Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/5/23;
Disney/Lucasfilm;
Adventure;
Box Office $174.48 million;
$29.99 DVD, $36.99 Blu-ray, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, language and smoking.
Stars Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Shaunette Renée Wilson, Thomas Kretschmann, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Olivier Richters, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen.

If ever there were a time for a new “Indiana Jones” movie, it was the 1990s.

Building off the momentum of the first three films, they could have been solid, dependable adventure yarns at a time when Harrison Ford’s age wouldn’t have been an issue.

Instead, the post trilogy “Jones” movies took so long to get made that the adventure seemed to take a back seat to a need to make the film feel extra significant in some way, as if it were a tribute to all that came before it.

As a result, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, coming 19 years after the previous film, felt a bit like a TV-movie reunion to an old show, rather than a vibrant relaunch of the franchise. As it were, it still took more than a decade to get a fifth installment off the ground, and by then the property had been sold to a new studio, Steven Spielberg stepped aside as director in favor of James Mangold, and a global pandemic hit, all while Ford was pushing 80.

So it’s not much of a surprise that what would eventually be called Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny would also be touted as the final “Indiana Jones” film.

While Dial of Destiny lacks some of the cornier elements that hampered Crystal Skull, it also feels a bit less connected to what an “Indiana Jones” movie should be about.

Mangold, to his credit, tries to capture some of the spirit of the 1980s films with a prologue set during World War II, using visual effects to de-age Harrison Ford into an age-appropriate Indy.

Here, the famed archeologist and old pal Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) have stumbled upon a compound where the Nazis are hoarding priceless artifacts. Among them is half of the Antikythera, an ancient mechanism created by Archimedes.

After a harrowing escape from a doomed train, the setting shifts 25 years later to 1969. It’s just after the moon landing, and Indy is now a bitter old man on the verge of retirement. He gets a visit from Basil’s daughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who wants to take up the search for the other half of the Archimedes dial. Indy resists, but soon finds himself ensnared in a cat-and-mouse game between Helena, who turns out to be a thief looking to sell the dial for a profit, and a former Nazi scientist named Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) who was recruited by America to work on the space program. Voller believes the dial can be used to locate fissures in space-time that can be used to travel into the past, and he intends to change history by helping Germany win the war.

On the surface it all makes for an enjoyable adventure movie, but it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. And the third act takes a narrative leap that, while serving a thematic purpose for this particular story, employs a plot device that brings the franchise to a place it probably should never have gone.

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Dial of Destiny has its moments, looks great, has a fantastic musical score from John Williams, and it hits a few nostalgia buttons with cameos and callbacks to the earlier films. But it will mostly leave fans wishing the “Indiana Jones” movies had just stopped with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (George Lucas’ “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series notwithstanding).

The Dial of Destiny Blu-ray contains the same five-part making-of documentary that came with the film’s digital release months ago. The component featurettes offer a comprehensive look at the production, from location shooting to visual effects to casting, which is interesting from the perspective of the craftsmanship involved. But it also has some earnest interviews from the filmmakers who mostly spout the polished praise for each other that are hallmarks of these kinds of concurrently made extras that lack the insight of retrospect.

In the 4K Ultra HD combo pack, the documentary is available only on the Blu-ray of the film. Both the 4K disc and the Blu-ray offer the film with a score-only track so viewers can hear the John Williams music without any dialogue or sound effects. While it doesn’t quite make up for the debacle over the film’s short-handed CD soundtrack release (which now fetches hundreds of dollars on eBay), it is a nice tribute to the maestro.

Christopher Robin

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 11/6/18;
Disney;
Family;
Box Office $98.87 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for some action.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss.
Voices of Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Toby Jones.

Disney’s live-action version of “Winnie the Pooh” takes a cue from Hook in a child revisiting a fantasy realm after he’s grown up and discovering it’s important to never let go of that childhood sense of whimsy.

The film picks up as Christopher Robin preparing to go off to boarding school and saying goodbye to Pooh and his other pals of the Hundred-Acre Wood (depicted at the conclusion of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Then the film gives us a taste of Christopher Robin’s life as he was growing up by cleverly presenting moments of his young adult life as new chapters in a book of his continuing adventures. He eventually marries, has a daughter and begins to forget all about Pooh.

The adult Christopher (Ewan McGregor, who’d be making an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie by now if the stubborn bosses at Lucasfilm figured out how to decipher their audience) becomes absorbed in his work as an efficiency expert at a luggage manufacturer and becomes isolated from his family. When tasked with spending a weekend finding a way to cut costs to keep the company open, he is forced to stay behind as his family goes on vacation to the family cottage of his childhood. But his daughter (Bronte Carmichael) has discovered his childhood drawings of Pooh and friends, and the old memories seem to stir Pooh from a long slumber.

Not finding any of his friends, Pooh journeys into the real world to ask Christopher Robin for help.

The live-action designs of Pooh are somewhat of a cross between how they looked in the Disney cartoons and the vintage stuffed animals that originally inspired the stories. Thanks to some terrific visual effects, they are textured and unmistakably doll-like in their appearance, but just as lifelike as they ever were in animated form.

The storyline veers into some darker tones as it establishes Christopher Robin’s grown-up troubles and how sad it makes Pooh and the others that their old friend seems to have drifted away from them. But then they find his daughter, and she whisks them off to help Christopher Robin solve his problems at work (even if the ultimate solution turns out to be rather simplistic and a bit bizarre).

There are chases and mischief and the usual laughs to be expected from transplanting these magical living dolls into a real-world setting. Really, though, the film is at its best when it’s focused on the fun times to be had in the Hundred-Acre Wood and is basically just the live-action version of the old animated shorts.

The Blu-ray is rather light on extras, including just four behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 15 minutes in total.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 9/18/18;
Universal;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $415.98 million;
$29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $44.98 3D BD, $44.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.
Stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B.D. Wong, Isabella Sermon, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom really cements the notion that the “Jurassic Park” films are perfect metaphors for the creative approach to the franchise as a whole. In particular, an overriding premise of the “Jurassic World” movies is that the more people see the dinosaurs at the center of them, the less awe-inspiring they become. So, the powers that be make up new dinosaurs to entice the audience, and when the theme park idea runs its course, it all gets blown up in order to change the setting.

The formula is so ingrained in the DNA of the franchise that the Fallen Kingdom Blu-ray even offers a featurette detailing all the tropes it borrowed from the other movies.

In this fifth “Jurassic” movie and the second of the “World” brand, the island that housed the dinosaur-themed amusement park in the previous film (and the 1993 original) is experiencing a catastrophic volcanic eruption that will wipe out all the genetically engineered dinosaurs that have been roaming free there the past three years.

As the U.S. government debates whether or not to rescue the animals (and decides not to, thanks to some prodding from fan-favorite character Dr. Ian Malcolm, played again by Jeff Goldblum in little more than a cameo), a private dinosaur fanatic recruits the two main survivors of the previous film, Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard), to help rescue some of the creatures and move them to a sanctuary island.

Little do they know that the mission is a ruse to capture a selection of the dinosaurs and sell them for nefarious purposes at auction at a massive Northern California estate. The centerpiece of the auction is the Indoraptor, which was designed with military applications in mind.

And, of course, one thing leads to another and the dinosaurs get loose and start killing everyone.

Just as Jurassic World revisited some of the core premise of the original film set at the theme park, Fallen Kingdom takes a few cues from the 1997 sequel, The Lost World, in that the first half takes place on the island, only to have greedy entrepreneurs send mercenary teams to capture the dinosaurs to bring them back to America to make money.

The movie also seeks to evolve the film’s ethical questions about cloning and genetic engineering by advancing the storyline off the island, something hinted at by the end of 2001’s Jurassic Park III but never followed up on until now. The filmmakers have called this the middle chapter of a trilogy so there are a few plot threads left to explore in the third installment.

The visual effects are of course top notch, and the film looks great in the first half as it shows off more of the island (now with volcanic ash and lava). By this point in the franchise, there are even recurring dinosaur characters, in the form of Blue the velociraptor (introduced in the last movie) and Rexy the T-Rex (the big beast from the original film).

The island sequences culminate in one of the most spectacular and emotionally charged shots of the franchise.

The second half of the film is much darker by design, as deadly dinos stalk their prey within the confines of a mansion as the human heroes try to keep them from escaping.

The Blu-ray includes a dozen or so short featurettes totaling about 75 minutes in behind-the-scenes material.

Among the most notable of these are a roundtable discussion with Pratt, Howard, Goldblum, director J.A. Bayona and executive producer Colin Trevorrow. This is the only part of the disc, the movie included, where you’ll get to see the film’s stars interact with Goldblum.

Another section offers 12 minutes of Chris Pratt’s production diaries, as he introduces us to various members of the production crew.

While most of the bonus material is on both the DVD and Blu-ray, about 22 minutes is exclusive to the Blu-ray. These include the featurettes “The Kingdom Evolves,” a discussion of the story; “Return to Hawaii,” about the state’s history with the franchise; “Island Action,” which looks at two specific action scenes from the island; “Aboard the Arcadia,” about working with animatronic dinosaurs; and “Start the Bidding!,” a look at the auction scene.

The remaining featurettes are similarly focused mostly on visual effects and stunts. One of the most interesting aspects of all of this is seeing how much the visual effects to depict the dinosaurs has advanced in 25 years while still remaining faithful to some of the tried and true methods of the past.