The best trilogies come in fours as Harrison ford dusts off the fedora and whip for another crack at his iconic archeologist in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. After two decades of trying to get a fourth film off the ground, Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford finally settled on a story that saw an aged Indy enter the turbulent atomic-era 1950s. It was an uphill climb to meet fan expectations, and while this flick has some bumpy spots, it's still a pretty fun adventure. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull returns to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for a solo single-disc SteelBook release from Paramount. Restoring the classic artwork is the only advantage here as the disc is exactly the same sans any meaningful bonus features. Recommended
[Portions of this review were previously published with our 2021 Indiana Jones The Complete Adventures 4K Ultra HD Review]
Twenty years later, a much older Indy returns for another adventure. And at first glance, the fourth installment is a hodgepodge involving aliens, communists, a Marlon Brando wannabe, swinging monkeys, and a lead-lined refrigerator capable of surviving a nuclear blast. Then, there is some silly nonsense about backstabbing double agents while Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) from the first movie suddenly returns to brighten the screen. Even after reading that out loud, it really feels as though Spielberg and Lucas severely dropped the ball here, to use a phrase uttered by Shia LaBeouf as Indy's rebel son Mutt Williams. But to be completely fair, criticizing the production for these elements is also rather undeserving in a beloved franchise that openly blends the action-adventure genre with heavy doses of fantasy, the occult and homages to B-movies serials. And it has always done so proudly.
Part of the joy in watching these adventures is the escapist fun of hunting ancient artifacts with wildly mystical superstitions and supernatural powers, packed with the thrilling excitement that comes from that journey. Admittedly, the whole monkeys swinging through the jungle with LaBeouf remains pretty lame, but it's really not any crazier than a Nazi-saluting monkey, eating chilled monkey brains for dessert or Marcus Brody monkeying around in general. To be completely honest, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull falls perfectly in line withing the franchise's theme as an homage to the classical Hollywood style, and this third sequel just happens to blend the low-budget matinee genre with the feel of a 1950s sci-fi B-movie. And it does so rather spectacularly, nicely capturing the general quality of pulp science fiction mixed with a great deal of humor. Flawed as it may be, a little kooky and even goofy, the movie is ultimately good, silly fun without tarnishing Indy's legacy.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Indiana Jones chugs down some Geritol and suits up for his first adventure in over twenty years with the 1950s Soviet/Alien-themed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with a new single-disc 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray + Digital SteelBook from Paramount. Pressed on a BD100 disc, this is the exact same disc as before. The SteelBook packaging replicates the original theatrical poster artwork.
Predictably, the strongest and best looking of the bunch is also the newest installment with an outstanding, demo-worthy HEVC encode that also comes from a fresh remaster of the OCN. Overall definition enjoys a notable uptick with cleaner and more distinct details in the costumes, stage production and the various vehicles. The fine lines in the ancient temple, the individual hairs and the leaves of the foliage are discrete and striking while the background objects and information are plainer to make out from a distance. The few softer sequences are related to the CG effects but hold up decently well, all things considered. Brightness levels are markedly improved, showering the 2.35:1 image with inky, silky blacks that penetrate deep into the background. Along with a fine layer of natural grain and velvety, midnight shadows that never overwhelm the smaller details in the darkest corners, the native 4K transfer looks very cinematic with appreciable three-dimensionality quality.
An exceptional contrast balance yields a great deal of energy to the visuals with brilliant, radiant whites. Although subtle and nuanced, specular highlights add a snappy, resplendent glow to the hottest spots, such as in the fire of torches making them appear more realistic or in the glistening luster of the golden surfaces of the temple or in the narrow, sparkling shimmer of the alien skulls, revealing the tiniest cracks and fractures within. The Dolby Vision HDR also supplies Janusz Kaminski's purposely over-saturated cinematography with a more dynamic and animated array of yellows and greens, from the deep honey shades of the temple to the dark junipers and emeralds of the jungle foliage. The orange-teal palette is all the more apparent here, bathing some sequences in eye-catching tones of cyans, indigos and fiery marigolds while the alien skulls display a dramatic mix of electrifying arctic hues and an intense cobalt glimmer. With healthy, lifelike facial complexions throughout, the fourth entry makes for an impressive step up over its HD SDR counterpart.
The fourth entry arguably makes the most interesting comparison seeing as how the design has been granted both a DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks over the years. For the most part, this new Atmos mix doesn't display as much of a notable difference as the above tracks, still delivering a similar mid-range and the same wide, expansive soundstage as before. Granted, a few atmospherics bleed into the top heights on a few occasions and nicely broaden the soundscape into a half-dome wall of sound, especially during action sequences. Other ambient effects, likewise, discretely travel into the surroundings and subtly above the listening area, generating an admittedly satisfying soundfield that can be quite immersive, particularly in the last quarter of the movie. Meanwhile, Williams' memorable score maintains excellent viewer engagement by spreading all around with terrific fidelity and distinction in the orchestration. With well-prioritized, crystal-clear vocals in the center, the low-end provides the design with a hefty depth and presence thanks to some powerful, palpable bass.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was issued the near-impossible task of continuing the adventures of a beloved franchise character after a nearly two-decade absence from theater screens. While the film was certainly bumpy and some questionable story choices were made, it's still a lively and fun adventure. It certainly doesn't ruin anything we'd seen and loved in the previous three adventures. Paramount Home Video gives Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull another whipcrack on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a new solo-disc SteelBook release. The only real advantage of this offering is getting the original theatrical poster art on the Steelbook. If you're satisfied with the Complete Collection set there's no reason to upgrade. But if you haven't added these films to the 4K collection, this SteelBook is the way to go Recommended.