When I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in theaters I was completely unafraid to say just how much adored and loved the first two-thirds and was moderately okay with the final climactic sequences. While I was not alone in that assessment (this film sits at 77-percent to the positive at Rotten Tomatoes), you’d think in the time after it was released I was bona fide insane, so many people willing to give you an earful on just how underwhelming they felt this action-adventure was. Watching it again on DVD I say phooey to all the naysayers and stick to my guns on the picture itself.
This, almost two-decades in coming, sequel to George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford’s last outing bringing globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones to the screen is one heck of a lot of fun, and as far as old-fashioned Saturday matinee B-grade high-flying entertainment is concerned this one makes the grade and then some. My happiness began right from the very first frame.
It’s 1957 and Indiana (Ford) has been kidnapped and taken to a top secret Nevada army base by a group of nasty Russians led by a lithe military scientist named Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). Soon fists are flying, bodies are sailing through the air and our older (if not quite wiser) hero finds himself strapped to a rocket shooting through the desert like he’s Wile E. Coyote chasing after the Road Runner. It’s a fantastic opening, every bit as good as the one with River Phoenix that started Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (if not quite carrying the emotional kicker), and by the time it was over and Indy made his way back to his teaching gig I knew I was in for treat.
The story this time is a bunch of anciently intergalactic hooey about the search for a crystal skull with supposedly mystical powers which can unlock the secrets of a lost Mayan kingdom, and David Koepp’s (War of the Worlds) script treats it with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek seriousness. The film also introduces a mouthy greaser named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) who just happens to be Marion’s (Karen Allen) kid leading to an awkward (and unexpected) reconciliation between the estranged one-time lovers.
This is a classy adventure told with spunk, energy, style and intelligence. It treats its viewers as if they have a brain, and if it can’t quite come to a perfectly satisfactory resolution (much like the aforementioned third sequel) the first 85-percent is still grandly entertaining enough I don’t remotely care. The best bit involves a mechanized flight through the jungle where bodies leap from vehicle to vehicle and Mutt and Spalko engage in an impromptu backseat swordfight. It’s as good as any of the best moments found in either of the two previous sequels and nearly as fantastic as the desert road chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and by the time it was finally finished I wanted to squeal in high-pitched ecstasy.
All this aside, I must agree with those who didn’t care for the sequel that the climactic showdown inside a hidden sanctuary is a bit of a letdown. It is almost as if Lucas, Spielberg, Koepp and company don’t quite know what to do with themselves, the climax unfortunately evoking more of a Stephen Sommers The Mummy vibe more than they do anything else. It doesn’t help that John Williams’ score is not up to his usual Indy standards either, almost as if he were just going through the nostalgic motions then trying to mix things up creatively in even the slightest way.
Paramount’s two-disc DVD is good not great, and much like the previously released disc of the first three pictures it’s hard to not wish for more. Granted, all of the behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries are undeniably outstanding, full of information and tidbits definitely worth taking a look at. It just all feels so rudimentary and familiar, though, and a part of me can’t help but think that if Lucas really wanted to he could break the digital medium in ways others have only dreamt of.
Still, even with this faintly sour aftertaste I was mesmerized by Indiana’s latest, and probably last, journey into the unknown. There is a timeless effervescence that speaks to both cinema’s past and to its present while also reminding all of us the future of movie entertainment doesn’t have to be emptily vacuous video game inspired thrills and chills devoid of anything close to resembling heart and soul. I liked it in theaters and gosh darn it all if I didn’t like it even more sitting at home, and if adventure still has a name as far as I’m concerned it’s sure as heck is Indian Jones.
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