A lot has been written and read regarding the fourth and final installment in the Indiana Jones saga - "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and most of it is unkind. Is that reputation fair? Somewhat. But the biggest difference between the films of old and the latest incarnation is the audience. It's changed. In shades of similarity with the Star Wars prequels, the entire blame can't be heaped on George Lucas. In the intervening years the audience grew up, their expectations changed, but the films remained (somewhat) the same.
The emergence of the Internet has given fans space to vent and share opinions. Whilst I share the view that the film represents the low point of the entire franchise, the reality is that it's not that much worse than Temple of Doom. And there are actually things to like. For me, the nuclear town sequence is the highlight and while some may cringe at the notion of surviving a nuclear blast inside a lead lined fridge, to them I would say "Kalima!". In fact, I really enjoyed probably the first half of the film, before things took a turn for the worse.
Four years on from my initial review of the Blu-ray release of Crystal Skull, and viewed within the context of all four films, I was certainly interested to see how the film has fared. It's still not amazing, fizzling out instead of ending with a bang. This point is especially sad considering this will probably be the last outing for the intrepid adventurer. Contrast that with the high point of the gang quite literally riding to the sunset at the conclusion of The Last Crusade and the difference is rather stark.
What you take out of Crystal Skull depends on how far you are willing to forgive the film its transgressions. For the most part I went along with it, but the films conclusion still rubs me the wrong way, culminating in an event that is both entirely out of character for an Indiana Jones film, and which severed any remaining good will I had towards the film.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression.
Utilizing the same transfer as the initial release (just with a fresh encode), Crystal Skull still looks amazing, but in the context of the wider franchise, just a little out of place. From the initial frames, it's clear that the intent to match the film to Raiders of the Lost Ark is there, washing the film in the same golden hue tones, but compared to the gritty reality of the originals, it's obvious that the extensive use of CG, along with more advanced production methods has resulted in a film that doesn't share the same visual feel.
From a technical standpoint, the transfer is hard to fault. I didn't see any evidence of film to video artifacts, or film artifacts at all. The image is sharp and very detailed, which reveals at times some quality poor CG effects. Color is rendered well with deliberately desaturated tones. The film is pretty much devoid of any grain, which is the biggest point of differentiation with the other films.
Overall, a nice transfer that's accurate to the theatrical presentation, just not to its predecessors.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, at 24 bits.
Again, the re-release of the film re-purposes the 5.1 theatrical mix, but this time encoded in DTS HD MA, at a few decibels higher than the previous Dolby TrueHD mix.
Again, for big budget film of such recent vintage, there's precious little to complain about. The film features a very aggressive audio mix which utilizes all the modern advances of modern theatrical film mixing. Despite that, there's an obvious desire to remain true to the franchise as a whole. Sound designer Ben Burtt dug into the archives and found the original recordings for iconic effects such as Indy's whip, so at least the film sounds like it's from the same universe.
Low frequency effects are prominent and common. The Nevada nuclear blast sequence is especially rocking.
John Williams returns from semi-retirement to score the film, and a competent soundtrack it is, utilizing the rousing Raiders march quite frequently.
Bar two Theatrical Trailers (both presented in 1080p), all of the bonus material is included on the fifth disc of the collection, along with bonus features for the other three Indiana Jones films. In this section, I'll not only talk about the bonus features exclusively relevant to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull , but also the remaining extra features that are relevant to the franchise as a whole.
Included from the previous Blu-ray release is a truncated 30 minute version of the Production Diaries Documentary , produced by Spielberg regular Laurent Bouzereau. Isolated, it's a very effective fly-on-the-wall feature, but compared to the full-length feature on the previous release, it's a little disappointing, especially when one considers that there was enough extra disc space to fit it on. Also included from the previous Blu-ray release are the following featurettes; The Effects of Indy which talks about the rather extensive (and controversial) use of CG effects in the film ranging from wire-removal, digital backgrounds replacing matte paintings, to fully CG animals and creatures.
The Adventures In Post Production is a quick summary of the final stages of the film's production, from the changes made to elements of the story, to the final sound mix including John Williams' score; it's all glossed over here. Iconic Props takes a look at some of the prop work, including the awesome cameo from the deux ex machine of the first film - the Ark of the Covenant.
The following featurettes (hangovers from the 2003 DVD release) take closer looks at specific parts of the saga's production: The Stunts of Indiana Jones takes a look at the work of Vic Armstrong, amongst others, The Sounds of Indiana Jones covers the sound design of Lucasfilm's Ben Burtt, The Music of Indiana Jones is concerned with the origins of that classic theme song (who knew it was two tunes mixed together?) and finally The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones which looks at the pioneering work of the special effects company in the model age.
The following featurettes have been included from the re-released 2008 DVD set; Raiders: The Melting Face discusses the still awesome sequence and how exactly it was created, Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies takes a look at the less pleasant cast members (but nice to see the real Harrison Ford has no problems with snakes), Travel With Indiana Jones: Locations looks at the world wide location shoots, Indy's Women reunites the leading ladies from all four movies for this 2003 AFI awards special, and finally Indy's Friends and Enemies is a nice wrap up of the supplementary characters, both good and evil.
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