Can you make the argument that a movie that made over $300 million at the box office is underrated? I think when it comes to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull you can try to make that argument. Considering the movie is a follow up to one of the greatest adventure franchises of all time, expectations were simply astronomical going into the movie, and the results were a divisive mix amongst audiences. Some loved the movie for bringing back Harrison Ford in a big way and reminding all how much fun this series can be, others simply threw their hands up, saying that the movie was unable to live up to the other three films, all of which are now considered pop culture canon, and damning George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for their attempt.
So is this movie as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark? No it isn’t, but how many Action movies made since Raiders have been that good, even in this particular series? What we have in Kingdom is a movie trying desperately to please, and on an entertainment value level, I say it succeeds for the most part. The movie is packed to the gills with action, features an engaging storyline, has a terrific cast of villains and brings back one of the greatest Action heroes ever to grace the silver screen.
Completely embracing its pulp adventure roots, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a throwback, not necessarily to the 1930s serials that the previous movies emulated, but to the 1950s Sci-Fi picture, which was the B-movie equivalent of the time period this film takes place in. Elements such as psychic villains and the crazy old scientists have been added to the Indiana Jones playbook, as well the movie having an ending very reminiscent of that era, which is completely in keeping with what the film makers wanted to do. While the Science Fiction aspects may have been the biggest pill to swallow when it came to this movie’s audience, those who embraced it walked away with a thrilling adventure with an epic conclusion. Perhaps the ending doesn’t have the emotional resonance of the previous three films, but still packs quite a punch and ends on the best possible note it can.
One of the things to really love about this movie is how Spielberg and Lucas don’t treat this like the 4th Indiana Jones adventure, but more like the 6th or the 7th, as if they never stopped making the movies. We’re given characters that are almost treated as if we know them already and don’t need painstaking introductions, such as Ray Winstone as George “Mac” McHale, Indy’s sidekick, or Jim Broadbent as Dean Charles Stanforth, Jones’s superior at the Marshall University. Jones himself even seems to have a war record that is mentioned in passing, leaving us wondering how awesome it would be to fill those blanks in, with Indiana Jones as a full blown spy working for the Allies against the Nazis. It’s this type of storytelling that really makes this movie still feel like a pulp adventure, like we’re just getting another single peek into a series that should be 27 volumes long.
Other newcomers to the series, including Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams and Cate Blanchett, as the villainous Soviet agent Irina Spalko, are both superior casting choices. While it was a bit of a given that Blanchett would be fantastic, LaBeouf proves he can really hang with the big boys and shows terrific chemistry with the rest of the cast, including the returning Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s first and only real love. It can be odd when a sequel seems devoid of most or every supporting member of its series except its main character (see Live Free or Die Hard), but this fourth Indy film manages to avoid that trap by making us feel like all these characters truly belong in the first place, whether we’ve met them before or not.
The biggest reason to watch this movie though, is the return of Harrison Ford, and we’re talking the “real” Harrison Ford. We’re not talking about the man that seemed to be sleepwalking through pictures like Hollywood Homicide and Six Days, Seven Nights, we’re talking about the Action movie icon that thrilled the kids of the 1980’s and made them want to be Han Solo and Indiana Jones. The actor on screen in Kingdom is a man that cares about his craft, and brings a full, red-blooded Action performance to this movie, making you care about this character and this man, whether he’s punching Commies in the face or not.
Also back is that “lighter than air” feel that really only this series and the Original Star Wars Trilogy seem to possess. The movie is simply exhilarating when it comes to its action scenes, and Steven Spielberg shows exactly why he can put together kinetic sequences like nobody’s business. No “shaky-cam” here or wire-work (though you do get a little capoeira in one scene), just good-old fashion fist in your face heroics. The sequences all are shot with clear editing and awareness of space and geography. We’re not weighed down with wondering who’s hitting who because we’re shown exactly that, and usually its Indy making some bad guy wish he’d never been born by throwing a punch that sounds like a shotgun going off.
Those worried this movie won’t look like it fits with the other three because of too much CGI or because Spielberg’s modern DP, Janusz Kamiński, worked on the film instead of original Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, should put their fears to rest. Spielberg and crew have painstakingly tried to replicate the look of the other movies, and while the film’s last truck chase may have indeed have a little too much effects wizardry and not enough actual stunt-work in certain places, the movie more than makes up for those shortcomings with its energy and class. There’s way more to love here than there is to hate, and this movie reminds us exactly why we loved this series in the first place.
It’s wholly possible that if it hadn’t been weighed down with insurmountable expectations, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull might have been celebrated as the first rate adventure that it is. Sure, the movie’s not perfect, but it’s a ton of fun and compared to some of the knockoff schlock such as the three Mummy or National Treasure movies, this is an absolute masterpiece. This deserves another look on DVD and Blu-ray, because there’s a lot of entertainment to be found.
Well, if you can say anything good about Lucasfilm, its that you usually get a stunning presentation from them, and this is no different. This Blu-ray print is as gorgeous as anything Lucasfilm has ever put on home video in any format, and if this is any indication, I can’t wait to see the rest of these films as well as any of the Star Wars films on BD. The colors are striking and there’s absolutely no film grain present on this disc throughout. The sound here is also fantastic. John Williams’ score is beautiful and absolutely sings on this disc and Indy’s punches have never sounded so brutal.
Blu-ray Disc 1:
Indiana Jones Timelines– This interactive feature consists of three different graphs, the Story Timeline talks about the key events of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the Production Timeline, which traces back the history of this film series, all the way back to George Lucas having the original idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and finally the Historical Timeline, which deals with the real life history behind the events of the film.
The Return of a Legend – This is a 17-minute Featurette/tribute to the Indiana Jones series. This is fun stuff chronicling why it took so long to get this film on screen, mostly because the creators couldn’t get together on the movie’s script as well as other stumbling blocks that would come up. This is good stuff with candid interviews with Spielberg, Lucas and Ford.
Pre-Production – This goes just under 12 minutes and covers the Pre-Visualizations stage of the picture as well as things like preparations for Harrison Ford’s costume and Shia LaBeouf’s preparation for his sword fighting sequences.
Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Presented in several parts in beautiful HD, you get a feature length Production Diary showing how this came together. Chapters include Shooting Begins: New Mexico, Back To School: New Haven, Connecticut, Welcome to the Jungle: Hilo, Hawaii On-Set Action,Exploring Akatorand Wrapping Up!, and of course, my favorite of these would be Onset Action, which is awesome to watch as we get to see Harrison Ford rocking out while doing a lot of his own stunts. It’s tough not to feel that old nostalgia watching Ford jump out of cars and fighting big Russians, all the while not giving his stuntmen a lot of things to do.
Warrior Makeup – Neat little Featurette covers the look of the natives at the end of the movie. Some cool split screen shots shows a bunch of the warriors at different stages of makeup.
The Crystal Skulls – This little piece has Spielberg and Ford giving us a little background on the skulls themselves and the myths that surround them. It then goes into detail about how the skulls for the movie were constructed.
Iconic Props – This is a look at all of the awesome props used in the movies and in some of the others. Let me tell you, showing scenes from the previous movies in HD, I can’t wait till they hit Blu-ray. We get a closer look at things like Cate Blanchetts’s sword in the film, as well as many of the pages with Peruvian dialect in the picture, and other props.
The Effects of Indy – You get an in-depth look into the effects of this picture here, which are mostly digital effects, but at the same time ILM’s work here is so spectacular that often you can’t tell that they’re CGI. We also get some cool info on the miniatures used in the film, as well as how the two are mixed with real sets for certain shots, such as the final temple sequence. Awesome stuff.
Adventures in Post Production – This Featurette has a look at the post process, which is as intensive as ever. My favorite portion of this looks at the work done by genius Sound Designer Ben Burtt. He talks about how he used his experiences on the previous films as a basis for the sounds used here in this new picture. Burtt is one of the most important contributors ever to work at Lucasfilm, and here his work is once again amazing.
Closing: Team Indy – Spielberg and others say goodbye to this film and maybe the whole series.
Say what you want about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but this Blu-ray is awesome to behold. The entire thing presented in HD, and this disc is absolutely gorgeous from beginning to end, whether you’re looking at the movie itself or footage of the film making process. The print here absolutely shines, maybe even a little too much, as the print is so good this may even separate the picture a little too much from what has gone before it. Still, at its best, this is absolute bliss and this BD is bursting at the seems with extras, which is pretty much all you could want.
Paramount presents Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent. Written by David Koepp and George Lucas. Running time: 122 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on Blu-ray: Oct 14, 2008. Available at Amazon.
Tags: George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg