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DVD Review by David Blackwell


DETAILS:   122 minutes, 2-disc set, multiple featurettes, trailers, galleries, lego game demo

VIDEO:   2.35:1 (Anamorphic Widescreen)

AUDIO:   English/ French/ Spanish 5.1 Dolby Surround

Subtitles:  English, French, Spanish


STUDIO:  Paramount/ Lucasfilm

RELEASE DATE:  10-14-2008

It took 19 years and countless scripts for a fourth Indiana Jones to hit theaters. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a mixed bag. It has Harrison Ford at the top of his game as Indiana Jones and some great action sequences in addition to a few references to Indy's past history, but a poor script and many missed opportunities to use characters to their fullest make this film only marginally better than THE TEMPLE OF DOOM while still not as good as THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE LAST CRUSADE, or some of the best episodes from THE ADVENTURES OF YOUNG INDIANA JONES.

I wonder if the screenplay that Frank Darabont rejected by George Lucas (in 2004) would have been a better film. Now we will never know since INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL drops in many things while not filling the film with enough danger for the characters or not giving a better connected plot. The communist Russians who are the villains of the plot aren't evil enough. They seem awfully too-P.C. beginning with Stalin's favorite scientist Colonel Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett in a hairdo that would make Diablo Cody proud). Elements of the script sometimes are there to push the story ahead. The story tries too hard many times while more thought into the story would have resulted in a more satisfying entry in the INDIANA JONES series. It is entertaining, but yet I fear parts of the film will age badly and not stand-up like the first three Indy films or the Young Indiana Jones series.

The film starts in 1957 where a unit of Russians (disguised as American troops) break into Area 51 with Indiana Jones and his double-crossing spy buddy Mac McHale (Ray Winstone) as prisoners to steal an alien corpse retrieved from the Roswell crash of 1947. After escaping the Russians and a nculear blast (by hiding in a lead lined frig that is flung from the blast), Indiana Jones somehow finds his job as professor taken away from him due to people questioning his role in the theft at Area 51 (a poorly written nod to the Red Scare witch hunts of the time) and on a quest to Peru with Mutt Williams (Marion's son) to find the crystal skull before Spalko does and get to the city of gold in the Amazon.

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL takes the series in the 1950s and turning it into a 1950s sci-fi picture mixed in with the usual elements that appear in an Indiana Jones film. The film does catch up on what Indiana Jones did in World War II and what happened to his father (and Marcus). It is great to see Indiana Jones in another decade and age in real time since the last film (THE LAST CRUSADE). However, I feel like Indian Jones was never in real danger (or anyone he was with) as he almost effortlessly goes through this adventure. He doesn't look and feel hurt like he is in the other three films. Then the plot doesn't seem long enough for the running time. The jungle chase is the highlight of the picture. Then I miss moments like when Indy thought Marion was dead (THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) or when everyone thought Indy was dead until he climbed up the cliff (THE LAST CRUSADE). INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL doesn't have enough magic like the previous entries in the series or the richness of detail in THE ADVENTURE OF YOUNG INDIANA JONES. It is passable summer entertainment where the climax is underwhelming and feels like the ending was tacked on as an afterthought. If they do the fifth film in the series (because George and Steve planned to five films), they better learn from their mistakes and look back at what made some of the Indiana Jones films of the past to capture the magic again.

Months later, I watched the film on DVD and it is my second viewing. It plays a little bit better as a film the second time around. Still, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is the weakest entry in the series and everyone involved should learn from their mistakes if they're going to do a fifth Indiana Jones film.

I wish there was an audio commentary track. Only two featurettes are on this disc.
THE RETURN OF A LEGEND- The evolution of the fourth film from how Steven thought it was done to him finally being convinced to do it again. Too bad they gloss over the Frank Darabont version of the script which some had said was better than the Koepp version (but George Lucas hated while Steven and Harrison liked it).
PRE-PRODUCTION- Casting, previz sequences, and sword fight training.

PRODUCTION DIARY; KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (split up into six chapters)- clocking in at 80 minutes plus, it covers various parts of the production from the three film locations (New Haven, New Mexico, Hawaii) to other bits of the production process. It is painfully obvious that George Lucas never wants to direct Indy when Steven jokes he's going to quit directing the film at one point in the Production Diary.

Some of the other featurettes include WARRIOR MAKE-UP, THE CRYSTAL SKULLS, THE EFFECTS OF INDY, and a look at all the crew involved (CLOSING: TEAM INDY). The best of the featurettes is ADVENTURES IN POST-PRODUCTION which focuses briefly on the film editing and music of John Williams, but most of the featurette is on the sound editing and sound design (they recorded new sounds while finding the original sounds from the first three films which were digitized onto computer).

Rounding out the disc 2 extras are two theatrical trailers, a trailer for the first three films on DVD, a Lego game demo, and five photo galleries (THE ART DEPARTMENT, STAN WINSTON STUDIOS, PRODUCTION PHOTOS, PORTRAITS, BEHIND-THE-SCENE PHOTOGRAPHS).

FINAL ANALYSIS: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is just an OK Indiana Jones film which has some of the old magic, but some of the script and editing problems make the film the worst in the series.

this DVD review is (c)10-17-2008 David Blackwell and cannot be reprinted without permission. send all comments to lord_pragmagtic@hotmail.com  

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