Review for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
I wasn’t there a few weeks ago, but having watched the latest Mission Impossible movie, I now find myself considering franchises that are past their sell by dates. The last super-spy spectacular just felt as if it was going through the motions, and now I get to take a look at the final (they say) Indiana Jones movie. The last movie, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had its issues, and it took over ten years before they considered doing another, during which time everything had changed. George Lucas had sold his Lucasfilm properties to Disney, Steven Spielberg takes a step back from the director’s chair into an executive producer position, and hands the reins over to James Mangold. The last time James Mangold got the chance to wind up a franchise, it was the X-Men movies with Logan, and Logan while a great movie, isn’t exactly an uplifting experience. And the star of this action adventure was almost an octogenarian when the film was shot, playing a man who had just turned seventy. Let’s see if it still feels like an Indiana Jones movie...
It’s 1969, man has just walked on the moon, and the world is far more focused on the future rather than the past. Which makes it almost poetic that Dr “Indiana” Jones’ career as an archaeology professor is coming to an end. It seems to be the full stop to a life that is heading into irrelevance. Which is when his goddaughter Helena “Wombat” Shaw shows up, looking for the Antikythera. At the end of the war, when the Nazis were grabbing every treasure they could find to hoard, Indy, and Helena’s father Basil were behind enemy lines looking for another treasure on Hitler’s occult wishlist, the Lance of Longinus. They didn’t find that, but they did find Archimedes’ Dial, the Antikythera, snatching it from the hands of a Nazi scientist named Voller. And Helena needs the dial to complete her own doctorate in archaeology.
They may have been the enemy 25 years previously, but former Nazi scientists have just helped put man on the moon, and Dr Voller has enough pull with the CIA to keep an eye on Helena Shaw as she meets Indiana Jones. For it is said that Archimedes created the Antikythera to predict the future, but it turns out that it predicts a lot more than just that. Voller plans to use it to change the course of history itself.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny gets a 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 Surround French, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English Audio Descriptive, with subtitles in these languages and Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. It’s a decent enough transfer, clear and sharp, with consistent colours. The detail levels are good, and contrast is solid. The audio is nice and immersive, dialogue is clear, and the action comes across with impact. The film has that sepia, retrospective tone that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull adopted, but in terms of editing and directorial style it is still of a piece with the rest of the franchise. John Williams is still creating memorable soundtracks, and the Indiana Jones theme returns as it should, although this time sounding a little more measured. I did notice a couple of glitches in action sequences in the film, particularly at the start of the motorbike versus police horse chase through the parade early on. The first time they race past the camera, the action kind of skips, and I don’t know if that’s an issue with the transfer or the source material. It happens again once during a chase sequence in Tangiers. Then of course there is the CG, where I’m sure anyone with a will can find a nit to pick.
You get one disc in a thin BD Amaray style case, wrapped in an o-card slipcover. The disc boots to an animated menu.
You can play the Score Only Version of the film in DD+ 7.1 Surround.
The Making of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is presented in 5 parts, and runs to a total of 56:46.
It may be a Disney movie now, but Paramount are still associated with the franchise. But it’s not the Paramount logo that dissolves into an image at the start of the film, it’s the Lucasfilm logo. And that’s where we are with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It is an Indiana Jones movie, but with a slight subversion of the tropes that informed the first three films, and the fourth kind of recycled. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was tongue in cheek about the title character’s age; Dial of Destiny has the passage of time at the heart of its story and the character journeys. So, James Mangold has indeed taken the Logan approach to Indiana Jones, but it really does work.
You do get a big dose of classic Indiana Jones swashbuckling action to begin with though, in a flashback sequence harking back to the original trilogy, with Indy versus the Nazis back during the Second World War, gleeful, seat-of-the-pants action with the main character making it up as he goes along. It’s a little adventure in and of itself, much like a James Bond pre-title sequence. It’s here that you’ll see most of the CGI, with deepfake technology used pretty effectively to de-age Harrison Ford, getting him looking as he did 30-odd years ago. I pretty quickly gave up looking for the seams, although the technology did seem a little limited when it comes to the scope of facial expressions it could create. What was noticeable was that no digital youthification was applied to Harrison Ford’s voice, and it did sound like an older man speaking with a younger man’s face.
But then we jump forward 25 years to 1969, and we re-discover Indiana Jones having to come to terms with encroaching irrelevance. He’s about to retire, his marriage has fallen apart, he’s alone, and he’s grieving. When goddaughter Helena appears looking for the Antikythera, it seems at first as if it’s just re-opening old wounds, given what we learn happened subsequently with the device and his friend Basil. Then Voller’s men show up, and reveal just how ruthless they are in their pursuit of the Dial, giving Indy more losses to grieve in the process. By this point Helena has disappeared with the Antikythera, and he has to follow her to Morocco to retrieve it, as it turns out that Helena isn’t the dry student and chip off her dad’s block that she made herself out to be. She’s a lot more resourceful and larcenous, and apt to rub her godfather the wrong way. It turns out the Dial is incomplete, and so begins a quest to find the missing half, and to do so before Voller can. On the way, they pick up Teddy, a street kid in Tangiers who is Helena’s partner in crime.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is certainly not short of action, with Indy still able to give as good as he gets. He may not be swinging on too many whips anymore, but to its credit the film makes no pretence about the character’s age. Indeed it’s at the heart of the story. The film begins with a melancholic air surrounding the main character, with Indy lacking direction for the future, and burdened by the past. The adventure with Helena brings him back to life in many ways, with the antagonistic affection between them lighting up the screen. But there is this undercurrent, despite the gleeful action sequences, that Indy is aware that this the last time, and this is a journey that is leading to a crossroads, a decision between the future and the past. It does lead to a potentially bleak conclusion, although the film does bring it back with an explosion of youthful verve.
In my heart of hearts, I prefer Indiana Jones stories when they focus on the mystical as the first three films did. The Antikythera Maguffin is another sci-fi creation, a lot like the Crystal Skull, and I’m not quite as comfortable with the conclusion of the film as I could be. But when it comes to the characters, and the journey that they go on, I really enjoyed Dial of Destiny. Also, I’m glad they avoided the “Nazis escaped to South America” trope of the period, and instead went with the actual history of Nazis in NASA. It may not approach the original trilogy’s place in my heart, but it is way, way better than Crystal Skull. This may be the last Indiana Jones film, but I wouldn’t be averse to a Helena Shaw spin-off.