PictureIndiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was inevitably going to be the first Indy film to make it to HD, and the second Spielberg film on the format, so as such is the only opportunity for Jones fans to watch their hero in HD. However, with an inevitable box set somewhere down the line, the producers of the disc were going to have to do something special to entice the punters to part with their cash for this instalment. They have certainly done this with the picture.
The film is presented in the theatrically correct 2.40 : 1 ratio - and is, of course, in 1080P. The beginning opens with the typical paramount mountain logo, whilst morphing into a gopher hill in the middle of the desert. We then crash into a typical 50's car-based game of chicken, referencing the classics of the time. What is immediately apparent here is the stunning depth of field present. It almost feels that you can fall into the image, such is the three-dimensionality that is displayed. This really is up there with the best on the format for depth. Time and again this is shown, whether it be the shot where the camera pans up as the vehicles first enter Area 51, or indeed inside the warehouse. This is fantastic stuff.
A very interesting thing about the film is the contrast in colour styles used, and how well the transfer copes with these. The early scenes take place in a desert environment, and everything looks washed out and pale. This is well realised on disc, and manages to give a near-perfect rendition of how it looked at the flicks. Later on, as supernatural elements begin to creep in the film is shot with deliberately over-saturated blues, greens and oranges - yet even here the transfer is able to cope well, easily matching the presentation I saw at my local Odeon.
Black levels are deep and dense, with shadow detail always being clear and easy to discern. The source is also pristine, with no visible blemishes - but this is exactly as one would expect from a film so recent.
Some who are coming to the film for the first time through this disc may feel that the film has a slightly flat look in terms of image detail, almost as if the contrast has been deliberately kept low. This is typically obvious in the faces, which lack the fine detail that we may be used to in some transfers. This is also present in the quality of the whole image, which lacks the solid look of a properly filmed movie. At times, it looks almost plastic - as if the whole film (even the actors) were created with CGI. This is, however, exactly how the film looked in the cinema and it would be remiss of me to mark the film down because of this. The bottom line is that the image looks just as good as it did at the flicks - and because of this it deserves its high mark. This is how Spielberg intended the film to look, even if it doesn't exactly match up to the warm, natural look of the original trilogy.
SoundThe sound on this disc is presented in a Dolby TrueHD mix and from beginning to end sounds absolutely marvellous, filling the room when needed, but never being overly bombastic.
The first thing to note is how warm the whole mix sounds. As good as the transfer is, it is never a picture that draws you in to the world, preferring to keep you at a distance. The contrast between that and this sound mix is immediately obvious. The front stage is expansive and well presented, with a wide soundstage and William's score being given plenty of room to breathe. Old raider's tunes appear and seem totally integrated into the mix, bringing a welcome sense of nostalgia to the film.
Dialogue is always clear and well presented, requiring no artificial tweaking to reveal what the characters are saying. Everything is clear as a bell and beautifully balanced. The sub, too, is utilised well when needed - never being over-egged but providing excellent punch when necessary.
The rears are never forgotten, and are used really well to underscore the action we are seeing whilst never overshadowing it. So, for example, we can clearly hear vehicles before we see them, panning in from the rear left or right. Gunfire is cleverly placed within the mix, coming from exactly where you would expect it to come from.
Being hyper critical, perhaps some more subtle jungle noises may have been required in some of the scenes set in this location, but to be honest most of the time there is so much going on in these scenes that you wouldn't be able to hear them. I think there are just two scenes here where I was thinking, surely the natural noise of the jungle would be audible at this point? Apart from this very minor criticism this mix is excellent, being punchy and lively at all time with all six speakers getting an excellent workout.
ExtrasSomeday, all discs will be produced this way! Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes to Blu-ray with everything you would expect, and gratifyingly even more! Although the overall sense may well be one of overkill, the amount of times I have hammered discs for not including extras - I can only level praise at the amount included here.
As is common on Spielberg releases, we get no commentaries here - but the extras are well spread over both discs, and even better most of them are in full HD. I get sick of seeing SD extras on discs, and find them frustrating to a serious degree - everything here is fantastically presented.
The first disc features Pre-Production Featurette (11 mins) which looks with pleasing detail at various elements of pre production, but far better is the 18 minute The Return of a Legend featurette. This is a fascinating feature, which is notable for its honesty behind the motives for bringing the character back, and the key players who were for and against such a move. The McGuffin is also extensively discussed here, with Spielberg in particular being quite dismissive of the alien concept (even if it is dressed up as “inter dimensional beings”).
The first disc is rounded out with some trailers (I was hoping for all four movies, but sadly only for the latest instalment), and the Java feature Indiana Jones Timeline which looks at the movies, real life, and real history - and puts all against each other in one of the best Java features I have yet seen. Don't get me wrong, it is still something that has more than a whiff of gimmick about it - but it is well implemented, even if the size of text means you have to get up off the sofa and move far too close to the TV.
Some discs would have stopped here, but famed documentary maker Laurent Bouzereau is involved - so the second disc goes into amazing depth into the background of the film. We start with 80 minute long HD feature Production Diary : Making the Crystal Skull - divided into six chapters covering from first shot to wrap up this is riveting stuff. The level of detail may be a little too much to take for the average viewer - and indeed for those who failed to rate the film very highly. However, it is here and it is fascinating. One can only wish Bouzereau was around to document the making of the original trilogy.
Less comprehensive but still interesting is a series of smaller HD documentaries. Warrior Makeup, The Crystal Skulls, Iconic Props, and Adventures in Post Production last between five and ten minutes each, and cover fairly self explanatory areas. The props feature does deserve the “Iconic” title, though, when it looks at Indy's whip! John Williams also makes an appearance in the latter documentary.
A more meaty featurette is The Effects of Indy which lasts 22 minutes. The sad thing, to me, is watching all these film-makers (who created such an icon using traditional techniques) now singing the praises of CGI - the use of which is probably the worst thing in this revisit to the franchise. Do we really need CGI backgrounds replacing matte work? Do we really need CGI gophers, and CGI monkeys? I would answer no, but apparently we do. And this featurette is also noticeable for being one of those “fawning” additions where everyone gushes unconvincingly about how wonderful the CGI is and how much it adds. Very annoying.
These mini featurettes close with the final HD contributions. These consist of four pre-vis sequences which dissect certain key parts of the film, and an excellent resume of the cast and crew in Closing : Team Indy.
Finally, it is back to SD for some extensive galleries including a look inside the late Stan Winston (R.I.P) studios.
VerdictIndiana Jones and the Crystal Skull has been met with some very mixed reviews but it is very hard to see why. Yes, the film has its faults but the most honest thing I can say about it is that it doesn't feel out of place when compared with the other three films at all.
None of this series has been perfect, despite the nostalgic tinge that we have tended to view them with, and there is more than enough here to keep you entertained. Ford and Lebouef put in superb performances, although it is a shame that Blanchett lets proceedings down so badly, and that Marion is not written as the character that we know and love.
But the film is enthused with an amazing energy courtesy of the ever youthful Spielberg and it is his influence which manages, just, to save this film and make it a worthy entry into the franchise. Infinitely more successful than the recent Star Wars sequels, this is a film that is absolutely worthy of your attention.
On disc, the film receives near superlative treatment and is probably one of the best discs I have had the pleasure to review so far. Receiving top notch audio and visual treatment, and extras that bring new meaning to the word comprehensive any fan of the film is likely to want for nothing else. There is nothing I can think of that could improve this.
However, as always there is a caveat and that is that it is inevitable that somewhere down the line the older films will appear - and this is likely to be in a box set with this film. So, should those who are unsure wait? My honest answer is no. These films appeared on DVD relatively late in the formats lifecycle so it could be some time before we see them in HD. It is true the HD masters exist (they have been shown on BBC HD), but until the box set, this is the only way to see Indy on Blu-ray and the quality of the disc means even casual fans should purchase. If you hated the film, well realistically nothing here is going to change your mind.
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