Wednesday, October 15, 2008

From the Archive: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" Blu-Ray Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original Blu-Ray Review of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Indiana Jones and the
Kingdom of the
Crystal Skull”
Blu-Ray Review originally published October 15th, 2008

I love Star Wars with a fierce, geekish intensity, but I would call Indiana Jones my very favorite series from the era, with Raiders being one of my favorite films of all time.  George Lucas was the mastermind behind both, but here’s the difference: he never destroyed the proud legacy of Indy like he did with Star Wars through the atrocious prequels.  Because of the prequels, I think everyone was worried about how Indy 4 would turn out; while it wasn’t the second coming of Raiders by any means, getting to spend a very solid, entertaining two hours with Indiana again was very fun.  Now, it becomes the first Indy film (or Lucasfilm production, for that matter) to hit Hi-Def.  How’s the release?  Find out in my review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Blu-Ray Disc.

My big worry about a fourth Indiana Jones film was that, even if it was a good film by its own rights, it wouldn’t feel like an Indiana Jones adventure.  The easiest way to sum up my praise for the film is that it is a 100 percent Indiana Jones film.  At times, the new film felt like I had plucked a DVD I never knew existed out of my Indy-DVD-box-set, and was projecting it on the big screen.  The plot, the action, the acting, the directing, and the music all reek of Indiana Jones, and it simply rocks.

This is mostly due to Harrison Ford, who after 19 years hasn’t forgotten how to play the role.  His performances in the two films, separated by a gap of 19 years, are seamless.  He’s aged; his face is wrinkled and his hair is grey, but that is the only difference about Indy between the first three films and the fourth installment.  Ford’s recent performances have been without any real energy, his voice more or less expressionless and quiet.  But in “Crystal Skull,” he darts around the screen like he’s thirty years younger, swinging from his whip and punching the crap out of every Russian he comes in contact with.  Harrison Ford is simply one of my favorite actors, and the most gratifying part about “Crystal Skull” is to see him have so much fun in his iconic role.  To me, he’ll always be Indiana Jones; the two names are synonymous.  With “Crystal Skull,” he proves that this is the role that will define his career.

The film has everything in place that made the first three films so great.  Unbelievable action sequences, great humor, a complex but fun to follow plot filled with history, and a hero we love to root for.  But “Crystal Skull” adds some new things to the tried-and-true formula to mix things up a bit, and it works very well, managing to bring more fun to the film.  The film is set in 1957, 19 years after the events of “Last Crusade.”  While the earlier films were set in the 30’s, and represented the era, “Crystal Skull” also represents the era, to great effect.  The opening showcases a classic 50’s car, and plays some classic Elvis to go along with it.  Early in the film, one of Indy’s retorts is “I Like Ike,” and the color scheme is brighter then the previous installments, giving it the feeling of 50’s cinema.  The plot, which I will not divulge here, is more sci-fi oriented then the first three films, a trademark of 50’s cinema, but this gives the film a fresh, original feeling.

This time, Indy is joined by a greaser named Mutt Williams, played by Shia LaBeouf.  I was somewhat skeptical about LaBeouf’s presence in the movie when I read about it, but this is by far the kid’s best role to date.  He’s a great sidekick, and he and Ford have real chemistry on screen.  Karen Allen returns as Indy’s original girlfriend, Marion Ravenwood from “Raiders.”  Ray Winstone plays Mac, one of Indy’s WWII buddies, whose allegiance is questionable.  Cate Blanchett, always wonderful, is great as the Russian baddie Irina Spalko.  She’s menacing, and has an awesome accent. 

The action scenes are incredible as they ever were.  Each film in the series opens with a big set-piece (the temple in “Raiders,” the restaurant/chase scene in “Temple,” and the young Indy scene in “Crusade”) and those scenes are matched by an excellent opening in a certain warehouse in this film.  There’s always a huge action scene ¾ of the way through, which in this film, is an epic car battle in the forest.  It’s unbelievable, and Spielberg reminds us why he’s one of the best directors out there.

I’ll admit, the film is flawed.  I’ve focused on just the positive aspects of the film in this review, and I won’t go into all the little problems I have with it (CGI gophers, pacing, predictability, etc.), but suffice to say, it doesn’t feature the same kind of enchantment that the original trilogy did.  I wouldn’t call Kingdom the worst in the series (that goes to Temple of Doom) but I will never be as enamored with it as I am with the original films. Still, despite all this, and for reasons I’ve listed above, this is absolutely a worthy addition to the series, and a very fun excuse to spend some more time with Indy.

Film Rating: B+


The cinematography of Crystal Skull is different than that of the first three films, with the style reflecting on fifty’s cinema.  The film still looks like a classic Indy film, with a similar level of detail and such, the big difference being that colors in the film are bright and saturated, and everything has a ‘shiny’ quality to it that reflects light in a luminescent way. 

On Blu-Ray, the visual style simply explodes off the screen, resulting in the best HD video I’ve EVER seen; Paramount has hit yet another home run on this format.  The bright, saturated colors are perfectly represented here, with an amazing vividness.  Blacks are deep and solid throughout, and neither contrast nor color intensity wavers even once during the movie.  But it’s the detail that will really make your jaw drop—the sharpness of the image is incredible.  The usual details noticed in hi-def, like facial features, hair, rock formations, grass, trees—all of it looks like you’re looking at a person or out the window, but this image goes a step further, showing us the detail in everything.  Most of the film takes place outside, and the large, sweeping nature shots are a wonder to behold.   

Most DVD and Blu-Ray images falter when it comes to dark scenes or indoor scenes, with failing contrast or a lack of sharpness, but that’s not the case here.  Indoor shots retain the amazing level of detail, as do dark scenes.  I’ve never been able to see so much in a dark, black-heavy scene before.  Be it an indoor scene, an outdoor scene, a dark shot, a bright shot, a close-up, or a large panoramic view, this image maintains a jaw-dropping level of detail.  Most HD images are good if they contain at least one or two “Wow” moments that justify the price of HD, but Crystal Skull is a “wow” image from start to finish that would convince anyone of the worth of hi-definition.

It’s easy to forget about the improvements Blu-Ray makes to sound when faced with such an incredible picture, but this level of fidelity would be impossible on any other format.  Dialogue and music are crisp as can be, but it’s the sound effects that will make your house shake.  You can hear just about everything, with the car-chase scene in the forest giving your stereo the biggest workout.  The clash of swords, the fire of guns, the movement of trees—you can hear it all, and the sound never gets clustered or faint.  If audio is half the experience (as George Lucas himself said), then this is a darn near perfect experience.

Video Rating: 20/20
Audio Rating: 19/20


Paramount really fumbled the ball during the format war, what with their adoption of HD-DVD that resulted in the cancellation of many already-pressed BD titles, and their being the last studio to adopt Blu-Ray exclusively.  Warner Bros. was the hero of the format war, and early this year, everyone had some bad feelings towards Paramount’s home video division.  Since then, however, they’ve more than made up for all that, and have emerged as the studio creating the best Blu-Rays on the market, what with their promise to put all extras in HD (no other studio does this) and their recent home-run releases of Godfather, Iron Man, and now Indy 4 on Blu-Ray.

The extras section on this set may not reach the heights of the Iron Man set, but it’s still very solid.  Disc 1 holds the film and a few featurettes, but once again, Spielberg has refused to record a commentary; I would really love to hear a commentary by him one day, especially one with Ford and Lucas.  Oh well.  Disc 1’s extras start with the Indiana Jones Timeline, which is an interactive map of important events leading to Crystal Skull’s production and release.  It’s pointless.  The Return of a Legend (17:35) discusses the origin of the fourth film; I like all the talk about the original alien ideas, but like the timeline, it skips events like the rejected Frank Darabont script, which I would have liked to hear more about.  Pre-Production (11:44) talks about everything done so that shooting could start, and there’s some cool stories to hear, especially from the lesser-known members of the crew.  Finally, there are 2 great Theatrical Trailers.

Disc 2’s main attracting is Production Diaries: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (1:20:52); it takes you from Day 1 of shooting to the final day, and is very comprehensive in terms of how the film was shot.  There are plenty of cool anecdotes, and again, Spielberg is the most engaging presence.  It’s almost all on-set footage, which is incredibly fun to watch.  The documentary drags in spots, but overall, a solid “making-of.”

In Warrior Makeup (5:34), we learn about the makeup used for the savage natives at Akator.  The Crystal Skulls (10:10) discusses the history behind the real skulls, and how the props in the movie were created.  Iconic Props (9:59) is all about bringing back the famous props from the trilogy for use in the new film.  The Effects of Indy (22:42) features the effects wizards teaching us about the CGI effects for the film, but never touches on the many practical effects, which is too bad.  Adventures in Post-Production (12:44) is mainly about the editing, but talks about other post-production aspects as well.  Closing Team Indy (3:41) is an odd little piece that shows and names many members of the crew, even the caterer.  There are also 3 Pre-Visualization sequences, which are cool because of how closely the finished product matches them.  5 extensive Galleries round out the extras.

As the featurettes go, the best thing is all the on-set footage, which is very fun to see.  My only major complaint about the extras is the arrangement; many of these featurettes could have, and should have, been combined into one feature-length documentary.  My ideal documentary, culled from footage in this set, would be (in this order) The Return of a Legend, Pre-Production, Production Diaries, Adventures in Post-Production, and Closing Team Indy.  Why on earth are they all separate?

All the extras are in HD, and the coolest thing on the entire set, better even than the amazing presentation of the actual film, is seeing clips of the original films in HD.  All I can say is, we are in for one helluva treat when Lucas finally releases those films on Blu-Ray.

Extras and Presentation Rating: 8/10


The disc sports the best HD image I’ve ever seen, and the film is extremely enjoyable.  The extras are great and, despite some small flaws, this is a very good Blu-Ray set that’s worth the cash.  Best of all, it gives us a preview of the unbelievable awesomeness that will be the original trilogy on Blu-Ray.  Please, George, don’t wait 5 years to do this.

Overall Grade: 8.5/10

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