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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Science Fiction > Cold War > Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008/Paramount/LucasFilm Blu-ray + DVD Sets)

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008/Paramount/LucasFilm Blu-ray + DVD Sets)


Picture: B+/C+†††† Sound: B+/B-†††† Extras: C†††† Film: C-



After nearly 20 years and endless rejections of viable screenplays by George Lucas, a fourth Indiana Jones film was made and in between, Harrison Fordís career became uneven (despite underrated films like K-19: The Widowmaker and The Devilís Own) and Sean Connery retired and would not return for the new film.Many of the rejections were public and the list of those who took a crack (no whip puns intended) at writing a script could make for a long essay and maybe even a book.Finally, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008) was made and it is easily the poorest of the films so far in what many may wish had stayed a trilogy.


Ford returns as Indy, years after taking on Nazis and long after WWII ended.Now, The Cold War rages on and he is in the middle again, kidnapped by armed Soviet spies to the mysterious Area 51 (a locale poorly used) under the leadership of devout Stalinist Col. Dr. Irina Spalko (an underused Cate Blanchett) looking for a tomb Jones helped find years ago.Stuck with buffoon/friend George ĎMací McHale (Ray Winstone, left twisting in the wind here) we find out it is part of the U.S.S.R.ís crazy idea of finding a mind weapon very much like the supernatural weapons the Nazis were looking for before.


In the meantime, Indy has personal items to deal with, including an ambitious student (the awkwardly cast Shia LaBeouf) who is interested in working with Jones outside of the classroom and (in a silly twist) the U.S. Government suspecting Indy of being possibly guilty of treason!


The film jumps the shark early with an escape stunt that offers a five-year-old understanding of nuclear bombs and gets worse from there.The script is all over the place, never finishes anything it starts, has zero suspense, the action is mistimed in a way that it is hard to believe it is Spielberg (especially after Munich) directing this and any hope of recovery goes out the window as comedy overrides narrative as a fill in.The result is Lucasí most confused production since Howard The Duck and Spielbergís weakest commercial effort since Minority Report (2002) or Hook (1991) where they seem to not totally be engaged with the film or material.


The final script was co-written by David Koepp, whose War Of The Worlds treatment was not that bad, but his co-writer was Jeff Nathanson, who has written some of the worst scripts for commercial films of the last 15 years, including the first two unnecessary Rush Hour sequels, Speed 2 and two of Spielbergís poorer recent efforts: Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal.He may be safe, but in a terminally flat and boring way and I hold him far more responsible than Koepp for the terrible, broken up writing.


Then you have a severe lack of character development for everyone in the story, as if they are friends we go out with on the weekends to party with, but the ones we know have been replaced with strangers here.Do they think the audience for this is that lonely?Additionally, there is time (to paraphrase a friend) that it is like being at a funeral where you donít know the deceased or anyone else.Why?


Because this is lightyears away from what made the first three films work, all of which were more coherent than this.The script and film attempts to be all three films at one time or another, but that never coheres with very awkward transitions, sometimes sloppy editing (was this film longer?) and a visual choppiness and incoherency that also sabotages the film.


The original trilogy was shot by the great British cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, B.S.C., but he is retired and Spielberg replaced him with his current Director of Photography since 1993, Janusz Kaminski.The first films (even the darkest, the second, Temple Of Doom) had a rich classical Hollywood look that put these films on the map.Spielberg and Kaminski go for three looks (not from the original trilogy, by the way) that breaks down to the polished Slocombe look, a darker Kaminski look and a cascade of often ugly digital effects that are mess.


Before the film arrived, Lucas and Spielberg said for months that they were going back to old-fashioned visual effects (they had perfected them years ago, after all) and there would be little digital, but that turned out to be very untrue and the result is a confused misť-en-scene that makes the Indy Lego videogame look like the work of Slocombe!


With the 1980s long over, the cinematic component of which Spielberg and Lucas had co-invented, I hoped they could give this some edge, take a step forward while still making a fun, smart film (after all this time, especially) and really deliver a knockout or at least something different that would be for today and not yesteryear.


What should have been a chance to do something different now that you have Soviets and Science Fiction turned out to be a case of the same can of beans, different label.It was enough that Last Crusade repeated so much of the original Ark, but Crystal Skull (or toy skull, for all of its uses make it more like a utility knife than artifact) is the second retread of the 1981 original.Karen Allen even returns as Marion (in her first female lead role since the underrated Scrooged back in 1988) and that even awkward as it stands despite her best efforts.


The nadir of all this (besides the abundance of digital so bad that they could have shot this in all HD) is a sickening, predictable scene where Conneryís Henry Jones is referenced once again.It was bad enough the character was dead despite Connery still being alive, meaning he could have reconsidered for a fifth film, but from a mile away we get the line about him smiling down on Indy and Mutt (LaBeouf) about family that is like some condescending piece of junk from the Spike network, tough guy idiots fronting or some propaganda film about family being always inarguably perfect and a constant than dealing with the gap in time between father and son.But then, character development is the lowest priority here in the series to date.Second place goes to Mutt swinging though the jungle in a Tarzan reference joke that defines how unfunny the humor is here.When the Bond series did the same joke back in their 1893 hit Octopussy, they knew to quit after 30 seconds, while Spielberg lets it go on far longer than it should.


Jim Broadbent and especially John Hurt are also wasted in a film so out of touch with its audience and the franchise, that many of the often failed imitators of Raiders Of The Lost Ark seem suddenly more authentic, much like the many Star Wars imitators since 1977 seem more authentic since Lucas digital revised the original trilogy over and over and over and over and over again.The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is ultimately an out of touch package deal like nothing we have seen in years and that is why the new Batman/Joker combination of The Dark Knight trumped the film far more severe margin than the previous match-up in 1989.But this time, it was about who cared and acknowledged the audience as mattering.If there is a fifth film, will that one be worse?



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on the Blu-ray and lesser anamorphically enhanced DVD equivalent were shot as noted by Kaminski, but instead of he and Spielberg shooting in lame Super 35mm format, they shot in 35mm with real anamorphic Panavision making the most polished scenes shine and the rest of the atypically dark and overly digital shots look much, much worse.On the Blu-ray, the image holds up better than expected, despite the changes throughout, though the digital is a sticking point.Color is good and the real Panavision comes through in enough shots for the grade earned.The anamorphically enhanced DVD looks poor throughout, with poor detail, definition and Video Black that is weak.


The Dolby True HD 5.1 mix is often good, yet sounds like it is hitting a ceiling in the most dynamic scenes for whatever reason, which is much the way I felt about Paramountís other big recent Blu-ray of Iron Man. John Williamsí score is the same old same old, but the mix still has its moments and the actual recording is at least top rate.Too bad this was not PCM or DTS.The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the DVD is also not bad for an older, lesser format.


Extras are the same on both sets except for the Indiana Jones Lego X-Box 360 Game demo on the DVD.Both deliver several still galleries, trailers, timelines, portraits and ten behind the scenes featurettes.Sometimes, these felt like they were trying to make up for the film and sometimes, it was like the film they were talking about was not the one we got.At least fans will be happy.



For more on Indiana Jones and Howard The Duck, try these links:


Adventures Of Indiana Jones DVD Trilogy Set



Adventure Collection (DVD reissue)



Howard The Duck




-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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