Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
In the 80s and well into the 90s (despite Howard the Duck, which this reviewer actually enjoys in a so bad it’s good kinda way) George Lucas was still the man. With the original trilogy of Star Wars, he had managed to set things up in the beginning with a terrific first screenplay. But recognizing the limitations he had as a writer, and how difficult it was for him—along with setting up multiple businesses—led Lucas to hand over writing duties to others on the last two Star Wars films and the Indy pictures. This is not to detract from his contributions; Lucas helped shaped each and every one of these movies; it’s simply to illustrate a rather fundamental shift in his working practice and the reaction to it post the Star Wars prequel trilogy and the long wanted fourth Indiana Jones entry.
Lucas took more active participation in the storytelling of the prequels and in the fourth Indiana Jones picture, and has being paying for it ever since. Fanboy backlash on his writing for Star Wars final three entries turned truly acidic, and would continue after Indy’s long awaited fourth adventure.
Indy 4 was really never meant to be, but only a few years after The Last Crusade fans were hungry for another adventure with Dr Jones. It was Harrison Ford himself—inspired by the constant stream of ‘when will you do another Indiana Jones movie?—that approached Spielberg and Lucas about doing another one.
The task of figuring out how to do it would take a lot longer than anyone could have guessed. The three power players could just not come to an agreement on how to proceed and the years turned into a decade and change. M. Night Shyamalan and Frank Darabont were but two of dozens of writers tasked with bringing Indy back to the big screen. Jeff Nathanson broke the back of the story, and then David Koepp was brought in to finalize what became Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
As so much time had passed, Spielberg, Lucas and Ford felt it necessary to acknowledge the passage of time. Indy’s next adventure would be set in the Fifties, during the cold war, and, instead of being a nod to the cliff-hangers of the Thirties and Forties, it would honour the sci-fi B-Movies of that era. The Russians would torment Dr Jones this time and an old friend would return to upturn Indy’s life and bookend the series.
Well, unless you’ve been under a rock for the last four years, we all know what followed. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull absolutely killed at the box office, but got nary a kind work critically. Accusations of absurdity, terrible scripting, ludicrous plot devices, and all manner of negativity followed from critics and fanboys alike. Even in forums, covering the upcoming blu ray release, people lamented the fourth instalment’s inclusion.
When this reviewer handed in his praise and four star rating for the film, he received the largest quantity of hate-email ever, and received accusations of dishonesty and being paid off by Paramount or Spielberg or Lucas (I wish!) to say nice things about it. But this reviewer has always loved Fifties B-Movies, and he has always loved Indiana Jones—it wasn’t a stretch for me.
Is it absurd? Inter-dimensional beings, Indy’s boy swinging Tarzan style through the jungle, and many others were stated as reasons the film sucks. Well, playing devil’s advocate: A scarred hand with an exact replica of the Staff of Ra? A heart torn from a man’s chest and he still lives? One inflatable lifeboat acting as a parachute from a crashing plane? A gunshot healed merely by a goblet of water? Is it because the first three Indy pictures are more focused on the supernatural, rather than the fourth’s science fiction? Indy’s adventures have always included absurdities. I took no offence to it.
Is it badly written? It’s pacing is solid, the performances and dialogue of all the actors never jar like some of those poor sods in the Star Wars prequels. I think there are too many characters, and the reuniting of Indy and Marion is underwhelming and not worthy of Raiders. I think another pass was warranted on the script. It was rumoured online that Raiders’ scribe Lawrence Kasdan was brought in to polish some dialogue. If this is true, I think he should have been given a shot at a draft. This script isn’t in the league of the other three, but it’s certainly not a badly written movie.
‘It didn’t feel like an Indy movie’ is another one bandied about. Well, in this one there is some resonance for me. I applaud their efforts to deliver something surprising, but this is a marked departure from what came before, both in focus and execution. Douglas Slocombe, who has long since retired, was missed behind the camera for me. The use (OVER-use) of CGI, considering the subject, was predestined, but its presence is overpowering and doesn’t do the film any favours in terms of continuing the series’ visual DNA.
I think, after the fact, both the makers and audience—if this should be the last one—would want the bookend instalment of the series to harken back to the first film. They included the right character to do it, too, but the focus this time was on the McGuffin more than anything else. There are some sweet moments, but they are always swamped under the deluge of swiftly moving imagery. Nods to Raiders, brief as they are, tease at what might have been.
The vitriol targeted at George Lucas was well underway, come 2008, and while I can safely say I am in the camp that prefers his earlier work to now, and I don’t like where the Star Wars saga has gone, I will never lose sight of the fact these beloved franchises came from his melon, his understanding of mythology, and his will to get them made. He didn’t destroy anything: they’re still there! I don’t like the newer stuff anywhere near as much as the original stuff, but I wouldn’t even have the newer stuff to like less if not for that man. So George thanks for one of my favourite characters in the whole world. (No cheques from Lucasfilm pending, I swear!).
As for Harrison Ford, I said it in my much maligned review in 2008, and I’ll say it again today: he was amazing. Pushing 70 and his physicality has not waned a fraction. I won’t go as far as ‘the Beards’ in proclaiming Harrison looks the same as he did in ’89, but he made it fun for this reviewer to watch. Roger Moore, still to this day the longest serving James Bond, says he regrets doing A View to a Kill simply because he was too old. Seeing badly matched stuntmen do most of his fights, one has to agree. Harrison Ford enthrals because Indy always seems outmanned, outgunned, and on the brink of defeat; and being older only adds another layer of that ‘will he get out of this’ wonder we love so much. He utterly convinces and proves that he, and he alone, for all time is Indiana Jones.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Finally presented by Paramount in glorious HD, it must be noted that the films all look great, with the original three enjoying a brand new gloss to their film stock. This is definitely worth the upgrade from the DVD releases a few years back. Each film is presented in 1080p high definition with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that honors the source sound with bombastic tones.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. This is the same transfer as the one released in 2008 and, with bold colors and a nice filmic feel to its science fiction, it doesn’t disappoint. Featuring standout color reproduction, fine attention to detail, and depth, the film never offers a dull visual moment. From the bright courtyards of Marshall College to the dark, cavernous chambers the adventurers find themselves in later in the film, the image never falters in reproducing excellent results in every frame.
They blew it, folks. There is nary a commentary on any of these discs. Definitive? Hell, no. Prepare to shell out more dough in the near future.
This franchise means a lot to audiences everywhere. For over 31 years, the character of Indiana Jones has been a part of our popular culture. There’s no way this set – a long time coming – could satisfy everyone. Aside from some pretty awful packaging with each disc housed snugly inside a pocket within the book pages, leaving them vulnerable to scratching and fingerprints, the set is a nice beginning to what will probably be re-released next year in single packaging (with director’s commentary). The binding is tight and the packaging is sturdier than most. It’s cool, but I am always a bit wearisome of having to slide a disc into its sleeve. While the four discs don’t contain any supplemental material, there is a bonus disc that houses everything you ever need know about the making of these films.
The seven hours of supplemental material almost makes you forget the lack of commentary. Although, very little of it is new. If you’ve owned the DVD set, you know most of the featurettes already. There’s really no point in rehashing those. The new supplemental material takes the cake. There is a documentary of new bonus features for Raiders, mined and rescued from Spielberg’s archive. There are a lot of new behind the scenes footage, on-set footage and alternate takes; all previously unseen. The two individual featurettes, titled “From Jungle to Desert” and “From Adventure to Legend” are interesting in their depth of information and their display of the on-set giddiness that was a part of making this character so charming. Everyone is happy and excited and I miss those days. The Bonus features are presented in standard and high definition (as indicated below) in English with English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
- On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
- From Jungle to Desert
- From Adventure to Legend
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary previously unavailable)
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD)
- Behind the Scenes ?The Stunts of Indiana Jones
- The Sound of Indiana Jones
- The Music of Indiana Jones
- The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
- Raiders: The Melting Face!
- Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-ups)
- Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (with optional pop-ups)
- Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute
- Indy’s Friends and Enemies
- Iconic Props (HD)
- The Effects of Indy (HD)
- Adventures in Post Production (HD)