In 1957, Indiana Jones is thrust back in action, venturing into the jungles of South America in a race against Soviet agents to find the mystical Crystal Skull. Accompanying him this time around is a young greaser named Mutt Williams who enlists Jones’ help to rescue his mother who is being held captive by the Soviets. Little does Indy know that Mutt’s mother is none other than his old flame, Marion Ravenwood…
I probably wasn’t even walking yet when film fans first saw Harrison Ford don a fedora as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (and some may remember that the film was never “Indiana Jones and…” until the inevitable sequels released). I wasn’t even ten yet when the third and “final” Indiana theatrical adventure released in 1989, The Last Crusade, which has gone on to become one of my favorite movies of all time. With Raiders and Crusade, Indiana Jones takes part in discovering two of the greatest Biblical treasures: The Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail (AKA the cup of Christ). Both stories are grounded in historical facts and legends and involve a time when the Nazis were seeking to rule the world with great power. While Temple Of Doom deviated from this idea, so does the fourth Indiana Jones adventure, the oddly titled: The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Many wonder how a 65-year-old Ford could pull off the role of Jones again, but the answer is that he shines again as the leather-jacket wearing hero, even if you can’t help but wish they’d just made this dang film 15 years ago.
The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull certainly has the ingredients of the B-movie feel that the previous films offered, but with a bit more reliance on CGI effects and the glam they bring. This movie, which director Steven Spielberg would be quick to admit, is for the diehard Indy fans who’ve been waiting for Jones to return, but that doesn’t mean Spielberg (and George “Star Wars” Lucas who wrote the story) didn’t take some artistic liberties with the world Indiana resides in. First off, as with Raiders and Crusade, Indiana’s dragged into a quest to find a powerful relic – this time the Crystal Skull – in a race to stop some baddies from getting their hands on it first. In this case, the Russians fill in this time around in 1957, long after World War II has ended and Indiana is now a war veteran. Facts and incidents are suggested to have taken place sometime over the 19 year gap between rhe events of Crusade and Skull, which sort of tease you, making you wish you could have witnessed some of these events. Also, while Crusade was a fitting end for the original trilogy, the storytellers utilize the chance to tie up a few loose ends with Skull. Still, there’s part of the fact that this film is made for 2008 when the last one was two decades earlier that makes the look and feel too much different than before. In some cases, Crusade was a bigger picture with feet grounded in reality (with a few exceptions), while Skull feels a bit smaller with some big action and set pieces and its creative head set way above the [mushroom] clouds.
The plot of The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is tough to talk about without revealing too much. The backstory was kept pretty hush on what the deal is with the whole “Crystal Skull” legend and, in this case, it’s a lot more like Temple of Doom than the other two films. Where Indiana had a kid and a leading lady tagging along in that installment, here rising star Shia LaBeouf is along for the ride as Mutt Williams and Raiders Of The Lost Ark‘s Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood. How everyone gets together is a fun little set up and it’s great to see the team together on the screen. Another addition to the cast is Ray Winstone as Mac who is an old pal of Indiana’s and finally, John Hurt appears as Professor Oxley. However, by the film’s climax, it seems there may be too many characters sharing the screentime to the point where some of the focus is taken off of Indy. In Crusade, Indiana had to face the three trials to find the Grail alone, and it was a fine character moment for him. The climax of Crystal Skull, for the most part, is a bit underwhelming, from the manner of resolution to the full reveal behind the legend of the Crystal Skull itself. It ultimately seems to lose any semblance of an Indiana Jones adventure.
Some nitpicking aside, I’m still thrilled to even be reviewing a fourth Indiana Jones adventure. It’s the type of film that fans have enormous expectations for, so chances are they’ll be let down no matter what. And while I can’t say I really feel completely “let down,” there are just a few plot elements that don’t sit well with me (that I can’t divulge here unfortunately – due to it being spoiler territory). What I did enjoy about this film was the fantastic opening action sequence that gets things on track right off the bat. Surprisingly enough, much of what was in the trailers that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the amazon in Central America, was almost all from the opening scenes of the movie – so there’s quite a bit in Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull that the trailers didn’t spoil for us. Spielberg and Lucas keep the film’s mood pretty light, more like in Last Crusade, with Jones playing a bit of the Connery role as his father with Shia’s Mutt being a younger partner for him. Some of the dialog and action sequences are really fun, with the latter moments specifically including the aforementioned opening action, a romping motorcycle chase scene, and the extended truck chase scene in the jungle. Spielberg kept the action fun and frisky and there were certainly moments where I was reminded of the feel of the other Indy films (and keep your ears and eyes open for subtle references to the other movies – and even Star Wars!). Still, there is at least one really outright moronic moment, particularly when we see Mutt swinging through the trees on vines with a a large number of monkeys (Lucas, was that your idea?!). There are still a few other eyebrow-raising moments, including a gag involving the atomic bomb, but all-in-all, it’s just for fun, and it’s something the viewer has to keep in mind as the film sputters down to its rather wacky conclusion. As a side note, it’s kind of funny to be watching Indiana Jones 4 and be reminded of elements from the 1999 version of The Mummy (which was largely criticized for feeling like a rip off of Raiders of the Lost Ark), all the way down to the way a villain gets his comeuppance. Funny how things like that go full circle.
Content is certainly toned down for the fourth spin. While we do see our fair share of skeletons or partially decomposed dead bodies, there’s very little bloodshed. Even when the other three films take their villains out in some gruesome form or another, it’s things like that that are held back more here. It’s still a far cry to call this a kid-friendly flick, but it’s nice to see Spielberg not go too far over the edge with violence. Crystal Skull presents a handful of language (most of it in the forms of “h*ll” and “d*mn” with the occasional “S” word or “S.O.B.” thrown in), and a fair share of some more intense or creepy moments. One of said moments does involve man-eating bugs that overtake a few victims (not nearly as bad as the scarabs in The Mummy, but you get the idea), and some ghostly tribal attackers in the night.
All in all, The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is an enjoyable installment in the Indiana Jones saga. Sure, it’s a wholly unnecessary addition to the original trilogy, but a fun and welcomed revisitation nonetheless. Ford is great once again as Dr. Jones, and while the youthfulness has left both Ford and his leading lady, Karen Allen, Spielberg revitalizes the characters by adding Shia to the mix. And while Crystal Skull doesn’t exactly live up to the hype to its fullest expectations, especially with a few truly over-the-top moments or a premise that probably sides a bit too much with myth and legend than historical fact, it’s a good summer movie with plenty of nostalgia to accompany it. But here’s to hoping if there is a fifth film, that Ford isn’t replaced and the franchise isn’t turned over to LaBeouf. I think I’d rather see it conclude with Crystal Skull entirely.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/21/08; edited 6/17/21)
4K UHD Special Features Review
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is now available in 4K UHD. You can get it on its own digitally now, or in a special 5-disc, 4-movie 4K set. According to Paramount Pictures, “all four films are available together in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision® and HDR-10 for ultra-vivid picture quality and state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos® audio. Each film has been meticulously remastered from 4K scans of the original negatives with extensive visual effects work done to ensure the most pristine and highest quality image. All picture work was approved by director Steven Spielberg. In addition, all four films were remixed at Skywalker Sound under the supervision of legendary sound designer Ben Burtt to create the Dolby Atmos® soundtracks. All original sound elements were used to achieve the fully immersive Dolby Atmos® mixes while staying true to each film’s original creative intent.”
Of the four Indiana Jones movies in 4K, ironically the newest one – from 2008 – is the least visually impressive movie in the set. Probably because of Lucas’ love for using green screen to fill in digital scenery, too many scenes looked fake and even muddy at times. It seemed to have the same problem that some of the Star Wars prequels had from the early 2000’s. Exhibit A would be the digital gophers and the nuke-the-fridge sequence. However, the sound in the movie is pretty lovely – that is definitely an improvement for the movie.
Also, revisiting the film again since its 2008 release, it has not aged well. I wouldn’t even fault the movie because of Ford’s age – he proved in 2015 (7 years later) that he can still kick butt in his 70’s as Han Solo; everything from Spielberg’s direction to over-reliance on digital effects to poor acting from the supporting cast… it’s just a complete mess that doesn’t really feel like an Indy movie. Even John Williams’ score lacks at times (Mutt’s theme is overly bouncy… and, really? “Mutt?!” Because Indy was named after the dog? Sigh.) I love Cate Blanchett and even she has some really goofy moments – from always trying to look overly menacing, to clutching the skull like a kid trying to protect their Cabbage Patch doll on the playground, to that accent… it drags the movie down. And every. single. word. out of Ray Winstone’s mouth in this movie is like nails on the chalkboard. He’s over-the-top in all the worst ways, and he’s not even remotely likeable – even when we’re supposed to think he’s a friend to Indy. The choice to have him “turn” on Indy in the first sequence is also strange. We just don’t really care if he’s good or bad (or even in the scene). Karen Allen turns on the Marion Ravenwood spunk in one or two scenes, but she seems super rusty at acting here. I wanted to love her like she was in Raiders, but she doesn’t really work here either. And Shia isn’t as bad as one might expect (I actually liked him in the first Transformers movie), but he doesn’t help an already troubled production. And finally, John Hurt’s certifiable crackpot Professor Oxley (or “Ox”… another cringy name), is yet another cartoony character in an already over-saturated action adventure movie that feels like a live-action cartoon (or Scooby-Doo episode). Even the set pieces in the movie are kind of ordinary or dull. Ugh. I love Indy. I love Harrison Ford. I think Spielberg is a skilled director, but Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is just plain full of bad choices and cringe-worthy moments. I want to like this movie, but I can’t. I previously believed that Temple of Doom was the franchise’s lowest point – and it IS pretty low – but after rewatching all four movies in succession, I’d probably have to say that it doesn’t get much lower than Indiana Jones and The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Hopefully Indy 5 will end things on a higher note.
The 4K set also includes a standard Blu-ray disc with seven hours of previously released bonus content as detailed below:
- On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark
- From Jungle to Desert
- From Adventure to Legend
- Making the Films
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 documentary)
- The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- The Making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (HD)
- Behind the Scenes
- The Stunts of Indiana Jones
- The Sound of Indiana Jones
- The Music of Indiana Jones
- The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones
- Raiders: The Melting Face!
- Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-ups)
- Travel with Indiana Jones: Locations (with optional pop-ups)
- Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute
- Indy’s Friends and Enemies
- Iconic Props (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) (HD)
- The Effects of Indy (Kingdom of theCrystal Skull) (HD)
- Adventures in Post Production (Kingdom of theCrystal Skull) (HD)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/16/21)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We see Indiana standing behind a large window naked as he’s getting scrubbed down (from a contamination). As the camera pans back, the base wall under the glass blocks anything below his waste, and he reacts skeptically to one of the brushes going below his waist (played for laughs)
Vulgarity/Language: Possibly 3 “s” words, 3 “S.O.B,” 6 “d*mn,” 5 “h*ll,” 3 derivatives of “G-d” (i.e. “For G-d’s sake”)
Alcohol/Drugs: Mutt takes a beer off a server’s tray (he’s probably under age) when the server isn’t looking, but Indiana snatches it off the table and puts it back on the tray; Mutt makes a comment about someone “smoggin’ the noggin'” which is a probable reference to smoking some kind of drug
Blood/Gore: We see what looks like a decomposed hand sticking out of some sort of body bag; We see various somewhat gross looking dead bodies/skeletons in a tomb. When a preserved bag is cut open, we see a dead body’s face quickly shrivel up (reacting to the air after not being preserved any longer); A tribal character is about to shoot a poisonous dart til a person blows into the front of it, which shoots the dart into the mouth of the attacker (we see their surprised face and mouth open with maybe some blood); Mutt has a slightly bloody cut on his face from being sliced with a sword; Mutt’s face is a bit bloody/beaten after a fight; Indy’s face is a bit beaten after a fight; We see some goo after Spalko squishes a bug (and later see that again with another one); During a fight, a man is hit in the face repeatedly and spits out some blood; We see a swarm of bugs overtake a man and pour into his mouth as he screams. One also goes up his nose. The bugs then drag the body into a hole; We see a large number of tribal people lying on the ground dead. We see a few briefly with bloody bullet wounds in their backs; We see what looks like fire blowing out of a character’s eyes before they are vaporized
Violence: Lots of shooting – including a tribe of jungle people are slaughtered by the Russians; Some hand-to-hand fights; A brawl breaks out in a diner; There’s some sword play; Indy hits some attackers with a shovel; A swarm of ants overtake a man, filling his mouth as he screams, then they carry his body to a large ant hill and pull him down as he’s flailing his arms; We see a few explosions; We see what looks like fire blowing out of a character’s eyes before they are vaporized – and more action violence. Please also see “Blood/Gore” for more specific violent moments.