Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [Blu-Ray]

By Paul Fischer

The year is 1957, the height of the Cold War. As the latest Indiana Jones adventure opens, Indy and his long-time sidekick Mac (Ray Winstone) have barely escaped a close scrape with nefarious Soviet agents on a remote airfield. Now, Professor Jones has returned home to Marshall College — only to find things have gone from bad to worse. His close friend and dean of the college (Jim Broadbent) explains that Indy’s recent activities have made him the object of suspicion, and that the government has put pressure on the university to fire him. On his way out of town, Indiana meets rebellious young Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), who carries both a grudge and a proposition for the adventurous archaeologist: If he’ll help Mutt on a mission with deeply personal stakes, Indy could very well make one of the most spectacular archaeological finds in history — the Crystal Skull of Akator, a legendary object of fascination, superstition and fear.

But as Indy and Mutt set out for the most remote corners of Peru — a land of ancient tombs, forgotten explorers and a rumoured city of gold — they quickly realize they are not alone in their search. The Soviet agents are also hot on the trail of the Crystal Skull. Chief among them is icy cold, devastatingly beautiful Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), whose elite military unit is scouring the globe for the eerie Crystal Skull, which they believe can help the Soviets dominate the world… if they can unlock its secrets.

Indy and Mutt must find a way to evade the ruthless Soviets, follow an impenetrable trail of mystery, grapple with enemies and friends of questionable motives, and, above all, stop the powerful Crystal Skull from falling into the deadliest of hands.

18 years after Indie rode off into the sunset following his last crusade, the intrepid archaeologist returns. Despite the film’s mixed reviews when it was released theatrically, ”Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” remains a joyously old fashioned piece of escapism, assuredly crafted by Spielberg and beautifully acted. It’s Ford whose age-old sense of cynical heroism that remains the centre of the franchise, and his performance is what defines this film. I recall attending the premiere of Raiders, and there is little doubt that the wonder of the original as seen in theatres over two decades ago, can never be repeated and never was even in the second and third films, but David Koepp’s script is still sharp enough to consistently capture the essence of Indy and the style of action film we rarely see in today’s Hollywood.

Much has been made of the film’s sci-fi elements, without realising that George Lucas’ intention, in updating the franchise to 1957, was to satirize America’s preoccupation with the Red Menace of the time, which was often cinematically explored in B-grade sci-fi. ”Crystal Skull” is simply a B-grade sci fi adventure, cloaked in the escapism of an Indy adventure. Thus we have Russian baddies and a touch of sci-fi, which mirror the period in which Skull is set. Cate Blanchett excels as the principal Russian baddie, and fans of Raiders will love an ageless and feisty Karen Allen, who returns as the indefatigable Marion Ravenwood.

While one could have done without too much of the CGI and over-abundance of visual effects, strip all the excesses away, and ”Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” works as pure entertainment, enhanced by John Williams’ iconic score and Harrison ford who still delivers a character that suits him like no other. For nostalgia fans of a classic trilogy, Crystal Skull delivers.

The 1080p video resolution of this Blu Ray is exemplary, containing, clear images, beautifully razor sharp, enhancing details throughout every frame of the film. The famed jungle chase sequence is exquisite with tones and colour resolution perfectly contrasted. This is even more evidenced by the Doomstown sequence, in which Indie finds himself in a mock replica of 1950s suburbia being used as a nuclear testing site. The colour saturation here is quite stunning, each colour as richly detailed as the next. The film’s geographical diversity, from the opening New Mexican desert, to the jungles of Peru [shot in Hawaii] to the darkness of a cemetery, are all crisp, clean and visually more striking than even the theatrical cut. In short, ”Crystal Skull” looks astonishing on Blu Ray.

As stunning as it looks, in TrueHD audio, ”Crystal Skull” sounds as good as it looks and then some, from the clean sound of the dialogue, to the realism of bullets flying and every sound effect imaginable, you haven’t really experienced Crystal Skull until hearing it, almost for the first time. I looked closely at the jungle chase sequence in particular, and was blown away by the details of the audio track. The monkeys, the sounds of the jeeps, none of which were overshadowed by the clarity of the dialogue. Crank up your sound system and listen to the auditory details of the TrueHD audio.

Blu-Ray Details and Extras

The Blu Ray edition comes with two discs, though not as feature packed as you might expect or want from such a high profile release. Disc 2 contains a very extensive Production Diary, which is essentially an extended and detailed series of making of featurettes, divided into location sections. There are copious interviews with Spielberg and Lucas, as well key cast members, stunt coordinator and so forth. Shot in HD, it’s interesting enough but overlong and repetitive it seems. There are also additional documentaries on the make up, post-production and editing, a neat piece on visual effects and pre-visualization sequences, not to mention galleries and production skills which seem to be present for padding. Disc One has a nice little doc called The Return of a Legend, which is enjoyable enough as Spielberg recounts his unwillingness to direct this fourth Indy and how it evolved, especially in terms of what to call the film. There is also a pre-production featurette and trailers.

If there was one reason to make the transition from DVD to Blu Ray, ”Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” is the perfect way to sink one’s teeth into this exquisite technology. The movie itself looks cleaner and sounds extraordinary in the format, and the discs’ extras should appeal to film buffs. The movie itself is great fun especially for those of us who remember the original trilogy with such fondness.