Actors: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone
Directors: Steven Spielberg
Writers: George Lucas, David Koepp, Jeff Nathanson
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, George Lucas
Format: NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English, German, Russian
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Region: Region 1
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: October 14, 2008
Run Time: 122 minutes
Let me begin by addressing what appears to be the central debate upon which opinion of this movie pivots: aliens and Indiana Jones. Some say the idea is ludicrous; Jones is an archaeologist, a scientist, and a university professor, and the idea that little green men could somehow drop into his world is simply ludicrous. Then again, this is the same franchise that brought us a spooky ark that liquefied witnesses, Indian witchdoctors that ripped out men’s still-beating hearts, and the Holy Grail – guarded by a thousand-year-old knight. Let’s face it, the Indy franchise is about as scientific as the X-Files and Jones himself showcases a snippet of Fox Mulder’s thoughtfulness.
And yet, Indiana Jones is not a thinker. This is the crème du la crème of action franchises and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hardly disappoints on that front. Although it’s sometimes hard to believe that Harrison Ford could pull off some of the leaps and haymakers Jones is known for, his is no Bourne Identity. The movie is so outlandish and fantastic that it takes surprisingly little effort for the viewer to move past the ludicrousness of watching a sixty-six-year-old Ford pounding a hulking six-foot-six Communist. Despite, or perhaps because of my low expectations, I’ve deemed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a success.
The movie begins at a desert military base. We’re told the year is 1957, and there’s no mistaking it; this flick is so slathered with fifties nostalgia that it practically oozes Twinkie cream and hair grease. Jones is taken captive by Communists under the command of the very liberated Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko, played ably by Cate Blanchett. The Commies are after a new weapon of some sort in order to wreak havoc on democracy and, as we must assume, humanity (or is it vice versa?). As expected, Jones breaks from his captives and dodging bullets and dashing across rafter planks escapes so that he may be captured another day (I’m now fairly certain that the character’s greatest power is his ability to fall captive, talk back to soldiers with guns, and survive).
As you might have guessed, the Commies are after a Crystal Skull that offers great powers. So great are these powers, in fact, that the skull is extraordinarily magnetic (interestingly enough, the opening sequence leads us to believe this, but the gimmick is completely abandoned twenty minutes into the movie). The skull falls into the hands of Spalko and the Russians, who don’t seem quite sure what they’ll do with it. For his part, Jones joins this latest crusade reluctantly, and only later finds that the fate of democracy – and an old lover – are held in the balance.
So, does it make any sense that aliens invade Indy? Actually, it does. The movie is still a tomb raider; Indy and his companions find lots of booty, dead explorers, booby traps, and at least a few angry natives with nothing better to do than lurk in millennia-old clammy labyrinths. Spielberg merely tosses in a giant crystal bowling ball to make things interesting.
The strength of this movie, as Mr. Bassett notes, is its action, including stunning visuals and thundering audio. Even standard DVD playback is remarkable as Jones moves from the American southwest to dank catacombs to lush South American jungles. Given that this movie’s action rests for about thirty seconds, the audio is also a showcase, as bullets tear through plant life, vehicles soar over waterfalls, and, as they always do, tombs crumble and disintegrate with Shakespearean satisfaction. Tell the neighbours to get ready; I haven’t heard such impressive brawls and gunfights since my last Gears of War 2 session.
The weakness is the acting. Like Mr. Bassett, I too wondered what was up with this Shia LeBeouf guy. His character, the aptly named “Mutt”, is a nasty mix of the Fonz and, um, some other jerk no one will really like. Bassett is also dead-on when it comes to the returning Karen Allen. I wince to say it, but I winced when Ford put his arm around her several times during the movie. Maybe we’re all just a little spoiled with the Halle Berrys and Kate Beckinsales tearing up the action movie screen of late, but Karen Allen is not a believable leading lady. Sorry. Bassett was again spot on by shaking his head at the use of William Hurt, who bumbles along rather annoyingly from start to finish.
As for Ford, he’s still got that Han Solo slickness that made him a star decades ago. However, he only narrowly gets away with performing all those bounding stunts at sixty-six. There were at least a few moments were I thought the man should have snapped in two.
Despite these concerns, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a legitimate hit. If you’ve been paying attention to my reviews here at HomeTheaterShack, you might have noticed that I tend to watch more thoughtful, indie flicks like The Wind that Shakes the Barley or Transsiberian. I usually stay away from the superhero, mindless action genre, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised by Spielberg’s latest offering. Boasting some awesome action sequences, decent acting, and second-to-none audio and video, this is one DVD or Blu-Ray action fans should not miss this holiday season.