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

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

October 17, 2008

Director: Steven Spielberg,
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf, Igor Jijikine,

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DVD Review

It was with equal parts anticipation and trepidation that fans of the Indiana Jones films greeted news that a new installment entitled, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was in the works. Would Harrison Ford be too old and look ridiculous as the adventurer? Would George Lucas and Steven Spielberg rely too much on CGI? How would this new film hold up to the original trilogy? In preparation for the inevitable fan backlash, Lucas predicted that the film would be disliked by many because nothing he or Spielberg could do would live up to fans’ high expectations. He certainly learned this lesson well on Star Wars Episode1: The Phantom Menace (1999). Lucas was partially right. While Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a massive commercial success and was fairly well-received by critics, it was savaged by a very vocal contingent of fans on the Internet who felt that Lucas and Spielberg blew it and that the film failed to live up to the high standards set by the original trilogy.

This film is set in the 1950s with Lucas and Spielberg wisely addressing Ford’s age (how could they not?). This time around, we are introduced to Indy (Ford) and his partner Mac (Winstone) while they are being held captive by Russians masquerading as American soldiers at what will eventually become the top secret Area 51 military base. The Russians are led by the ruthless Irina Spalko (Blanchett) and are looking for a crate that houses the mysterious Crystal Skull. Why they are interested in this exotic item is initially unclear but Indy is able to escape and head back home only to learn that he’s been fired from his job at Marshall College because the FBI question his loyalty to the United States (yeah, right). Indy meets Mutt Williams (LaBeouf), a greaser who looks like he stepped right out of The Wild One (1953), who tells him that a former colleague of Indy’s, Dr. Oxley (Hurt) is being held captive in Peru while looking for one of the Crystal Skulls. He was also trying to find El Dorado, a mythical lost city made out of solid gold. Indy and Mutt team up to find Oxley and along the way rescue Mutt’s mother, Marion Ravenwood (Allen).

There is a nice moment where the film acknowledges the passing of Indy’s pal Marcus Brody and his father to which the Dean (Broadbent) of the college sagely observes, “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.” The Dean also observes that he hardly recognizes the country anymore because the threat of Communism has made everyone paranoid. Sound familiar? This acts as a nice little commentary on our current situation – just substitute Communism for terrorism. Lucas and Spielberg also insert all sorts of cultural references throughout the film, like a fight that breaks out in a diner between college athletes and greasers, and period rock ‘n’ roll music mixed with John Williams’ rousing score.

One of the many criticisms directed at the film was the ridiculousness of some of Indy’s escapes from dangerous situations, like the one early on where he survives a nuclear explosion. Let’s not forget that in Temple of Doom (1984) he escaped an impossible fall from an airplane with an inflatable raft. These films are not grounded in realism and this one is no different. Another gripe was the use of CGI, but aside from some dodgy looking killer ants, it’s used judiciously and blends seamlessly in with the rest of the film.

The chemistry between Ford and Shia LaBeouf is quite good, especially early on when they first meet and get involved in an exciting chase through Marshall College campus. This is the first role LaBeouf has done in his young career where he finally has decent material to work with and demonstrates that he has the ability to hold his own with the likes of someone like Ford. The veteran actor is in great shape and it is wonderful to see him don the Indy gear yet again. Ford can still pull off the physically demanding stuff and slips effortlessly back into the role as if no time has passed between this one and The Last Crusade. It feels like he has been phoning in his performances in films for quite some time but this isn’t the case on this one and you can tell he’s having fun by the passion in his performance. It also great to see Karen Allen return as Marion – easily the best of Indy’s love interests in the franchise. She was the strongest, most interesting, and had the best chemistry with Ford. They pick up where their characters left off in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and it is obvious that the undeniable rapport between them is still there.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has all the elements you’d come to expect from an Indiana Jones films: exciting chases, exotic locations, merciless villains, humor, romance, and a dash of the otherworldly. So, how does it rate against the other films in the franchise? Raiders will always be the best, but this new one is certainly better than Temple of Doom but not as satisfying as The Last Crusade (1989).

Special Features:

The first disc starts off with “The Return of a Legend.” With the final shot of The Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg assumed that he was done with Indiana Jones but five years ago fans started asking about another film. It was Harrison Ford who expressed an interest in revisiting the character and kept after George Lucas and Spielberg. This featurette takes a look at how this new film came together.

“Pre-Production” examines the preparation and planning that went into the project. Spielberg wanted to maintain the same look as the previous films. We see Ford getting outfitted with his iconic gear while Shia LaBeouf says that Spielberg gave him three films from the 1950s to study in order to get a handle on the time period that the film takes place.

The second disc starts off with the impressive “Production Diary: Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” It is broken down into six featurettes or can be viewed all together for a feature-length look at principal photography: from the first day to the final one. For Spielberg it felt like no time had passed between films. This is a detailed look at shooting in key locations of the film: New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii, and four soundstages in Los Angeles. There is plenty of on-location/on the set footage as we see Spielberg and co. at work.

“Warrior Makeup” takes a look at the make-up job done on the warriors that guard the temple that houses the Crystal Skulls.

“The Crystal Skulls” examines the legend behind them and the mystery of how they were made. Stan Winston and his team created the props for the film and we see how they were constructed.

“Iconic Props” takes a look at some of the gear used in the film – who uses it, when it’s used, and its source.

“The Effects of Indy” examines the digital photography and matte paintings done in the film. We see the scenes that were enhanced by CGI and how the final product was achieved.

“Adventures in Post-Production” takes a look at editing phase. Spielberg shot and edited on film, the latter of which is rare nowadays. Editor Michael Kahn talks about the challenge of working on this film while Ben Burtt shows how he created some of the sounds used in the film.

“Closing: Team Indy” is a brief montage that pays tribute to the cast and crew of the film.

“Pre-Visualization Sequences” features the rough, CGI footage for three sequences from the film that gave the filmmakers an early look at what they would look like.

Also included are five galleries of artwork, production stills and behind-the-scenes photographs.

Finally, there are three trailers.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 89%

Website: http://www.indianajones.com/site/index.html

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