Indy 4

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Blu-ray

By Jim Bray

Now I can't wait for the original trilogy to appear on Blu-ray, if only to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

One of the most anticipated new releases of 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thrusts us back into the world of that intrepid, whip snapping adventurer we grew to know and love back in the 1080's. It raises the question "Can Lucas, Spielberg and Ford recapture the magic?"

The answer upon my first viewing of this Blu-ray release is "Unfortunately, no." Maybe I should watch it again, because my son did just that and felt much better about it the second time, but I had real problems with Indy 4, issues that make me rate it as the worst of the four films - and since I didn't think much of "Temple of Doom", that's saying something.

It's now the 1950's (undoubtedly since Harrison Ford is - and looks - a lot older than he did in the last film, which came out in 1989) and, since the Nazis are no longer around to make convenient villains,  Indy now finds himself going up against the Soviets. So what we get is a cold war adventure that has Indy racing the Russkies to South America in search of a mysterious crystal skull of legend.

After the initial dissolve from the Paramount logo to – a gopher mound with its digitally created resident (the first thing that rubbed me the wrong way) we come across the evil Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), a soviet agent leading her team in its hunt for something hidden in Roswell, New Mexico. And since Roswell is famous for its UFO tales (whether true or not), any suspense for the rest of the film is blown.

I was hoping this would just be a prologue, much like the other three movies opened with either the windup of his previous adventure or (in the case of "Last Crusade") a flashback, but such was not to be. Here, Indy is being dragged along by Spalko and her crowd of commies, who remain the villains for the rest of the film.

It turns out that the skulls of his quest were supposedly created by an alien race and the quest for same will lead him from Roswell to Peru and other points exotic. Along the way he'll meet the teenaged Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) who, in a turnaround from Indy's "prodigal son" of "Last Crusade", is Indy's long lost (and, in fact, unknown to Indy) son, thanks to the relationship with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) that obviously continued after they went for a drink at the end of "Raiders."

This time he crosses whips and guns with the Russians, outwits hordes of man-eating ants (undoubtedly since bugs, snakes and rats have already been used), and eventually discovers what appears to be a doorway to the universe.

Besides the fact that, at least when compared with the original films, Indy 4 has little pacing and even less energy, the biggest flaw with the movie is George Lucas' idea of updating the Indy concept to fit the time setting, trying to make it resemble a '50's sci-fi film instead of a 30's serial. So instead of human folklore and religious relics we get alien relics set against a background of nuclear bomb tests.  It just doesn't work and the incongruity of the situation really affected my ability to suspend my disbelief – and I really wanted to like the movie!

Surely there's another classic relic besides the Ark of the Covenant or Holy Grail that could still be searched for by an archaeologist in the 1950's.  

In my never humble opinion, if Lucas wanted to do an "aliens in the 50's" movie he should've come up with a new character and a new situation. Heck, he recreated the fairy tale genre with the Star Wars franchise and the "Saturday afternoon matinee" with Indiana Jones. I'm willing to bet he could dream up a kick-butt '50's sci-fi-like tale – but this isn't it. Instead, it comes across as a mishmash - kind of "Indiana Jones Meets the X Files".

The film relies too much on its special effects, too. Indy has always used FX to tell the story, but the movies were driven more by the action and the stunts than the FX. Not so here.  

The bottom line is that the movie comes across as a messy blend of old and new situations and ideas and, rather than being a fresh new take on the Indy franchise, it feels tired and worn out, but with a glossy finish – lipstick on a pig....

Oh, well. At least this may give us a look into what we can expect the original series to look like when it finally appears on Blu-ray (and why didn't Paramount do a deluxe boxed set with all four films, just in time for Christmas 2008?) – if only because we get to see some clips of the previous trilogy in the supplements.

The Blu-ray of Indy 4 features a widescreen 1080p picture, and if nothing else it's a thrill to see Indy the way he should be seen.  The picture is razor sharp and very clean, with excellent color and detail. Blacks are excellent.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround and it's also very good. The soundstage is deep and wide, realistic and with great dynamic range. John Williams' classic score also sounds terrific, and it's integrated well with the rest of the sound effects, dialog, etc.  There's plenty of surround use, not surprisingly, and the effects move from speaker to speaker beautifully.

Paramount and Lucasfilm pile on the extras on this two disc BD as well. There's no commentary track, alas, but there's enough 1080p stuff here to get your teeth into anyway.

Disc one includes "The Return of a Legend", a look at the movie's very long development where they blame the fans for dragging the franchise out of retirement and outline the new film's gestation process. You also get "Pre-Production", which is a pretty interesting look at, well, pre-production, and some trailers.

Disc two includes "Production Diaries", a fascinating six-part look at the production.  "Warrier Makeup" gives you a quick look at the design and make-up for the film's natives, "The Crystal Skulls" focuses on (surprise!) the title props and their history, and "The Effects of Indy" takes us to Industrial Light and Magic to look at the film's major effects sequences.  

"Adventures in Post Production" gives us a quick look at putting the final touches on the film (including a wonderful visit with John Williams), while "Pre-visualization Sequence" looks at the creation of three of the film's action sequences.

Also on hand are still galleries, and an Indiana Jones Timeline, a text-and-graphics thing that offers a sequence of screens by which you can check out Indy's "History", "Production" and "Story".

A great Blu-ray of a not-so-great movie. Now, how about releasing the original Trilogy?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, from Paramount Home Entertainment
122 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen
Written by David Koepp, directed by Steven Spielberg

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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