Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 4K Blu-ray Review
A lot has been written and read regarding the fourth final installment in the Indiana Jones saga, and most of it is unkind. Is that reputation fair? Somewhat. But the biggest difference between the films of old and their most recent incarnation is the audience. It's changed. In shades of similarity with the Star Wars prequels, the entire blame can't be heaped at the feet of George Lucas. Audiences have grown up since 1989, and their expectations have changed, but Indy has remained rather stagnant.
Admittedly, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is hardly the height of the franchise, but really is it much worse than Temple of Doom's egregious tonal shifts and screaming Kate Capshaw? Unfortunately, Crystal Skull's worst crimes are an over-reliance on less than stellar computer graphics and a lopsided plot which has its most impressive sequences early on, before losing steam in its third act. This contrasts sharply with the gang literally riding to the sunset at the conclusion of The Last Crusade, which served as the perfect wrap.
Still, with the fifth and final installment scheduled for release in 2022, the filmmakers (led by director James Mangold) have one last chance to close the door on the franchise the right way. Until then, and in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm have produced a stunning 4K Blu-ray set, which includes the four current entries in the series, alongside a Blu-ray disc of bonus features. Let's jump in.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, encoded with H.265 compression and finished with a Dolby Vision pass, in addition to a base HDR-10 layer.
Like its three predecessors, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was lensed on 35mm negative but took full advantage of digital tools developed during editing and post-production and was ultimately finished in a 2K digital intermediate. To date, that 2K master has been the source of all subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases. Still, for this 4K release, Paramount has gone back to the negative and assembled a brand new 4K digital intermediate and color grade, with digital visual effects shots upscaled from 2K.
Offering some subtle improvements to image clarity and sharpness, with some minor digital tinkering and framing, the real upgrade is in the new color grading, which is a huge upgrade, eschewing the horrid chartreuse tones that permeated throughout. Pulling back to a more neutral tone really assists in making the film blend a little more with its predecessors. It sounds minor, but it's really not.
Overall, this was an excellent presentation, and without doubt, the definitive presentation of the film released to home video. Paramount should be heartily congratulated for going the extra mile to re-assemble the film and right the wrongs of the previous releases.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is presented with a newly remixed Dolby Atmos object-based audio track.
Unlike its predecessors Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was already a robust, contemporary 5.1 sound mix, but this subtle reworking for the Dolby Atmos format by original sound designer Ben Burtt introduces some subtle enhancements to height surround and a slightly wider soundstage. While hardly the most aggressive sound mix on the format, it rolls along confidently and responds appropriately to the on-screen action, including the nuke town sequence, which offers some superb low-end intensity. The classic Indiana Jones sound effects are here in abundance, but they too have been bought kicking and screaming the 21st century, sounding a little more realistic and refined than its forebears.
It's not going to win any awards, but Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull transfers very well to Atmos.
Bar two Theatrical Trailers (both presented in 1080p), all of the bonus material is included on the 5th disc of the collection, along with bonus features for the other three Indiana Jones films. In this section, I'll not only talk about the bonus features exclusively relevant to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but also the remaining extra features that are relevant to the franchise as a whole.
Included from the initial two-disc Blu-ray release from 2008 is a truncated 30-minute version of the Production Diaries Documentary, produced by Spielberg regular Laurent Bouzereau. On its own, it's a very effective fly-on-the-wall feature, but compared to the full-length feature on the previous release, it's a little disappointing (especially when one considers that there was enough extra disc space to fit it on). Also included are the following featurettes; The Effects of Indy, which talks about the rather extensive (and controversial) use of CG effects in the film ranging from wire-removal, digital backgrounds replacing matte paintings, to fully CG animals and creatures.
The Adventures In Post Production is a quick summary of the final stages of the film's production, from the changes made to elements of the story to the final sound mix, including John Williams' score; it's all glossed over here. Iconic Props takes a look at some of the prop work, including the fan-pleasing cameo from the Ark of the Covenant.
Finally, the following featurettes (hangovers from the even earlier 2003 DVD release); take closer looks at specific parts of the saga's production: The Stunts of Indiana Jones takes a look at the work of Vic Armstrong, amongst others, The Sounds of Indiana Jones covers the sound design of Lucasfilm's Ben Burtt, The Music of Indiana Jones is concerned with the origins of that classic theme song (who knew it was two tunes mixed together?) and finally The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones which looks at the pioneering work of the special effects company in the model age.
The Bottom Line
The maligned fourth entry in the saga scrubs up well in 4K, even if the resolution bump can't improve the actual film.