After seeing "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the
Crystal Skull" theatrically, I wrote an
article on my thoughts about the film
at that time. It's been a few months since I laid my soul out on
electric paper, if you will. I've had time to recompose my thoughts and
initial reaction to the film.
"Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" is available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. This is a review of the Blu-ray.
Unfortunately, I still don't like the latest Indy movie. I honestly tried sitting through it again, and came away with the same feelings I had for it when it was in theaters. This isn't the same smart and gruff hero I enjoyed in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It just isn't the same Indy I grew up watching into early adulthood, despite the uneven "Temple of Doom." It doesn't have 80% of what made "Raiders" great in "The Last Crusade." "Crystal Skull" is watered down with too many supporting characters, a story that isn't compelling, unremarkable villains, some questionable visual effects, the plot twist, and an ending which I nearly screamed out, "What the hell????" I may seem like I'm being too harsh on a movie that clearly had a lot going for it. Steven Spielberg is an outstanding director. George Lucas is one of the most creative minds in the business. Harrison Ford is a great actor. Yet I still come away from this movie disappointed.
I had to think of what made the original Indy movie so great, and why "Crystal Skull" is not so wonderful. It's not the fact that Indy is now older and has more mileage on the odometer. I can buy that Spielberg, Lucas and company probably felt it was necessary to take Indy in his 60s and stick to the hazards, sadness and regrets of older age. What I can't buy, especially after seeing this latest film, is how tired Indy is. It's Indy Lite. He doesn't have the energy he once had, and I don't mean physical energy. He still kicks bad guy tush like nobody's business. I mean his spunk, his smart ass demeanor, his drive, his guts.
I'm surprised with is how much the David Keopp script seemed to borrow from the imaginary book of "Don't Make the Mistake of Borrowing Clichés from Bad Television Shows." He's a fine writer, don't get me wrong. But for this script, which is supposedly the best one written, he (and Lucas) put in enough bad television clichés to make an Indy's head spin. These are elements in the story that shouldn't be used...ever. That is don't reveal a long lost child with a person you once loved. Don't bring back a favorite character and have that character simply argue with Indy for very little reason. Don't have that same character grin like a goof. Don't have your main character get married. Don't wimp out on the qualities that made your lead character so incredibly great. Don't have make Indy act like a helpless hero. Don't have a sidekick who isn't Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Don't have a convoluted plot. Don't let the film drag for a good 30-45 minutes in the middle with dialogue scenes and little action. When we watch Indy, we want action and no goofy plot developments. Don't chicken out on what made Indy great in the first place.
"Raiders" was quite a thrilling movie. It didn't slow down its pace and it had the cojones to have fun. "Crystal Skull" isn't a fun movie and frankly, it's timid in its approach. I'm not sure if it's because almost the entire main cast and crew that made "Raiders" so many years ago is older and wiser today, but the film plays itself safe. It's not to say that there isn't action and elaborate set pieces and some good sequences in "Crystal Skull." After watching the supplemental disc on the Blu-ray, I was impressed by the scope of the film. But it has none of the mystery or fun factor that made "Raiders," and the two following sequels (in parts), so much fun to watch.
"Crystal Skull" has some good moments. I liked the beginning of the movie, which feels like an Indy film. But then the film falls far short of what Spielberg/Lucas and Co. have done on previous Indy films. This is the one Indy film that I wouldn't consider seeing in a revival screening. Is the film bad? Depends on your point-of-view, I suppose. If this were the first movie in the Indiana Jones franchise, do you think it would've been given a free pass by most critics and audiences?
But enough complaining about the movie. The Blu-ray version is exceptional on picture quality, and very good on sound. The film was the first film in years that Spielberg used anamorphic (i.e. widescreen capable) lenses. Early in his career, he used anamorphic a lot. But he cut back on widescreen movies once he made "E.T." I've always been a fan of anamorphic lenses in movies, because they can be sharp and I like the look. This film has all the cliché lens flairs a movie geek would notice. So the picture on the Blu-ray is sharp and smooth looking.
I did have trouble reviewing the sound quality, though. The Blu-ray contains a Dolby TrueHD mix. My sound system is fine, and the mix on "Crystal Skull" is very good. But I found the score and some of the sound effects lacking that usual punch and kick associated with the Indy films. Sound designer Ben Burtt is perhaps one of the best in the business, but I found this mix to be unusually low in volume. I recall that even the theatrical Dolby Digital sound presentation I saw and heard was lacking, and those theater speakers are nowhere near being accurate transducers of sound. The John Williams score doesn't have the same overall volume that I've experienced before. In previous Indy films, the music is nice and robust and I want to jump out of my chair and march to John Williams's score. Not this time.
The sound effects, many of which were taken from the Lucasfilm/Ben Burtt recorded audio library, will sound very familiar to Indy fans. The gunshots and punches still have those signature sound effects. But I think the soundtrack lacks bite. I'm not sure if the sound was mixed lower than usual on the music or sound effects tracks. I'm not sure if it's the fact that the original three Indy films were recorded and mixed in analog sound that they sounded better to my ears. Honestly, I can't pinpoint it. Ben Burtt is an awesome sound designer and sound editor. I just don't know what happened here. All I can say is that the Blu-ray soundtrack is very good, but it doesn't toss me into the back of my seat like the previous movies. And I know my hearing is perfectly fine.
This is a movie that has probably polarized Indy fans. I'm sure that many think it's a great edition to the Indy line-up and that I'm probably being too hard on it. It's a movie, after all. Some others watching the film may feel disappointed as I did. Just as franchises like James Bond have had hits and misses, perhaps "Crystal Skull" is an oddity in the Indy franchise. There is a rumor that an "Indy 5" might be in the cards. I hope that we won't be seeing Indy as a grandpa teaching his grandchildren his ways of the world. But I wouldn't pass it by Lucas to come up with a story along those lines.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.
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