Fri, 29 Oct 2021

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (4K UHD)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: David Koepp (story by George Lucas & Jeff Nathanson)
Stars: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Cate Blanchett (Irina Spalko), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Shia LaBeouf (Mutt Williams), Ray Winstone (George "Mac" McHale), John Hurt (Professor Oxley), Jim Broadbent (Dean Charles Stanforth), Igor Jijikine (Dovchenko)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2008
Country: U.S.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 4K UHD

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Even the most diehard fans of the Indiana Jones series will have a hard time denying that there was really no need for a fourth movie. The intrepid, swashbuckling, self-deprecating archaeologist action hero had a wonderful send-off back in 1989 with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, having found the Holy Grail, repaired his relationship with his father, and literally ridden off into the sunset. Hell, the film even had the word last in the title.

Yet, 19 years later we got Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which picks up Dr. Jones's life two decades after the last installment. Little has changed with Indy (he's still getting in way over his head on a regular basis), but he's older, crankier, and has just a slight edge of melancholy about him that suggests a "seen it all" weariness with only brief flashes of the "trust me" cockiness he had so many years ago. This is the one thing the film gets just about perfect. While it takes a bit of getting used to, Harrison Ford's fourth outing in a fedora and bullwhip has a seasoned charm that only he could pull off. Indiana is gray and a bit grumpy, but he's still in the game and capable of some amazing feats, which means that his character still plays that fanciful line between the impossible and the everyday (albeit with some heavy leaning toward the former).

Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by David Koepp (War of the Worlds) from a story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson (The Terminal), Kingdom of the Crystal Skull finds Indiana in a world much different from the one in which we last left him. No longer is it a pre-World War II era of nefarious Nazis and the exotic Middle East; rather, it is 1957 and we are smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. Spielberg has some fun in the opening moments, establishing a tone of almost carefree silliness that starts with the Paramount logo dissolving not into an actual mountain, but into a gopher hill, which is followed by a rancorous Nevada desert race between military vehicles and carload of cackling teenagers blasting Elvis Presley on the radio. A new world, indeed.

We are then quickly ushered into the familiar realm of adventure as Indiana and his partner George "Mac" McHale (Ray Winstone) are captured by machine-gun-toting Soviet agents led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), who is every bit the cold, nasty villainess we might expect. They take Indiana back to the secret government warehouse we last saw at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and demand that he help them find something that is stored there-a corpse from a certain supposed crash site in New Mexico in 1947.

The very mention of Roswell (although that word is never used) is an immediate sign that we're in different genre territory here, as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ends up being more Close Encounters than Temple of Doom. Being set in the 1950s, the heyday of Cold War-inspired science fiction paranoia, it makes a certain kind of sense that the film would skew more toward the mysteries of outer space than the wonderments of religious artifacts. If the first three Indiana Jones movies mimicked the pulpy, cliffhanging Republic serials of the 1930s, then the fourth outing is a conscious homage to all those sci-fi potboilers of the 1950s about alien saucers, body snatchers, and giant radioactive mutants. In theory, this is a brilliant and daring move, showing that Spielberg, Lucas, and company are not interested in simply rehashing what worked before, but in taking the series in a new direction.

I would love to say that this works as well in practice as it does in conception, but it doesn't quite come together. Part of it is just the dissonance involved in seeing Indiana Jones in a science fiction movie, but part of it is also the fact that the film is missing the gravitas of chasing after mythic religious artifacts of great supernatural power. There is something deadly serious about pursuing the Ark of Covenant, even if said chase is done in the grand tradition of throwaway popcorn movie fun. It gave weight to the comic book action without making it too serious. In Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we get plenty of the same cliffhanging scenarios-underground tombs, secret Mayan temples, chases through the Amazonian rainforest, multiple rides over increasingly larger waterfalls-but it doesn't have the same underlying urgency because the object of pursuit feels as manufactured as the pursuit itself.

This is not to say that there isn't some great fun to be had. There are a number of action setpieces that crackle with tension and have you nearly laughing with surprise. The film is also nicely grounded in the back-and-forth relationship between Indiana and a surly, switchblade-wielding teenage greaser named Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), who shows up like Marlon Brando in the The Wild One (1953) and becomes Indy's new sidekick. Their age-versus-youth routine is frequently funny and sometimes touching, especially if you see it as a self-conscious reworking of Indiana's back-and-forth with Sean Connery as his father in The Last Crusade. Having Mutt around to constantly refer to Indiana as "Pops" and "Old Man" reminds us that Dr. Jones is up there in years even as it also drives a stake through the idea that youth rules. We are also treated to the return of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indiana's love interest in Raiders who is every bit as gutsy and independent as we last saw her (her first line in the movie is an exact replication of her "Take your hands off of me!" from the first film).

But, as much as there is to admire and enjoy in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it just never works as well as I'd hoped. At times you can feel the film reaching desperately for something unique and amazing, which usually results in something simply ridiculous (such as Indiana surviving an ill-timed nuclear blast by getting inside a lead-lined refrigerator or, more embarrassingly, Mutt swinging through the jungle like Tarzan with cartoonish CGI monkeys). Spielberg and Lucas are clearly having fun, and at times it's infectious. A motorcycle chase through Indiana's college campus has a daredevil giddiness to it, a scene of fisticuffs surrounded by millions of swarming ants is as exciting as it is cringe-inducing, and some of the jokes pop with real delight (one of the best scenes involves Mutt trying to save Indiana from sinking into a sand pit by throwing him the end of a giant snake).

And it's not incidental that many of the film's best scenes are the ones that have the least special effects. So much has changed in the past 20 years, and where Kingdom of the Crystal Skull disappoints the most is the way in which its heavy reliance on CGI alters the fundamental look and feel of the film. It encourages Spielberg to go for shots that couldn't be done in real life, which is the very basis of the series' visual panache. The gritty, no-nonsense stuntwork and expansive location shooting, especially in Raiders, gave those films a thrilling vibrancy and sense of genuine daring, while too much of Crystal Skull looks and plays like a cartoon where nothing is at stake except how many 1's and 0's can be forced onto the screen. There may be more going on in this film's rainforest chase than in the desert chase in Raiders, but it never has the same punch because it's always so obviously a product of sets, green screens, and computer crunching. This kind of digital extravaganza gives us eye-popping visuals to be sure, but they feel out of place in a series that has always found the best of the past and made it feel excitingly new.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 4K UHD Blu-ray
Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection 4K UHD Box SetIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is available on 4K UHD as part of the "Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection" box set, which also includes Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

Aspect Ratio2.39:1
Audio

  • English Dolby Atmos
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Subtitles English, English SDH, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, Thai
    Supplements

  • On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark two-part documentary: "From Jungle to Desert" and "From Adventure to Legend"
  • "The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark" 1981 documentary
  • "The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark" documentary
  • "The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" documentary
  • "The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" documentary
  • "The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" documentary
  • "The Stunts of Indiana Jones" featurette
  • "The Sound of Indiana Jones" featurette
  • "The Music of Indiana Jones" featurette
  • "The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones" featurette
  • "Raiders: The Melting Face! " featurette
  • "Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies" featurette (with optional pop-ups)
  • "Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations" featurette (with optional pop-ups)
  • "Indy's Women: The American Film Institute Tribute" featurette
  • "Indy's Friends and Enemies" featurette
  • "Iconic Props" featurette
  • "The Effects of Indy" featurette
  • "Adventures in Post Production" featurette
  • Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer, and Re-Issue Trailer
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateJune 8, 2021

    COMMENTS
    In 2012, I wrote that Paramount's "Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures" Blu-ray box set offered "hands down, the best the Indiana Jones films have looked on home video." Well, here I am nine years later essentially saying the same thing: The new "Indiana Jones: 4-Movie Collection" box set, while disappointing in terms of packaging and a lack of any new supplements, nevertheless offers us the best presentation of these films, with the upgrade to 4K UHD/Dolby Vision significantly increasing the level of visual quality. All four films have been given new scans and look like new, with Raiders of the Lost Ark being particularly impressive, having been subject to extensive film and digital restoration that results in a crisp, clean, intensely filmlike transfer (thank you, Paramount, for keeping the grain!). The palette of Raiders is fairly limited, mostly browns and grays, but flesh tones and the occasional burst of bright colors (as in the ending) are nicely toned and well saturated. All signs of dirt, damage, and age have been carefully removed, and the film has been color corrected and timed, yielding what I imagine to be its best presentation since its theatrical release in 1981. Temple of Doom looks just as good, although it is a much different looking film. The color schemes that dominate the film are much different than the more earthy tones that dominate Raiders of the Lost Ark. The bright reds and strong contrasts of the Beijing opening sequence are gloriously presented (this is the first time I can remember seeing the film where Spielberg's directorial credit didn't bleed into the dragon's mouth behind it), as are the dark tones and shadow detail of the scenes in the Temple of Doom. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is arguably the most colorful of the first three movies, with expansive blue skies, intense stained glass windows, and, of course, Venice, although it also features plenty of earthy tones in the desert scenes. The image is sharp and clear, with excellent detail, even in the darker sequences such as the journey through the Venetian catacombs. And, of course, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, being the newest film in the series, looks spectacular, even though all the digital effects and polishing that went into its production result in a shinier, less gritty look than its predecessors, despite having been shot and cut on film.

    As for the soundtracks, all four films have gotten complete remixes supervised by Ben Burtt, the Oscar-winning original sound designer, at Skywalker Sound, and the results are absolutely magnificent. The Blu-ray soundtracks were great, but these are even better. Now, there is always the risk that such remixes will fundamentally alter the soundscape and interfere with our aural memories, but that is not at all the case here, as Burtt has effectively expanded the soundscape and deepened the effects without altering the balance. The soundtracks have excellent dynamic range and consistently impressive and enveloping use of the surround speakers (check out the opening sequence in the South American rainforest in Raiders and notice how well the surrounds create a living ambient environment, or note the intense directionality in the motorcycle chase sequence in The Last Crusade.

    The supplements here are simply a repackaging of those that appeared in the 2012 "Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures" Blu-Ray box set. And, while they are great, one wishes some new material had been included, especially since that set failed to include a bunch of suppelments from the original Crystal Skull Blu-ray and the 2003 Raiders DVD.

    On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark is a two-part, 60-minute documentary that is comprised entirely of never-before-seen outtakes, alternate takes, deleted scenes, and on-set footage shot during the production and circa-1980 interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, and several others. The footage is fascinating in that it gives us an unadorned, fly-on-the-wall peek into the creative process, whether it be Spielberg working out the Nepal gunfight with the stunt coordinator, or the construction of the Well of the Souls set. The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark is an hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary from 1981 that has been pulled from the archives and dusted off. We also get three making-of documentaries covering each of the first three films. Together they run a full two-and-a-half-hours, although they are not equal in length. The Raiders documentary is the longest at almost an hour, while The Last Crusade is the shortest at just over half an hour. They are all excellent documentaries featuring all-new interviews with everyone involved in the films, including Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, and a host of others. Sprinkled throughout the docs are storyboards, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as many revealing tidbits in the interviews. From the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray we have a much shortened version of the making-of documentary, trimmed down from 80 minutes to about half an hour.

    A number of shorter behind-the-scenes featurettes from previous DVD box sets are also included. From the 2003 set we get four featurettes that focus on specific aspects of the films' production: "The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones," "The Sound of Indiana Jones," "The Stunts of Indiana Jones," and "The Music of Indiana Jones," each of which runs 10 to 15 minutes in length. There are also a number of featurettes from the 2008 "Indiana Jones: The Adventure Collection" box set. The 9-minute featurette "The Melting Face!" looks at the special effects involved in the gory climax of Raiders and features interviews with Spielberg, make-up effects maestro Chris Walas, and visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund. It also includes a recreation of the effect using all the same techniques. There are also two featurettes, both of which you can watch with or without pop-up trivia. "Creepy Crawlies" (12 min.) is about the use of snakes, insects, spiders, rats, and other skin-crawling vermin in the films (it features interviews with members of the cast and crew, although the most interesting part is a brief glimpse of an ill-fated attempt to use mechanical snakes for Raiders). "Travels With Indy" (11 min.) looks at all the various locations used in the Indiana Jones movies. "Indy's Women," includes nine minutes of excerpts from a 2003 interview with Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, and Allison Doody that was convened by the American Film Institute in honor of the original trilogy being released on DVD. "Indy's Friends and Enemies" is an 11-minute featurette that looks at the most memorable characters in the series (love interests, villains, and sidekicks) and features interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, producer Frank Marshall, and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Willard Huyck, and Gloria Katz.

    Finally, we have three featurettes that originally appeared on the Crystal Skull Blu-Ray. "Iconic Props" (10 min.) is hosted by property master Doug Harlocker, who actually spends more time talking about specific props made for that film than the "iconic props" like Indy's whip. "The Effects of Indy" (23 min.) explores the film's visual effects, both practical and digital, which includes everything from the miniature town built for atomic destruction, to the complex use of computer programs to create tens of thousands of ants (although, not surprisingly, there is no mention of that awful, awful monkey sequence in the jungle-perhaps they were too embarrassed to discuss it). "Adventures in Post-Production" (13 min.) features interviews with composer John Williams, sound designer Ben Burtt, and editor Michael Kahn, who actually edited the entire film on film, rather than digitally.

    Each disc includes a teaser trailer and theatrical trailer for its respective film, while Raiders also includes a re-issue trailer.

    Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

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