Indiana Jones has always been something of a farce. A good action farce, to be sure, but something not to be taken too seriously. As a tribute to the old matinee serials, the franchise has been built on a blend of action and comedy, not to mention a whip and a fedora. After numerous delays and a nearly two decades break, the franchise is back with the star-studded fourth installment Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Although it carries a certain level of slickness to it, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shows that although the times have changed – both in the film and for the viewing audience – Indiana Jones hasn’t. And that’s a problem.
Thankfully, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t try to hide behind the gap in time between films. Rather, it picks up in the middle of the Cold War where the Americans and Russians are vying for nuclear and world supremacy. The film revolves around a cat and mouse chase over a mysterious skull made of – you guessed it – crystal that is suspected of having some strong and rather unique qualities. This time out Dr. Jones (Harrison Ford) is joined by a young Wild One dropout Matt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and reunited with old love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) as they look to keep the crystal skull out of the hands of the Russian muscle led by Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett).
Like the three previous Indiana Jones film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull aims primarily to be a happy jaunt through comedy and adventure. Plausibility has never been an issue and it never will be in this series. Some of the most memorable moments have been some of the most preposterous and groan inducing. the films are about blending high adventure and thrills with just enough snark and comedy to make it all fun. However, I couldn’t help feel something was missing this time around.
As the film waxes over days past, revels in its iconic images to the point where it draws attention to itself and old friends return – even if only in mention – Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an exercise in nostalgia. And like most nostalgia, things get tiresome rather quickly. It probably doesn’t help matters that the first 30 minutes is the best part of the film. Indy is still the same old Indy and those around him haven’t changed much either. This despite the fact that audiences have evolved over the years and so have our expectations. I don’t know if there’s an answer to the problem. Some new things were changed, such as venturing into science fiction, but there’s simply too much of a reliance on things familiar. Character development doesn’t happen when Indy makes a couple of comments and mistakes over his age. More has to happen for a change to happen as it’s more than something physical. It’s a mental change and as it’s portrayed here, the development is rather boring and surface so as only to fill the lulls in moments of peril.
Spielberg manages to keep Kingdom of the Crystal Skull moving with slick but not over-the-top camera work that opts for action over gimmicks. It’s a joy to watch him play, particularly in vehicular chase scenes. I’m at the point now where when I see he’s headed in that direction with the action, my excitement borders of geek levels of glee. He doesn’t again very early on in such a way that it’s not flashy, nor does it draw much attention to itself. Spielberg simply has a way of dodging in and out of lanes without cutting and creating a beautiful sense of motion. It’s unfortunate the scene is of such little consequence and does little more than get characters to a location. The rest of the film maintains much of Spielberg’s fluidity, keeping the camera moving but not in a way that it’s jolting or distracting. Instead it heightens the action and gives old tricks new senses of movement.
It’s just too bad the rest of the film wasn’t so exciting. Nostalgia was enough just to have Indiana Jones back. To lament on it and draw it out for little character gain made it that much easier to say a final good-bye if this is indeed it.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull DVD Review
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s two-disc special edition is a solid mix of quality presentation and bonus features – something one might expect from such a marquee title. The film is shown in an excellent enhanced widescreen format with vivid colors and crisp image. The trademark notes of the soundtrack trumpet out with the 5.1 Dolby Surround audio tracks in English and dubbed in French and Spanish. Subtitles are also available in the same three languages.
“The Return of a Legend” is an 18-minute look at not only the making of the film but also something of a retrospective on the series’ traditions. “Pre-Production” is just that – a behind-the-scenes peek at the film’s production before filming actually began.
The film’s second disc is headlined by the 12-part “Production Diary.” This series of featurettes goes into a lot of depth on the filming of the movie and covers most every angle of the filming. Additional mini featurettes on the disc look at such subjects as make-up, the crystal skulls, props, post-production and special effects. The disc also includes photo galleries, trailers and a playable demo for the LEGO Indiana Jones video game on XBOX 360.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Gallery