To start with I give Spielberg credit for going against the wishes of Lucas to film this thing in digital. Not only did he attempt to reproduce the same film stock look, but he edited the film, not on a computer, but an old movieola. The attempt to make this look like the other films is obvious and appreciated. Some of the sets are simply incredible. The Akator set is massive and dressed with all kinds of detail. It conjures up images of many of Indy’s tomb-raiding past. Again you have to credit Spielberg for wanting his actors in a real place as often as he did. John Williams returns with the traditional Indy fanfare and even some good rousing new music to add to the collection. The vehicle chases remind us of some of the best moments in Raiders. Still, there is a bit too much greenscreen and CG usage here. It is so obvious that many of these locations are studio in front of a greenscreen. I know they tried, but that only made these moments stand out all the more. There are also moments that look like they were trying too hard to be clever. The snake “rope” is absolutely ridiculous. As an Indy fan, you are prepared to suspend your belief, but I feel this movie pushes those limits. There are too often science fiction elements here that, I believe, don’t belong in an Indy film either. But it was good to see the old man in action. I have to admit that in the first scene he really looked old, but I swear he got younger as the film moved along. By the time the real adventure begins, the years have all shed themselves away and Harrison Ford is indeed Indiana Jones again. The film doesn’t stand up to Raiders or the Last Crusade, but is much better than
Not too long after we thought we had seen the last of Indiana Jones following his Last Crusade, George Lucas had an idea. Like The Grinch, it was an wonderful, awful idea. Hard at work in his lair deep inside the Evil Empire, Lucas pounded away at the script that could please only himself. The result was something called Indiana Jones And The Saucermen From Mars. Exuberant over his own misguided genius, he showed it to his fellow Indy masterminds. Predictably to anyone not named Lucas, neither Ford nor Speilberg thought very much of the idea. So then and there, it seemed that both Indy and the Saucermen had died. Decades would pass, and it appeared there was still very much a market for the exploits of Dr. Jones. Talks began as much as 15 years ago. Various scriptwriters took a pass at Lucas and his Saucermen. It wasn’t until all parties agreed to do a fourth Indy, provided they could all agree on a script, that serious work was begun on a new script. The result would become known as Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.
It’s that classic dilemma of good news and bad news. The good news is obvious. Everyone was signed on board, and Harrison Ford was going to play Indy yet again. There was the excruciating wait until everyone’s schedule cleared to do the film. Finally it happened, and the saga that began with Raiders Of The Lost Ark was about to continue, with a brand new script. The bad news is that, although this was a new story, the Lucas Saucermen just wouldn’t stay dead. Fortunately they play a very small part of the story, serving as part of the climax. In case you’re one of the 6 or 7 folks who haven’t yet seen the film, I won’t go into detail on how the Saucermen work into the story.
The story itself is good rollercoaster Indiana Jones fun. Indy has been captured by the Commies. They’ve taken him to Area 51, where they seek his cooperation with an artifact kept there. The ensuing action has our hero narrowly escaping the bad guys and also gives us a quick glimpse of an old artifact we’re somewhat familiar with. After a rather silly additional escape, Indy is being questioned by the Feds. It’s deep in Red Scare days, and Indy is under suspicion. He is let go at the university. Just when our hero might already have too much on his mind, a young greaser named Mutt (LaBeouf) shows up, asking for Indy’s help. It seems his mom and a mutual friend, Professor Oxley (Hurt) have been kidnapped in regards to Oxley’s discovery of a mystical crystal skull. The journey takes them to
The cast was a good one. Of course, I don’t need to tell you how important Harrison Ford is to the franchise. He is Indiana Jones, and I really can’t see anyone else in the role. During the television Young Indy shows I never really thought of that character as Indy. I really can’t say how much I hate Shia LaBeouf. Fortunately Spielberg kept him in check. He’s obnoxious and totally out of place in the story. There was speculation that they were passing the baton to the young punk actor, but if you’ve seen the film’s ending they made it pretty clear that wasn’t what this film was about. John Hurt was wonderful as the often addlebrained Oxley. I had some reservations about Cate Blanchett as the villain, but she pretty much won me over right away. She underplays it at times, while going over the top at others. She wasn’t really a good enough nemesis for Indy, but that wasn’t Blanchette’s fault at all. Ray Winstone was pretty much the comic relief.
Finally I was quite impressed with the homage to the past. Very touching moments are given to the Marcus Brody character, a fitting tribute to the late Denholm Elliott. There is a passing reference to Dad Jones, who has also passed on even though Sean Connery is still with us. Connery apparently considered coming out of retirement to play a small part but decided against it. He gave the required “if I was going to come out of retirement it would have been for these guys”. Still, he turned the part down, and the story was rewritten. There is even an homage to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles as Indy tells Mutt the story of being kidnapped by and then riding with Poncho Villa. It was particularly nice to see Karen Allen back as
Portions of this review are repeated in my Blu-ray review at Intotheblu.com
Indiana Jones is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The colors on the film are notably soft. This is far from a flaw, and a testimony to Spielberg’s wishes to keep these films together visually. That means more grain than you might otherwise feel comfortable with. Black levels are also very strong and provide a fine level of shadow detail. Contrast is perfect. When Indy is reading the pages by firelight, I was absolutely blown away at the clear definition between the flickering light and the near total darkness of the jungle beyond.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio accomplishes more than I could have ever wanted. The film begins with almost no real surround use at all. Everything even sounds a bit muted and muffled. Then you hear that soft subtle hint of the Indy Fanfare. As the action heats up, so does the aggressive nature of this mix. The sound engineer here really knows how to use ambient sounds. There is always a buildup before the explosion of sounds around you. You may not even notice it, but you’ll find your own pulse rate being commanded by a skillful sound engineer. Williams’ fantastic and memorable score comes through in exactly the right places to add magnificence to the rollercoaster action. Dialog is perfect, and you’ll hear every word.
Notably absent from this “Special” Edition is a commentary track. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I love those things, and the silence it provides here is deafening.
This is a 2 Disc collection. The first disc offers the film and the following extras:
The Return Of A Legend: This 17 minute feature is mostly Lucas and Spielberg talking about the process of getting Indy rolling again.
Pre-Preduction: This 12 minute feature gets us ready for the new adventure. Ford is getting back into character. They talk about bringing back
Disc 2 contains the biggest features:
Making Of The
Warrior Make-Up: At just over 5 minutes this takes a very quick look at making up the stunt men to look like the savages that protect Akator.
Iconic Props: Everyone knows that both Lucas and Spielberg like to sprinkle in a few Easter eggs on their films. Remember the ET’s in Episode One? This 10 minute feature looks not only at the props but the inside gags.
The Effects Of Indy: Now here’s a meaty feature at about 22 minutes. I’m not really all that thrilled with the bragging here about moving from what would have been a practical effect to digital. I know it needs to be done, and in most films I love it. I just still have a purist heart when it comes to Indy.
Adventures In Post Production: Ben Burtt is a wizard at producing unusual sounds. His parts are the best out of this 12 minute look at editing and finishing touches.
Closing Team Indy: Say goodbye to Indy, at least for now, in this nearly 4 minute coda.
Pre-Visualization Sequences: This 15 minute features shows us the various stages of development for the following scenes: Area 51, Jungle Chase and Ant Attack
Trailers and Galleries complete this rather incomplete collection of extras. Where are the deleted scenes?
You can take it to the bank; that is if your bank’s still open for business. Indiana Jones will return, and I predict the next installment will be even better. I think now that Lucas got his saucermen out of the way, there is room for Jones to return to his roots. Unfortunately Mutt’s likely to be with him, but I’ll take it if it means seeing Harrison Ford in that fedora holding the whip one more time. Ford never let his age get in the way. In fact, he threatened to walk when he was told the bonding agent wasn’t going to let him use a real whip. The idea was the whip would be inserted later by CG. Ford suggested another kind of insertion, and the whip was back. It’s not really fair to compare this film with Raiders or any of the other films. 20 years have gone by, and a lot of things have changed. George Lucas is the Evil Emperor of The Galaxy now and will infect the franchise with his Jar Jar Binks kind of brilliance. But if Ford and Spielberg stick to their guns…and whip … Indiana Jones can ride successfully again. It’s just that “It ain’t as easy as it used to be.”