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The Indiana Jones Films on DVD: Raiders of the Lost Ark Temple of Doom Last Crusade Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 2-Disc Special Edition DVD Review

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie poster Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Theatrical Release: May 22, 2008 / Running Time: 122 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg / Writers: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson (story); David Koepp (screenplay)

Cast: Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Cate Blanchett (Irina Spalko), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Shia LeBouf (Mutt Williams), Ray Winstone ("MAC" George Michale), John Hurt (Professor Harold "Ox" Oxley), Jim Broadbent (Dean Charles Stanforth), Igor Jijikine (Dovchenko), Alan Dale (General Ross), Joel Stoffer (Taylor), Neil Flynn (Smith), VJ Foster (Minister), Chet Hanks (Student in Library)

Buy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from Amazon.com:
2-Disc Special Edition DVD 1-Disc DVD Blu-ray Disc The Complete Adventure Collection (5-Disc, 4-Movie Set)


After nineteen years away and many return rumors, Indiana Jones finally made it back to the big screen in 2008. Inspired by the characters of 1930s film serials, the George Lucas-created,
Steven Spielberg-directed hero faced cinematic competition noticeably different than when he was introduced in 1981. Next to broody superheroes and state-of-the-art computer graphics, Indy must have been perceived by some as old-fashioned and quaint. And yet, as written and as portrayed again by Harrison Ford, the fedora-topped, whip-wielding protagonist remains true to character, serving as a welcome throwback for many excited moviegoers.

In a wise move, the real world passage of time since the previous outing is reflected here. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes place in 1957, and that period setting drives the story more than any of the three prior films. Instead of trotting out the Nazis as unobjectionable villains once more, this sequel provides greasers, communists, and other hallmarks of the compelling age near the height of the Cold War.

Archetypal greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) fills in Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) on the specifics of this movie's plot. Wouldn't it be funny if Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) said "Talk to the hand" here? With a thick Russian accent? Still no? Moving on...

At the start, part-time archeology professor Henry Jones Jr. (Ford) finds himself and confidant Mac (Ray Winstone) hostages in a plot by Soviet militants to heist a valuable chest from the top-secret US government warehouse of Area 51 in New Mexico. Leading the mission is Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), a KGB agent specializing in the psychic and paranormal. Not helping matters is the seemingly traitorous Mac. Of course, the situation ends with our hero making another narrow solo escape to the triumphant sound of John Williams' familiar theme.

The incident and aftermath put Jones' tenured teaching gig in jeopardy, but that only gives him more time for adventure. That's just what comes his way when he's approached by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a slick, rebellious youth like the ones famously dramatized by James Dean and Marlon Brando. Mutt enlists Jones to help him track down a mutual friend, who, after discovering a crystal skull, has gone missing along with Mutt's mother. Accepting the assignment, Indiana journeys with Mutt to Peru, where he thinks the disappearance is connected to vanished 16th century Conquistador Francisco de Orellana and fabled city of gold El Dorado.

You may not foresee precisely where this is going, but if you've seen the first three films, you can guess just how it will play out. Indiana continually defies death, logic, sky high odds, and an assortment of natural and human opposition, while encountering clues useful both for rescuing the missing parties and solving the mankind-puzzling mystery that's behind it all.

I have a theory that after a certain amount of time passes -- let's say ten years -- the window of opportunity for making a satisfactory sequel to a popular movie shuts. Others who subscribe to this brilliant belief no doubt do so in response to the few projects that have put it to the test (like The Godfather, Part III and Disney's more ridiculous direct-to-video follow-ups) and faltered. Some skepticism entered this film alongside me, suspecting that more than just Indy's poetic sunset ride at the end of now falsely-named The Last Crusade would be sullied by an overdue 21st century effort.

Indiana Jones wonders, Wasn't your typical 1950s family a little livelier than this? Maybe Harrison Ford's huge salary meant scrimping on extras. Like old times, Indy and Marion (Karen Allen) find themselves in another fix. This time, it's quicksand of the deadly dry variety.

Maybe it's because I've never considered the original trilogy sacred, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull provides the same caliber of entertainment as its distant predecessors and unquestionably surpasses at least one of them (Temple of Doom). It also bests the franchise starter, Raiders of the Lost Ark, in characterization and boasts a rich, coherent storyline that rivals all those in the series' past.

Now a senior citizen by any standard, the all-gray Harrison Ford doesn't miss a beat with his exemplary acting and gusto. It's tough to believe he's seven years older here than Sean Connery was playing his father in Last Crusade. Though the film makes a few mentions of its hero's increasing age, it doesn't reduce calls for derring-do. Ford handles all the jumps, fights, and motorcycle rides without the word "pension" entering our minds.

Though given far less to do, his co-stars all sell this as an authentic Indiana Jones film. Ray Winstone and Jim Broadbent are aptly cast in roles resembling those played earlier by John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott. Karen Allen makes a welcome return as Indy's spunky Raiders flame Marion Ravenwood. It's somewhat surprising that Academy Award darling Cate Blanchett would sign on, but she convincingly pulls off her Ukrainian foe with bob cut and thick accent. John Hurt makes the most of his few moments as a professor who's lost his marbles. While I continue to prefer his work of yore ("Even Stevens"), Spielberg speed dial Shia LaBeouf does well in the film's archetypal second biggest role. Sadly, the missed Mr. Connery appears only in a lingering photo that kills him off.

"Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" opens with Indiana Jones and his associate Mac (Ray Winstone) facing gunfire from Russian soldiers. Mutt, Ox (John Hurt), Marion, and Indy huddle around the magnetically-charged crystal skull.

While Crystal Skull is plenty diverting, it falls short of greatness. One of the biggest shortcomings is pacing. The film starts fast and soon pleases us with two impressive set pieces (one, a chilling visit to a nuclear testing community; the other, a motorcycle chase through Jones' college campus). All feels right when the movie settles in for some character and plot, but it's too eager to return to action.
In the second hour, the action sequences have grown weary, but the film chooses to pile on more, serving us no less than three exhausting climaxes. The design makes this feel longer and flabbier than the appropriate 122-minute runtime suggests. Even when approaching tedium, the movie retains some appeal due to Spielberg's skillful direction. Humor also helps, with the film's gentle tone feeling closer to Last Crusade's winning blend than Temple of Doom's broad flatlines. In short, the movie joins The Color of Money in bursting my proposed sequel statute of limitations.

A distinctly old school hero, Indiana Jones nonetheless played to at least three generations of moviegoers this summer. A colossal $126 million opening weekend thrust the movie towards a studio-delighting $317 M domestic gross, handily surpassed overseas for a worldwide total of nearly $785 M. By the numbers, Crystal Skull crushed its three antecedent chapters. Taking disproportionate movie ticket price inflation into account, however, the fourth movie falls short of all the others in domestic earnings. Still, Indy rode high against his more contemporary multiplex company, trailing only box office behemoth The Dark Knight and, narrowly, Iron Man among all 2008 releases.

Anticipated to be one of the holiday season's big sellers, Paramount released Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this week in four home video versions: a single-disc DVD, two-disc editions on DVD and Blu-ray, and as part of The Complete Adventure Collection (a 5-disc, 4-movie box set pairing the 2-disc DVD with last spring's re-releases of the original trilogy). Our review looks at the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD, sure to be the most popular pick with extras-loving Indy fans.

Buy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: 2-Disc Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 14, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Also available in Single-Disc DVD, on Blu-ray Disc,
and in 5-disc The Complete Adventure Collection DVD
THX-Certified
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrives looking like the past Indiana Jones movies, but without the signs of age and causes for concern.
As far as I can see, the picture quality on this widescreen-only DVD is perfect. Is it any surprise in 2008 that a new film that cost $185 million to make looks flawless on DVD? No, and if you think so, you're probably into Blu-ray, in which case you can skip ahead to the special features discussion below.

The film's dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also a sensory treat. It expertly delivers the wide range of noises expected of a major action blockbuster (explosions, car engines, bombastic orchestration) and goes even further with a nuclear detonation, waterfalls, and pulsating crystal skulls. Abundant directionality makes this active mix an engulfing one too. The potent audio isn't limited to the feature; Harrison Ford's bass voice in Disc 2 interviews gives a subwoofer a workout.

Indiana Jones creator/writer George Lucas discusses one title considered (Indiana Jones and the Attack of the Giant Ants) in "The Return of a Legend." Harrison Ford makes sure he still has control of the old bullwhip in the Pre-Production featurette. Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, and Harrison Ford run a comic idea by Steven Spielberg in a section from Disc 2's massive Production Diary.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Unusual for most major studio films but not Steven Spielberg ones, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull offers neither deleted scenes nor audio commentary. It does, however, provide a wealth of behind-the-scenes video extras.

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Almost all of these are exclusive to the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray. But those buying the discounted single-disc edition don't come away empty-handed. They get a half-hour of supplemental content in two featurettes.

"The Return of a Legend" (17:30) discusses the long, fascinating journey to make a fourth Indiana Jones film. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, writer David Koepp, and leading cast members open up about the starts and stops, the development of the story, abandoned and approved ideas and characters, and alternate subtitles considered. For not digging deep, it's a compact and satisfying piece.

"Pre-Production" (11:45) documents aspects established before the cameras started to roll. Among the topics addressed here are Spielberg's visual planning, costuming Indy, casting Shia LaBeouf, sword training, whip practice, and reuniting with producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy. Single-disc buyers should appreciate getting this, but it feels like just the start of something much bigger.

Disc 2 continues and goes a lot further. The second disc's central inclusion is "Production Diary: Making of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", which can be viewed as an 80-minute documentary or six featurettes. It's fairly coherent as the former, tracking the filming of a major project made in secrecy with a fake title (Genre) and much attention to detail. Covering the production in New Mexico, Yale University, and Hawaiian jungle, the first three parts are especially strong, beginning with the very first day of shooting and addressing so many facets of the story and realization. Like the film itself, the second half is a bit long-winded.

A hairless Asian man sits still and patiently as he gets his "Warrior Makeup." The Crystal Skulls, the McGuffin of the fourth Indiana Jones film, get their own Disc 2 featurette. Property master Doug Harlocker waves a music-making bamboo stick in "Iconic Props." Is the Indiana Jones universe's answer to the lightsaber?

Shorter featurettes follow, delving into the technical specifics and minutiae of the film.

"Warrior Makeup" (5:30) consists mostly of makeup department head Felicity Bowring discussing the full-body task of transforming actors into tribal warriors with tattoos, prosthetics, and clay mud.

"The Crystal Skulls" (10:00) discusses the design, significance, and manufacturing of the eponymous props made at Stan Winston Studio.

"Iconic Props" (9:50) goes into detail on an assortment of objects found or meticulously crafted for the film. Most of the things prop master Doug Harlocker shows us can be classified as weaponry.

Model supervisor Brian Gernand gets to play giant while showing off the miniature scale nuclear testing community. Pouring cornmeal became a major part of the foley ant sounds, one of several things we learn in "Adventures in Post-Production." Crudely-animated CGI versions of Mutt and Marion watch as Indy aims a bazooka.

"The Effects of Indy" (22:35) deconstructs the various methods used to bring the film's action set pieces to life. In particular focus are the opening Paramount logo mountain transition, Area 51's vast contents, the miniature bomb testing community, the swarm of digital ants, the temple destruction, and the scale waterfall. It's better than your routine visual effects featurette.

"Adventures in Post-Production" (12:40) covers the final efforts on the film: editing, sound design, and John Williams' scoring. Of the three, sound and music claim most attention.

"Closing: Team Indy" (3:40) is a video montage of dozens of crew and cast members ranging from high-level producers and the stars to the caterer. It's followed by a credits scroll for Disc 2's extras.

Three nifty Pre-Visualization sequences are provided: "Area 51 Escape" (3:45), "Jungle Chase" (5:40), and "Ants Attack" (4:20). With what looks like all the shots used in the filmed version, they depict standout action sequences in crudely-animated but fairly detailed CGI representations of the cast and sets. John Williams scoring makes it easy to overlook the lack of dialogue.

This Art Department gallery still depicts Indiana Jones, Mutt Williams, and the Cobwebby Cave. Disc 1's main menu gives a little more visual spice than your run-of-the-mill montage.

Next, we get five substantial image galleries offering one picture at a time.
The Art Department gives us three mixes of pre-production drawings and paintings, adding up to 171 stills. The Stan Winston Studio (78 stills) supplies multiple looks at the creation of things like corpses, skeletons, and crystal skulls. Production Photographs (73) provides the movie chronologically in pictures, while Portraits (62) does the same but focusing on individual characters. Behind-the-Scenes Photographs (40) then reminds us it's a movie with shots of cast and crew interacting.

Under "Trailers", we get three previews: Theatrical Trailers #2 and 3 (1:45 each) for Crystal Skull and a 65-second ad for last spring's new Indiana Jones Trilogy DVDs. I have no idea why Crystal's first trailer isn't here, but it's just nice to get the tightly-edited promos in high quality video and robust 5.1 sound.

Finally, there is a demo of Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures that will play when inserted to an Xbox 360 system. I don't have one, but anyone with a computer can download a PC demo of the enjoyable game online.

Besides offering the feature and most extras in high definition, the Blu-ray version of Crystal Skull includes one exclusive supplement: a series of three interactive timelines (Story Development, History, and Production) consisting of text and short videos. The Blu-ray edition actually carries the same SRP as the two-disc DVD, although most retailers aren't discounting it as much.

The main menu is essentially the same on both discs. It offers a satisfying blend of montages and distinctly Indy imagery (maps, artifacts, symbols) while the iconic John Williams score flares. After transitions, submenus are static but accompanied by more Williams score.

In cover art and packaging, the Special Edition of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opts for tradition instead of striking a more powerful store and shelf presence (the assortment of retailer exclusives more aspire to the latter). The obligatory cardboard slipcover adds some relief, reflection, and a second spine to the keepcase artwork. Both feature the iconically-posed hero nearly as silhouette against an adventurous air of Indy posters' trademark golds, oranges, and yellows. There are no inserts within the side-snapped case.

Like father, like son? There's another leather jacketed Henry Jones along for these adventures. Even the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion can't render the silhouette of Indiana Jones less than recognizable.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

While vocal Internet fanboys disagree, I believe Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reaches the same heights as past Indiana Jones movies and even improves upon them in some ways.
Not bad for a series back from a 19-year hiatus with all its old ways and a sexagenarian action hero. Were I fonder of the original trilogy, maybe certain things about this latest film would bother me. But the style, spirit, and setting satisfy, and my only real problem is the tiresome excess of big second half action sequences. Based on the surprising amount of fun supplied here, I wouldn't mind seeing Indy's adventures continue in a few years, especially in the way the closing shot suggests.

If you feel the film deserves entry into your collection, then I would recommend picking up the 2-Disc Special Edition. The standard single disc still provides a formidable presentation and two solid featurettes. But with the minimal initial sales price difference, it makes sense to splurge and get all the good stuff Disc 2 has to offer.

Buy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from Amazon.com:
2-Disc Special Edition DVD / 1-Disc DVD / Blu-ray Disc / The Complete Adventure Collection DVD

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Related Reviews:
The Original Indiana Jones Trilogy: Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
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Alvin and the Chipmunks Go to the Movies: Daytona Jones and the Pearl of Wisdom Pushing Daisies: The Complete First Season
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The Cast and Crew of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
Shia LaBeouf: Transformers Disturbia Holes Disney Channel Holiday The Even Stevens Movie Surf's Up The Greatest Game Ever Played
Cate Blanchett: Elizabeth: The Golden Age The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou | Ray Winstone: Beowulf: Director's Cut King Arthur
John Hurt: The Black Cauldron Valiant | Jim Broadbent: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Hot Fuzz
Produced by Steven Spielberg: Poltergeist Who Framed Roger Rabbit | Writer Jeff Nathanson: Rush Hour 3

Indiana Jones Adventure, The Disneyland Attraction:
Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic A Musical History of Disneyland Interview with Tony Baxter, Senior VP Disney Imagineering

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Reviewed October 15, 2008.



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