Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, John Hurt, Cate Blanchett
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release date: October 14, 2008
If Babe Ruth, arguably the best baseball player of all time, was alive today, would he plunge head-first into the steroid/human growth hormone fiasco that has led to the decay of the game? He was a great player in an era where these enhancements, not to mention the fancy equipment that players of today now swear by, were non-existent…so what need would he have for them? This is what has happened to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the latest installment in what is arguably the greatest series of action films of all time.
The grey-haired duo of director Steven Spielberg and writer/producer George Lucas find themselves traveling the route so many baseball players (and directors, ahem, Michael Bay) find themselves on today: injecting superhuman strength into their bodies to produce outrageous results. Nowadays it’s so easy to hit a homerun that it’s not even special anymore. The expression ‘chicks dig the long-ball’ is long gone. In cinema, it isn’t special anymore to see extravagant action sequences. Most of them look as though they’ve been filmed in front of a giant green screen, never giving the viewer a sense of reality. Just because you can do practically anything with this technique doesn’t mean it’s a treat to watch. The simple, stylistic sequences that Spielberg did so effortlessly in the previous films are gone, replaced by huge, freakish-looking stunts that look nothing less than fake.
The nostalgia that captivated us in the three previous Indiana Jones films is nowhere to be found in this one, much like a treasure that Indy (Harrison Ford) is always digging for in the depths of the earth. This is one treasure that Spielberg, Lucas, or script writer David Koepp can’t conjure up. Wiped clean away from the screen are the action scenes that not only glorified the trilogy, but glorified the entire action genre. The saying ‘they sure don’t make them like they used to’ has never felt truer. The only consistent things here are the opening vintage Paramount logo and the inspirational20theme music by John Williams — which suffers because we can’t muster up anything to cheer for.
The use of computer-generated effects might work well with modern-day action films such as Iron Man, Transformers, and Spider-Man, but the Indiana Jones movies created their thrills with action sequences that had a gritty ‘reality’ factor to them. The opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is spotless, and Temple of Doom (1984) offers up one of the greatest chase scenes in movie history. None of that stuff looks stale. In sharp contrast, everything about The Kingdom of Crystal Skull feels generic and cheap; from the characters to the locale to the computer animated monkeys, ants, and moles. The movie has no soul whatsoever. Not once do we feel any sense of tension towards Dr. Jones’ life. Dialogue that seems to be forced slapstick and, most of the times, dialogue that begs to be taken seriously plagues the whole movie. After a thrilling opening sequence in a U.S. Army warehouse (where we catch a clever glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant), the movie quickly goes south, no pun intended.
The possibility of screwing up an Indiana Jones film is pretty slim. The only two goals that one should have in mind when making one are: having a reasonable object of desire (Holy Grail, magic rocks that give a village hope, the Ark of the Covenant) and real-looking, pulse racing action sequences.
How is this for a reasonable plot: Indy joins forces with a Marlon Brando/James Dean look-alike named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) and his mother Marion (Karen Allen) — who was left behind by Indy after the first film–to find a crystal skull, located in Peru. The skull has magical, mythical powers and — this being 1957 — has to be kept away from the Russians instead of the Nazis. The skull possibly holds evidence to the existence of aliens and to the golden city of El Dorado. It’s a plot that meshes National Treasure like stunts with X-Files like aliens. The movie eventually chokes on its many plots, while viewers begin to grasp for dear life. With twenty years between films, this is what two masterminds come up with? Puh-lease. Other than the opening shot of Indiana getting out of a car, set against a gorgeous, desert background, there isn’t a single scene that is worth remembering.
The leader of the Russians is Irina (Cate Blanchett), who suffers in contrast with the previous films’ villains. We remember the weird Nazi man who donned an uncanny pair of specs, the bloodthirsty savage who was out for the hearts of his victims–literally–and the blonde femme fatale Nazi who would do anything to obtain the Cup of Life. While Blanchett shows no signs of breaking out of her hypnotic state of dullness, Ford knows what his limitations are in the title role, and doe s what he can with what he’s given. He is less a whip-cracking, globetrotting archeologist than an instructor to Mutt. A door is left open to LaBeouf, who would probably love nothing more than to take the new role as Indiana Jones.
That scares me.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull may own all previous Indy films when it comes to picture. Nothing more, only picture quality. The Indiana Jones trilogy was known to capture a visual look that produced a nostalgic feel. That is now gone with the wind. “Crystal Skull” allows Indy to enter an entirely new realm of an atmosphere. The result makes watching a disappointing film more fun than it should be. That is mostly due to the two mavericks of special-effects; George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” blu-ray captures a beautiful picture, and every film he puts out will undergo special treatment to en sure the best picture possible. “Crystal Skull” is the lone Indy film that relies heavily on CGI work, and which appalled me, but watching it on blu-ray it se4ems to bode well for a home theatre instead of the silver screen. This installment will connect well with younger viewers who’ve never seen the previous three “Indiana Jones” films that are all a flat-out masterpiece. I remember watching this in the theatre and realizing how bad and abnormal certain sequences were (the monkeys and ants especially). Lucasfilm, who does exquisite work at bringing movies to home video, captures blu-ray bliss by eliminating those awkward scenes and layering over them images of startling clarity that never really look film-like.
Warrior Makeup (HD) – A quick view of the people who underwent intense makeup sessions in order to be remarkably transformed in to the temple natives.
Crystal Skulls (HD) – For those of you who didn’t believe crystal skulls actually existed, Spielberg and Lucas provide credible information that is in fact haunting. The skulls’ historical content is put into perspective, as well as how the production team managed to carve up such skulls.
Iconic Props (HD) – Everything from the vehicles and Mutt’s jacket, to Indy’s bullwhip are introduced to us by the man who made each of them possible, Spielberg.
“Closing: Team Indy” (HD) – John Williams’ famous score plays as the entire team from the movie is spotlighted.
The Return of a Legend (HD) – For all of those who were involved with the three Indiana Jones’ films never thought that a fourth installment would occur. A detailed look at the development process and the fans that demanded a new installment that. In this feature we see glimpses of past Indy films for the first time in high-def. We wait eagerly.
Pre-Production (HD) – Final castings are discussed as well as the locations. Karen Allen is particularly spotlighted for her return to the franchise.
Theatrical Trailers (HD)
Production Diaries (HD) – This feature literally tears apart the entire film and about its production process. It begins with six sections: Shooting Begins: New Mexico, Back to School: New Haven, Connecticut, Welcome to the Jungle: Hilo, Hawaii, On-Set Action, Exploring Akator and Wrapping Up. All sections offer insightful commentary.
The Effects of Indy (HD) – Spielberg discusses how the new technology changed his previous views of Indiana Jones and how they supposedly look so much better.
Adventures in Post-Production (HD)
Pre-Visualization Sequences (HD) – The Area-51 Escape, Jungle Chase and Ants Attack are displayed in rough and choppy versions.
Still Galleries (HD) – Over 150 images.
Indiana Jones Timeline (HD) – A slick feature with an equally impressive navigation system that chronicles every minute detail in three separate sections: History (real life events that helped shape the script), Production (the sweat that went into making Indiana Jones) and Story (highlights the crystal skulls and their history).