“The Effects of Indy” has head special effects supervisor Paul Huston and numerous other assistants discussing the various uses of both CGI and miniatures in the production of the movie. This informative featurette runs 22 ¾ minutes.
“Adventures in Post Production” has film editor Michael Kahn, sound designer Ben Burtt, and composer John Williams discussing their work on the film in an interesting 12 ¾-minute feature.
“Closing Team Indy” basically spends its 3 ¾ minutes as a photo credit homage to the many members of the crew who made the production possible.
The viewer is offered three pre-visualization sequences (CGI storyboards of various action sequences) from which to choose. The Area 51 Escape sequence runs 3 ¾ minutes. The Jungle Chase is 5 ¾ minutes while the Ant Attack is 4 ½ minutes.
Five step-through galleries are available for the viewer to peruse. The drawings and photographs are arranged in these sections: the Art Department, the Stan Winston Studio, Production Photographs, Portraits, and Behind-the-Scenes Photographs.
Two theatrical trailers are offered, one running 1 ¾ minutes and the other running 2 minutes. There is also a trailer for the Indiana Jones DVD set of three movies which runs 1 minute.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may not cover any new ground for the series, but it’s a fun Indiana Jones adventure that can stand tall with the other two sequels (the original film Raiders of the Lost Ark remains unmatched). Recommended.