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INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Audio:  Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  122 Minutes
Release Date:  October 14, 2008

“This ain’t gonna be easy.”

“Not as easy as it used to be.”

Film ***

Early on in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there is a distinct shot of Harrison Ford picking up his famed fedora.  It’s symbolic of a return to a classic character.  Han Solo may have made Mr. Ford a household name, but it was Indy that made him a legend.

The new millennium, as far as films go, seems to be one that hearkens back rather than looks forward for the most part.  A lot of nostalgia has been felt at the box office.  Bruce Willis returned to John McClane.  Sylvester Stallone, despite being over 60, managed to bring back both Rocky and Rambo.  James Bond and Batman have gotten fresh “reboots”. 

So why not Indiana Jones?  Though the original trilogy seemed to perfectly encapsulate the whip-cracking adventurer and his story, fans have clamored for more.  And apparently, Harrison Ford was one of them.  Despite the unavoidable marching onward of time, he always wanted to don the fedora again.  But how could he, when he too was well past six decades of life?

The answer is, amazingly well.  Putting himself through months of rigorous training, Ford proved that age doesn’t have to be a stumbling block.  He still did his own stunts, and he still delivered better than action stars half his age.  Crystal Skull is not only a warm look back, but offers a glimmer of optimism to all of us who fear the ravages of time.

I have to tread carefully in describing the plot…there are many surprises I wouldn’t want to deprive you of.  Safe to say, a long time has passed since we last saw Indy.  The Nazis are no more…now the big worry of the 1950s is the Cold War and the Russians.  One in particular, Irina Spalko (Blanchett), has her own ideas of how to spread the Leninist revolution around the world.  It involves finding an ancient artifact hid carefully in an American government warehouse…and no, it’s not the Lost Ark.  She forces Indy to help her recover it.

That doesn’t set well with the government in the climate of Soviet infiltration of our highest offices, but the newly-retired Jones has a new issue: the arrival of young Mutt Williams (LaBeouf, looking Brando-esque), and his story of an old colleague named Harold Oxley (Hurt) who disappeared in the search for a similar artifact.  Mutt’s mother has been kidnapped, and she pointed him toward Indy as the only one who could recover the item.

Well, his mother turns out to be none other than our old friend Marion Ravenwood (Allen, in a welcome return to the series).  And Spalko isn’t through, either.  Soon, it will be a race to recover the crystal skull and unlock the mystery that may spell out the future of the entire world:  whether it will be free or communist.

That’s as close as I want to tread, but I have to give producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg credit.  The Last Crusade seemed so final because they appeared to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix for Indy’s final hurrah.  This time, they didn’t spare the sink.  The plot manages to encompass an actual ancient world legend and ties it in with Area 51, ancient astronauts and more, all giving Indy the excuses he needs to return to the adventurer he once was.  There is action galore, with some show stopping set pieces, vividly imagined settings, and wonderful characters we’ve either always loved or are learning to love.

Yes, it’s a bit lightweight, but every entry in the series had to live up to the search for the Ark of the Covenant, and frankly, what could compete with that?  But what the fourth film lacks in substance, it more than makes up for with fun.  Fans of Indiana Jones could cheer with delight at their favorite hero back on the screen, and possibly a new generation could learn to applaud this aging but still virile man who made archaeology cool for all of us.

Will there be more for Indiana Jones?  The final shot seems to indicate he isn’t ready to pass the hat yet.  And given Harrison Ford’s skill and physical presence, I wouldn’t dare argue that when he passes 70 he’ll be too old to do it again.  It’s Indy’s heart that made him what he was and still is…and that heart will remain forever young in the minds of his fans.

Video ****

This is the kind of film that really shows off what Blu-ray is capable of, mainly because there is strong variance between the brightly lit scenes and the darker cavernous ones.  In either lighting, the images come through with striking color, contrast and clarity, with amazing detail and little to no grain marring the effect.  Superior!

Audio ****

You get what you expect and more from this uncompressed audio offering…lots of dynamic range, with the loud explosive effects mixing nicely with the quieter more ambient ones.  Ants sound really creepy in TrueHD, I’ll tell you that.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and John Williams’ iconic music sounds as lush and potent as ever.

Features ***1/2

The extras are spread over two discs, with the first containing a timeline of the entire series from George Lucas’ original idea on, a pair of trailers, a pre-production featurette, and a nice look at the return of the legend of Indiana Jones.  I still hold out hope that someday Mr. Spielberg will offer fans a commentary track for one of his megahit movies.

Disc Two contains an extensive production diary and looks at the warrior makeup, the crystal skulls, the iconic props of the series, post-production, effects, closing, three pre-visualization sequences, a pair of galleries, and photo and portrait galleries.  All the features are mastered for HD.

Summary:

I said it with Last Crusade, and I’ll say it again with Crystal Skull:  if the series indeed rests here, it rests well.  But I for one would welcome another installment.  And I would assume as long as Ford, Spielberg and Lucas can all get on the same page one more time, anything is possible.

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