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Blu-ray Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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The Film

Steven Spielberg and Co. probably should have known better than to try and make lightning strike in this same place — and for the fourth time. Indiana Jones will forever be a fixture in American film history, a character so iconic he overshadows the films himself, which are still among the best adventure movies ever made.

But nostalgia has a habit of getting in the way of common sense, I guess, and that’s probably the best explanation for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a film that manages to often match the original trilogy in high-octane energy, but rarely in wit, ingenuity or entertainment value. It’s not nearly bad enough to sully the franchise’s good name, and the legions of fans who haven’t revisited Indy in years will likely find it pleasant enough, but I have a hard time believing this is the best story they could come up with.

Yes, the verdict of underwhelming has to fall squarely on the shoulders of the story and screenplay here. You can’t fault Harrison Ford, who seems to be remarkably spry for a man his age and slips back into the leather jacket and fedora quite comfortably. You can’t fault Karen Allen, who is clearly having the time of her life reprising Marion and pulls off the verbal spars with Indy like a day hasn’t passed since 1981. And you can’t fault Spielberg’s direction — there are a number of scenes that recall the excitement of the original films, and the rest are at least handled capably.

These elements work. Unfortunately, George Lucas ran out of good ideas somewhere in the last three decades and no one has bothered to tell him yet. The plot centering on inter-dimensional beings – no, they’re not aliens, even if they look exactly like aliens – is dull and requires a lot of wordy exposition that will mean nothing to most people. At least we had some frame of reference with the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail.

Making matters worse is a script full of sodden one-liners that are quite happy to fall flat on their faces and too many unfocused supporting characters. I suppose a lot of fans will just be happy to see Indy in an all-new adventure, and there are moments where the nostalgia outweighs the film’s flaws, but there are too many of them to not feel like Indy got a little gypped this time around.

The Blu-ray Disc

As is to be expected, the transfer is spectacular on a disc that will likely be one of the highest selling Blu-rays of the year. Indiana Jones gets the technical treatment he deserves, with a picture that features highly saturated colors and deep blacks. Spielberg employs a lot of deep focus shots in the film, and the HD picture faithfully reproduces these shots, keeping even the farthest background elements of a shot in sharp definition.

More than any other Indiana Jones film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull features palettes of bright colors, like in the scene where Indy finds himself in the manufactured town about to be annihilated by the nuclear test. The vibrant pastels come through clearly and beautifully, making the film easy on the eyes at least.

In addition, the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound is well-utilized in a film that includes its fair share of car chases and explosions. The sound design by Ben Burtt is typically brilliant and deserves to be heard like this.

Special Features

There are several special features on disc one, including an interactive feature that combines the production, historical, and film timelines, allowing users to compare the three and see where they overlap. There are also two featurettes focusing on the pre-production aspect of the film, both of which are fairly interesting.

Disc two is loaded with nearly three hours of featurettes which, surprisingly, are almost all worthy of note. A six-part production diary documenting the making of the film is a definite highlight, as are three pre-visualization sequences showing computer renderings of three key scenes the way they were envisioned before filming began. The rest include looks at the makeup design, sound design, props, and post-production, as well as several different photo galleries.

Presented in HD, the special features are interesting regardless of your opinion of the film, as they present a well-rounded look at most of the elements of producing a feature film, particularly a high-budget blockbuster like this one.

The Final Word

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Blu-ray is worth the purchase simply because it’s Indiana Jones… I mean, you have to have a complete collection of all four films, right? It’s a beautiful transfer and the special features are engaging, which helps you forget the film itself is nothing special.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.