Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review
High expectations and I suspect a lot of fans growing up considerably over the years between The Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull resulted in quite the backlash against Indy’s last hurrah this summer, but like Eamonn, whose thoughts I am in complete agreement with, KOTCS feels like an Indy movie and is an entertaining one at that. Moving the timeline forward some twenty years works perfectly, matching both Harrison Ford’s age and giving some new life to the franchise by replacing Nazis with Russians. Likewise, the time period works well for the character of Mutt, a greaser who is prepared to die so long as his hair is combed right. The mythology employed for the central adventure storyline is almost as well established as that seen in Raiders and The Last Crusade, and the humour running throughout the film is more in line with those two also. Sure, the fridge is a little far-fetched, the monkeys are a bit daft and Marion driving over the cliff is one of few parts in the film where I stopped smiling and enjoying the adventure ever so slightly as it pushes the limits just a little too far, but on the whole KOTCS is a good fun adventure and reprises the character better than I thought would have been possible. I’ll direct you to Eamonn’s review for a more detailed account, and Kevin’s review if you’d like a more critical take.
The Blu-ray Disc
Using a high bit-rate AVC 1080P 2.40:1 widescreen encode the new Indiana Jones looks absolutely stunning on Blu-ray Disc, with the often busy frame overflowing with detail while the vibrancy of the colours and deepness of the blacks give the image a vitality that was lacking in the DVD release. The quality of the encoding continues to support the thesis that Paramount’s new release titles are some of the very best out there, with no sign of unnecessary tweaks such as edge enhancement, whilst colour and shadow delineation is smooth and the minimal grain appears natural. To write anymore would be to simply cover the bases, and that’s not necessary, as this is as close to perfect as you’re likely to see though given Indy’s subdued palette and lighting it may not be as striking as some other titles you’ll see awarded that 10/10 score.
Similarly the English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio mix impresses with an active sound field that balances out John William’s score with the frequent action set-pieces. Dialogue is clear and well placed through the sound stage as are sound effects, with the nuclear blast demonstrating a satisfying level of bass. Whilst not quite as aggressive as some other summer movies, the audio experience here is still engrossing and as a perfect representation of the cinema sound, unlikely to be bettered.
French, German, Italian and Spanish DD5.1 Surround dubs are also offered, along with a host of subtitle options (for the full list see the side-panel).
The extras are a combination of documentaries by regular Spielberg collaborator Laurent Bouzereau, an interactive timeline feature, some pre-viz sequences and a host of galleries.
Disc 1 starts off with Indiana Jones Timelines - the only Blu-ray exclusive extra of the set is this interactive feature that offers production, story and historical timelines. The first and second are fairly self-explanatory, with the former offering a timeline of the film’s production, from idea to script and so forth, while the latter does something a little different, rearranging information found in the film into a timeline that charts for example, when Indy first met Mac, or when Mutt was born. You navigate through the timelines using the directional buttons on your remote, selecting the points of interest the timelines are split into and then are presented with text and usually a picture or video clip to view. The latter falls into the realm of behind-the-scenes footage on the production timeline and film clips in the story timeline. The third timeline, historical, provides you with factual information on various references found in the film, such as details on the OSS or the real life crystal skulls. All three timelines are also synced so if a point in the production references a point in the story or a point in the story references a point in the historical timeline, whatever section you are viewing will have quick links to the relevant section of the other timelines. It’s actually much more simple than I’ve probably made it sound, to the point where the information provided (in the production and story timelines in particular) is rather slight making the interface (which can be a bit sluggish) seem more trouble than it’s worth. The historical information is by far the most interesting on offer, and would have made for a good picture-in-picture or enhanced text track as you watch the film.
The Return of a Legend (17mins) – This promotional piece was probably shown on TV or made available on the internet in the run up to the theatrical release of the film as it basically follows the road to the movie being green lit and then walks us through the story development and casting process. Certainly more informative than most featurettes and with plenty of input from Spielberg, it serves as a decent introduction to the rest of the extras.
Pre-Production (12mins) – The first of the Laurent Bouzereau produced documentary pieces, this one goes through the pre-visualization process with Spielberg and offers a quick look into the casting of Shia LeBeouf and the training he needed for the swordfight.
Theatrical Trailers - Labelled as Trailer 2 and Trailer 3, you know exactly what these are.
Moving onto Disc 2, you’ll find the bulk of the extras which include…
Production Diary – This 80 minute documentary can be viewed in multiple parts and provides a thorough look at the shooting schedule from location work to the soundstage. Talking heads is the order of the day once again with Spielberg joined by various cast and crew (mostly interviewed on-set) providing commentary over the behind-the-scenes footage. Typically well compiled by Bouzereau with a good flow and sense of time progression, my only real complaint is that everything seemed to go stunningly well during the shoot. The stunt work was careful and well executed, the location choices caused no problems and the stages are decorated flawlessly, as least that’s how it all comes across, which makes for a decent enough diary of events, but lacks any real substance. No technical problems to overcome or conflicts to resolve, just a very smooth shoot making for a very light and fluffy production diary. The highlight by far is seeing that Shia was far more afraid of the snake used in the quicksand scene than Harrison.
The remaining documentaries are shorter pieces that focus on specific areas of production and post-production, though all of them are very much in the same style as the main production diary and offer a well edited combination of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage and the odd clip to demonstrate what the work culminated in. These mini-documentaries are mostly self-explanatory, with Warrior Makeup (5mins) covering the tribal markings and laborious makeup process involved to get the desired effect on the natives protecting their land. The Crystal Skulls (10mins) looks at the design and creation process of the many crystal skull props used in the film, while Iconic Props (10mins) covers most of the other major props in the film and shows that sometimes a little too much attention to detail is given to items the audience will never see. The Effects of Indy (22mins) and Adventures in Post-Production (13mins) cover the special effects process, mostly CG but some miniature work. Lastly there is Closing: Team Indy (4mins) which is basically a role call allowing us to put faces to names on the more significant crew members.
Elsewhere the disc also features three Pre-visualization Sequences (14mins) that feature the rough 3D animatics used to block out key sequences. These are surprisingly interesting and feature a lot of information that I’m sure budding filmmakers will enjoy. They cover the Area 51 Escape, Jungle Chase and the Ant Attack. Last of all is an exhaustive collection of galleries that cover every possible facet of the production.
All of the content is presented in 1080/60p with the exception of the trailers which are 1080/24p. Subtitles are available on all extras in all languages listed in the side panel, though it’s worth noting the Indiana Jones Timeline feature is an English only extra.
The film has certainly divided its audience but for my money it’s a good adventure that mixes action and humour well, and most importantly, it feels like an Indiana Jones movie. Whether you agree or disagree, this Blu-ray Disc release is unquestionably solid, boasting an excellent presentation of the main feature and a decent though somewhat perfunctory set of extras.