Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Two-Disc Special Edition) (2008)

So I keep coming back to that same question over and over: Was “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” really all that bad, or were more Lucas retractors just exaggerating because they grew up and Spielberg’s story didn’t? And I keep coming back to that same answer: No. “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” really isn’t a bad movie; in fact it’s one of the better Indiana Jones entries I’ve seen that’s been grossly skewered by fans as the “Phantom Menace” of the Indiana Jones franchise, when really, it’s not bad. It’s actually quite good.

What we get with “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is great forward progression, we get an Indiana Jones whose fought the war, came back a hero, and is still fighting the good fight against pillagers in spite of his age. The Indy we see here is an older man who really can’t quite keep up with the cronies as he used to, but he is smart and quick on his feet, and still the fedora donning hero we grew to love in the eighties. Harrison Ford is fantastic reprising his role as Jones yet again and writer David Koepp dares to go in to the period with great zeal tackling everything from the growing fear of communism and paranoia that inevitably goes back to Indiana, to the crash of Roswell New Mexico that spawns the search for the Crystal Skulls. Koepp takes the period on with gritted teeth and he does it well.

The addition of new characters is near seamless as Salah has moved on and we’re given a slew of fifties era heroes who bring Indiana up to snuff and in to the quasi-modern age. Speaking as someone who had every inch of this film ruined for him by angry movie geeks, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was still quite a surprise to sit through, and just as fun as “The Temple or Doom.” Look, rag on me all you want but I had fun with “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” and no amount of bitching from melodramatic fans about “aliens” and “animated gophers” could sway me from the spell of Indiana Jones and his further adventures.So what if Indiana Jones has aged, he’s still the man with the whip, and I had a blast watching he and his new sidekick Mutt punching cronies and slipping out of close calls for two hours.

Some of the finer additions to the adventure is that we get to see Indy do what he’s perfect at, and it’s solving puzzles to which he and Mutt come across temples, and soldiers and KGB all of which make for some of the most exciting fare of the film; Shia Lebeouf manages to also hold his own against Ford as his impromptu apprentice who gets a crash course in tomb raiding, and the welcome addition of Marion Ravenwood also adds the needed punch for all doubting Indiana fans who want to know what some of the old characters have been up to since last we left them. I love Ray Winstone, but one of the main downfalls of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is that he’s simply no Sallah.

In spite of Koepp’s insistence in making him a thief of many trades who switches sides constantly, his character falls flat of ever having enough depth to live up to the likes of Marcus Brody or even Short Round and as quickly as he’s introduced and then gone, he’s a barely known aspect of the story. His character could have very well been taken out with the audience barely realizing he was ever supposed to be integral in the first place. Winstone is simply underused and misused to a sad extent. The twist in the second half isn’t surprising, but you know what? The movie is and I think this Indiana Jones is just as great as the one we last saw looking for the lost ark or temple of doom. I don’t see what all the ballyhoo is about; Indiana Jones still has it.

As for the DVD, the 2 Disc Special Edition packs a real library of extras and bells and whistles for the fans. Aside from the four language tracks on disc one, we get “The Return of a Legend” a seventeen minute montage/tribute to the glory of Indiana Jones and the adventure he brings in to the big screen. Here Spielberg also explains why he felt the need to continue the saga, and what eventually led them to use the theme of extra terrestrials and integrate it in to the story and it makes sense to this Spielberg apologist. I just wish Lawrence Kasdan could have been paid some lip service with his rejected original script. There’s also the wonderful eleven minute featurette “Pre-Production” where we see the cast learning how to fence, Spielberg constructing his CGI Area 51, and the CGI visualizations in their polygonal form before coming to life on film.

There’s also a look at the different versions of Indy’s costume and the choreography for Mutt’s boss fencing battle in the second half. On Disc Two we get over two hours of extras including a playable Xbox 360 Demo for the Lego Indiana Jones Game. We also get an eighty minute Production Diary, as well as a five minute look at the intricate designs of the make up on the Temple warriors from Felicity Bowring. There’s also the ten minute look at the history of the “Crystal Skulls” and how writer Koepp’s ideas stemmed from the artifacts; “Iconic Props” is a ten minute puff piece about the variety of props and how they’re characters in and of themselves including the whip, hat, and crystal skulls. “The Effects of Indy” talks to Paul Huston the veteran effects artist to prior “Indiana Jones” films and how he engineered the battles and set pieces in this film, and “Adventures in Post-Production,” Spielberg’s process of shooting the entire film on traditional film in spite of Lucas’s insistence on using Digital film, the work behind the wonderful sound track and sound editing, and how the poster was important to the film’s enigmatic marketing.

“Closing: Team Indy” is a three minute montage of the end of the shooting behind “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and Spielberg’s feelings on the project; as well there are three Pre-visualization sequences one of which being Jones’s escape from Area 51, and to round out the bunch there are an assortment of stills from post and pre-production, and all three trailers to the movie. In spite of the misusage and underusage of the ever talented Ray Winstone, “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is a perfectly great bout of escapism with Indiana Jones at his best and all the serial movie treats Spielberg and co. brought us back in the eighties. Ignore the fan boy whining and decide for yourself.