Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull DVD Review

Does a second viewing do Indy any favours? And just what do two discs full of features have to tell us?

Indy's back...

The ending of a film can be a strange thing. I used to live with a friend who always had a problem with films that he deemed to finish with a contrived happy ending, so much so that even if the previous two hours had been fantastic, a few seconds later and it could all be ruined for him (the end of L.A. Confidential had him in a fit of rage).

It was something I never really understood properly until I watched The Departed and witnessed Scorsese so drastically undermine the whole point of the film by changing the ending from the original source – Infernal Affairs – to one that I couldn’t accept the film on any level.

This a very rare incident for me, especially when I confess that up until a few years ago I refused to accept how bad The Phantom Menace is as a film, as my love for movies and especially sequels to those I grew up with can blindside any critical faculties I have. I find myself defending their flaws as one would defend a family member from outside criticism. And so to Indy IV.

It’s likely that as I’ve decided to let the majority of the review base itself more on the issues raised by the special features, that at some point the ending will be spoilt, so I suggest until you’ve seen the film not to read any further.

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After seeing Crystal Skull at the cinema and having been so incredibly excited about the prospect of seeing more Indy on the big screen, I came out like so many people I talked to, feeling underwhelmed. The one thing that has been agreed by everyone I know is that the ending was too much, nobody wanted the George Lucas ‘money shot’ and moreover everyone instinctively knew that it was his influence that had detracted from what should and could have been a more intimate denouement.

Looking back to the previous Indy films I by far prefer the conclusion of The Last Crusade, where the outcome for everyone rested merely on picking the right cup. Crystal Skull has more in common with the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark, being more effects driven, but lacks the threat of the first film, while simultaneously ruining the rest of the film’s attempts to avoid using a lot of CGI where possible. The worst thing is that on one of the featurettes Spielberg admits that it was his idea to shoot the scene with the crystal bodies morphing into one flesh covered being, a moment that I really wish didn’t exist. Thankfully it didn’t speak like Jar Jar so the option is there to close your eyes and pretend it never happened.

Strangely, I had no issue with other parts of the film that people moaned about, from the fridge escape to the monkeys, as they all seemed in keeping with the over the top sense of fun that has always been part of the Jones franchise, but that ending was just one step too far.

A second viewing of Crystal Skull was actually a lot more enjoyable, as with the level of expectation dropped it enabled me to enjoy the simple pleasure of watching Harrison Ford do what he does best and notice more of the references to his other adventures throughout the film,. The high point of which came again for me when I heard him utter the line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, a moment of such incredible geek joy that I cheered a second time out loud.

However my initial problems with the film still remained. Marion Ravenwood seemed to have lost her edge. I didn’t approve of her being reduced to grinning and doting on Indy after all the issues between them over the years, while the other female lead, in the form of the always excellent Cate Blanchett, didn’t really have much to do or have the air of threat that a villain possess in an Indy movie. In fact the film as a whole, even in the action set pieces, seemed to lack the excitement factor of the other films. There didn’t seem to be enough in the way of booby traps or life-threatening scenarios that made you worry for any of the characters regardless of the situation.

Ending aside, I did enjoy Crystal Skull again, but it seems to fall short of the excellence of the other films (for the record I’d give Raiders and Crusade five stars and Temple four) and just felt an average amount of fun when it should have excelled. Which now makes the wording of this review feel like a school report with the inevitable cliché of ‘could do better’ being absolutely appropriate for the film. The first shot of Indy putting his hat on still gave me goosebumps though.

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3 stars

The special features: Disc one has two featurettes Return of a Legend (17.5 mins) and Pre-Production (11.5 mins), but is noticeably lacking a commentary from anyone involved. But then again with the Lucasfilm logo attached to it we all know that a better special edition will make its way into the inevitable boxset at some point, especially with the fifth film seeming like a definite.

Legend instantly clarifies everyone’s suspicions after Spielberg reveals that he held out on making another Indy film and had specifically shot the final scene in Crusade of them all riding off into the sunset to end the films for good.

George Lucas however was a lot keener to make another and more importantly wanted to make the film about aliens, so much so that (take a deep breath) he wanted to call the film Indiana Jones and the Saucermen. And if that doesn’t prove that Lucas should never, ever, be allowed to contribute towards another sacred franchise then nothing does.

Interestingly Lucas reveals that he very much wanted to make the new Indy based on the sci-fi B-movies of the 40s and 50s, a genre that I think is fantastic, but in an Indy film just doesn’t feel right at all. I’ve often been enraged by the fact that Lucas never seems to acknowledge how good his previous films have been and seems to treat them with a disdain that makes him think of them only as trash, so to have Indy fighting Saucermen obviously seemed like a fitting continuation to him, while the rest of the world screams in anger.

Pre-Production covers elements of the pre-visualisation and cinematography, and like a lot of the special features contains some charming anecdotes relating to the history of people who have worked on the films. In this case there is a touching moment when Spielberg reflects on how quickly time has passed since they started Raiders, while Frank and Kathleen Kennedy disclose how they met working on Raiders of the Lost Ark and are still married.

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Disc two is made up of a whole load of featurettes, the bulk of which are contained in the six part Production Diary (which does at least have a ‘play all’ option) and runs in this order:

Shooting Begins (14 mins) – Feels like a proper ‘making of’ as it shows footage from the first day, from everyone turning up in the early hours of the morning, to the end of the first shot being wrapped. The short length of it though only convinces me that there is a longer, more in-depth documentary to come.

Back to School (10 mins) – Covers the introduction of Jim Broadbent to the franchise as the 50s stylings and college setting/scenes are talked about and shows some bonding between the 1st and 2nd unit on set, while Spielberg tells of his need to recruit the stunt co-ordinator from Casino Royale and the Bourne movies, which is further proof of the man’s outstanding taste in talent.

Welcome to the Jungle (6.5 mins) – Disturbingly shows them location scouting in Hawaii, especially to find untouched parts of the jungle and then we see minor scale deforestation as they make a path for the trucks to drive through! It also partly demonstrates how much of the action sequences were shot for real, which is a real shame as they looked so fake in the actual film, I just assumed they were CGI.

On Set Action (27 mins) – Is itself broken into four parts detailing the specifics of filming in the warehouse, Indy’s hometown, the jungle and the cemetery, including some nice details of the set dressing and various geek references that were incorporated into the sets and props.

Exploring Akator (14.5 mins) – A good effects insight and shows the more impressive and real sets in greater detail.

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Wrapping Up (7.5mins) – Mentions the closing moments of the film and is mostly a short and sweet nostalgic piece about the cast and crew reunion after 25 years.

The following are their own separate featurettes, all of which are fairly brief, it does however speak volumes that the longest one is about the effects of Indy.

Warrior Make Up (5.5 mins) – Shows the intricate detail of their make up, which only made me think it was a shame as I didn’t notice it that much in the film itself.

The Crystal Skulls (10 mins) – Tells of the mythology surrounding them while Stan Winston’s (RIP) effects shop show how the skulls themselves were made, but to be honest they looked plastic in the film and plastic in this feature.

Iconic Props (10 mins) – Isn’t just about Indy’s whip and hat but all the other props including swords, books, letters etc. and reveals that the propmaster’s store is a collector’s wet dream, especially as at the time of filming they still had the full scale Ark! Unsurprisingly it also reveals that WETA were responsible for making all the swords and armour, a duty they now look to be stuck with forever.

The Effects of Indy (22.5 mins) – Not much fun to watch as it babbles on about all the CGI elements that most of us thought were a bad idea, so hearing about them is a little pointless. Even a nice story from one of the effects guys, who traces his rise through the ranks over the various Indy movies, is slightly marred by his claim that while he was responsible for making the leap of faith bridge at the end of Last Crusade, he announces that most of those effects are now being done digitally. Pity. Spielberg also adds to this by saying that the CGI ants were a break from tradition as they didn’t use live bugs and creepy crawlies this time, and as the words fall from his mouth all you want to do is shout “but why!?”.

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Adventures in Post-Production (12.5 mins) – Now this is a featurette worth any geek’s time, containing as it does, the double whammy of Ben Burtt and John Williams. Burtt reveals his constant lo-fi genius in sourcing and creating new sound effects (I really don’t think he is ever without a sound recorder judging by his stories over the years!), while we see Spielberg present Williams with his own Indy hat, complementing Williams that he is the only other person that truly deserves one. It was also reassuring to see that Ben Burtt’s son, Benny Burtt, is acting as his sound assistant, so we can only hope that he continues his father’s outstanding work for future generations to come.

Closing Team Indy (3 mins) – Is merely a photo montage putting faces to the cast and crew names.

Finally there are three pre-visualisation sequences (Area 51, Jungle Chase and Ants Attack), five galleries and three trailers (though teaser one is strangely absent).

All in all a fairly entertaining, albeit shallow, collection of featurettes which like the movie itself are good fun but nothing as spectacular as it could have been, though I’ll never tire of watching Indiana Jones punch, swing and quip regardless of everything that surrounds him.

Rating:

4 out of 5