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DVD Reviews

HTF Review: King Kong (2005). Very highly recommended



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#1 of 134 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted March 29 2006 - 06:02 PM

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King Kong






King Kong: 2 Disk Special Edition
Rated PG-13
Universal Studios, 2005 release
DVD released 3/28/2006
Peter Jackson Director
Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis as Kong
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Anamorphic 2.35:1 (Special features are in Anamorphic 1.78:1)
3 Hours, 8 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish



As the third telling of the King Kong story, very few moviegoers will be surprised by the plot, which boils down to a modern rendition of the Beauty and the Beast fable. For the three people who have not see the original: King Kong is an action adventure tale told in 3 acts, set in 1933. The story starts and ends in a well realized New York City and features a journey to the fictional Skull Island as the main body of the story. Out of work Vaudevillian actress Ann Darrow (Watts) is lured to the adventure of a lifetime by shady movie producer (Black), enticed by the prospect of meeting her favorite playwrite, Jack Driscoll (Brody). On reaching Skull Island, the cast and crew meet fearsome prehistoric creatures including the titular Kong, a 25 foot tall giant ape who is King of his domain. Kong is offered Ann as sacrifice by the primitive inhabitants of his island who steal her away. It is her rescue and his subsequent capture and their return to NYC that makes up the body of the picture.

While I am reluctant to reference the 1976 version of King Kong by director John Guillerman, I am a huge fan of the 1933 original which was produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper. What this 2005 version has going for it over those versions rests mostly in the talents of its cast and crew, and the tremendous technological advances which have come about since their release.

I was fortunate enough to view King Kong early in its release cycle in 2005 in a well equipped theater, joining a near capacity crowd. Despite the optimal conditions, I wasn’t immediately taken with the film, though I had been looking forward to Mr. Jackson’s follow up to his amazingly successful Lord of the Rings trilogy. Since that time, I have had a chance to view the excellent box set of the 1933 release and think about what worked and what didn’t work for me with this telling of film. Revisiting it in my own home theater via this DVD set has led to a lot of new perspectives as well.

And what a DVD set it is. While it does not match the width and breadth of the features that the Lord of the Rings series’ special editions entailed, the quality of this set matches them, and the added featurettes are home runs. The video quality on this disk is simply unsurpassed on the DVD platform. The surround mix is innovative and stirring, however the musical score is not that noteworthy, which is not surprising given that original conductor Howard Shore was replaced mid-production by James Newton Howard.

As I watched this DVD I began to question what I found disappointing on the first viewing and what had changed that led to my warming to it. My conclusion is that that over the last 30 years I have become used to seeing the story of King Kong told on the small screen and in the privacy of my own home. I had never viewed either of the previous versions in a theater environment and most of the time I was on my own (often on Thanksgiving while my parents rushed around in preparation for a large dinner). I should have been happy to share the experience with so many others who respected the original, but expectations and familiarity defeated that.

I also expected a lot of changes to the story, and had expected a 'smart' story based on Jackson's reputation alone. In that respect there are several disappointments in the film. In one scene, a young crew member named Jimmy rescues Jack from swarms of carnivorous insects. Although intended as comic relief, Jimmy miraculously uses accurate bursts of fire from a submachine gun (aimed at moving targets) while his eyes are closed. This is a lot harder to swallow than a 25' tall ape who falls in love with a human female.

That she would likewise befriend him, and perhaps border on loving Kong, is similarly over the top. A sappy sequence where Kong and Ann share a tender moment on a frozen pond in Central Park is only redeemed by the near miss of a mortar shell which ends it. In repeated viewings it turns out that a few out of place moments in a 3 hour movie seem ultimately forgivable.

In fact I feel that this is one of those films that (despite its length) is meant to be viewed multiple times to be fully appreciated. While I don’t know that people will have the opportunity to see this version of Kong religiously every Thanksgiving like I did as a kid, the availability of it on DVD ensures that a repeat viewing is simply a selection from the rack away. While King Kong was not among what I consider the best movies of last year, and did not garner quite the box office draw many expected of it, it is more than the sum of its parts. This DVD release extends, enhances and soundly beats the theater experience I personally had, which is saying a lot.

Plot: 3.5/5
A very basic premise that has been told twice before, nearly identically. Very few surprises for fans of the original and/or first remake. Perhaps this isnt too hard to explain. Jackson's love for the original material comes through when viewing the bonus materials and those from the previous production diaries box set. Jackson claims that it was King Kong 1933 that convinced him to become a film maker and he has clearly kept true to its vision.

Action 4/5
After a slow start, the Skull Island second act is a tremendous speed ball of action lasting nearly an hour straight. The final confrontation on top of the Empire State Building is wonderfully filmed but with little in the way of new twists.

Sound/music 4.5/5
Sound in Kong ranges from good to amazing. The surround mix is truly exhilarating; the jungle sequences feature some fun pans and the biplanes circling the Empire State Building at the climax to the film achieve an enveloping 3D mix that must be heard to be believed. However the musical score is a bit more subtle, and some scenes are not accompanied by any music at all, which can be jarring. The score does reach around to the rear speakers in many cases, and it is pleasing if not as memorable as some would have hoped. Bass response is adequate, put to good use for Kongs roars but strangely low key during scenes such as a Brontosaurus stampede. As I note below in the special features write up, Dolby Digital 5.1 is the only surround option, there is no DTS track.

Visuals/Effects 5/5
This is clearly a reference quality disk, with incredible color fidelity faithful to what I remember from the theater, total lack of edge enhancement and noise and grain were never an issue. I guarantee this will be a primary disk people will turn to when comparing DVD to future High Def formats. It is that good looking.

The effects are clearly the star of the show, yet they never feel contrived or too showy (tho I have heard other viewers mention that they felt that the forementioned Bronto stampede is a bit unrealistic). Only one scene (a long shot of the ship in NY harbor) ever felt gimmicky to me. Kong himself is a remarkable achievement in film making, we have come a long way since early all-CGI characters such as Casper or even Jar Jar Binks. Creature effects, miniatures, 3D rendering, green screening, and animatronics are all top notch.

Acting 4/5
A solid ensemble cast nails their parts with sincerity that is rare in a heavy action movie. Naomi Watts is simply radiant as Ann Darrow, Jack Black scheming producer Carl Denham is one part mogul, one part Napoleon, and Adrien Brody’s Jack Driscoll brings energy to the everyman hero. Smaller roles are memorably portrayed, including Andy Serkis as Lumpy the Chef and Lobo Chan as Choy. Once again, Serkis’ role behind the 3D imagery cannot be underestimated; it is his very human performance in the ape role that gives Kong extraordinary life.

Extra Features: 4.5/5
A very nice selection of extra features can be found on disk 2, with a short Volkswagon commercial and a promotion for 'Wish you were here' on Disk1. Disk 2 contains two featurettes (one lasting 17 minute, the other 28) and 27 Post Production Diaries ripped from kongisking.net.

Honestly it was hard not to give the extras a 5, but I have deducted half a point for missing trailers or commentaries of any kind. To be fair, the inclusion of the Post Production Diaries probably more than outweighs the lack of a commentary track, however the loss of trailers is baffling. This certainly isn’t the last we have seen of this movie though, a super premium edition including all of the pre and post production diaries and more is sure to come, especially on High Definition DVD or Blu-Ray. Internet forum participants including those at HTF have also demanded a DTS soundtrack, which was not present, only Dolby Digital 5.1.

The two featurettes included rank among the most compelling I have seen. While the premise of “Skull Island a Natural History” is a little hokey, it is executed flawlessly. “Kong’s New York 1933” is incredibly detailed and simply fascinating to watch. Kudos for having all special features in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen.

Overall: 4.5/5 (not an average) One of the best DVD releases ever, including reference quality video and surround sound with a nice selection of bonuses. Only the inevitable promise of an even more feature rich version (in High Definition) prevents this from being a perfect release. Very Highly Recommended.

---
Reviewers note: As this is my first official review, I'm still trying to get the HTML formatting set above. Hopefully Ron will fix it for me once he adds the box art. Your comments are welcome and I look forward to hearing both positive and negative feedback! Also note, this review is based on a production disk purchased from a retail store, as Universal chose not to send these disks in advance due to piracy concerns. We are sympathetic to that risk but regret that it has delayed the posting of our review past street date! We have further learned of a 'digital watermarking' inserted into one or more scenes as an anti-piracy effort, for more info on that check the other Kong threads in this forum. I did not personally witness any of them during the viewing of the film, tho I suspect I could find it by frame advancing. -Sam

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#2 of 134 OFFLINE   Eric M Jones

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Posted March 29 2006 - 06:18 PM

Thanks for the review.

Do you know if the single disc that is available is the same disc that is sold in the 2 disc set? I picked the single disc up today an was disappointed with the video quality. The colors were not very vibrant and I could see compression noise in the foggy scenes when they are lost in the fog on the boat.

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#3 of 134 OFFLINE   Bill Thomann

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Posted March 29 2006 - 06:29 PM

Great first review . I look forward to reading your future ones. I think you nailed it. This is a near flawless 2 disc set but the absence of at least one trailer & maybe some deleted scenes kept it from being perfect. I'm sure they'll be on the EE if one does appear eventually.

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#4 of 134 OFFLINE   dave bula

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Posted March 29 2006 - 07:40 PM

Quote:
The surround mix is innovative and stirring, however the musical score is not that noteworthy, which is not surprising given that original conductor Howard Shore was replaced mid-production by James Newton Howard.


Nice first review. I just want to add some comments about the score. There have been many, many instances of scores being rejected at the last minute, and for which the new composer had very little time to come up with a replacement score. Generally when that happens, the results are indeed disappointing. Even when the new composers are as talented as James Horner (Troy) and Danny Elfman (The Hulk), to give just two recent examples.

I thought that James Newton Howard did an exceptional job on the King Kong score, considering how little time he had to produce it. It was much, much better than I was expecting, knowing that Howard Shore had been replaced so late in the game. I wonder if we'll ever get to hear any of Shore's rejected score. That only happens occasionally, like it did with Ridley Scott's film Legend - the 2-disc DVD includes a director's cut with Jerry Goldsmith's original score, which was not used in the butchered US theatrical version.

#5 of 134 OFFLINE   Brett_M

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Posted March 29 2006 - 11:17 PM

Excellent review. I look forward to reading more of your in the future.

I purchased the single disc edition this time, knowing an extended version double dip was inevitable. The PQ is stunning and the DD5.1 surround mix is one of the best I have ever heard on my system. This is my new demo disc...at least until the extended version this fallPosted Image
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#6 of 134 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted March 29 2006 - 11:56 PM

Nice review, Sam, thanks!

Did we all catch Howard Shore's cameo as the orchestra conductor?

It's a shame his post-production diary did not make it on the set, but it is still available on the KongisKing.net site ("13 Weeks to Go"), lower picture quality of course.

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#7 of 134 OFFLINE   Chuck Bogie

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Posted March 30 2006 - 12:35 AM

Whoopee. Only gonna watch the movie anyway. I guess I'm some sorta knuckle-dragging big ol' ape...

Now, is this thing gonna kill my subs? Just bought a 1600 watt amp, but there's no rumble filter.

#8 of 134 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted March 30 2006 - 12:38 AM

Steve, I was not one of the people who followed the Kongisking.net, but I remember hearing that that episode had been pulled and that it was not put on the Production diaries box set nor on this Special Edition, which contains the POST-Production diaries. Are you sure it is still there? If so, maybe a link for folks would be good. I will research it further tonight once I get home from work.

I do have the production box set but havent gone through it, and am only 1/4 of the way through the post production ones which are MUCH more interesting to me, as I am a fan of effects in general and 3D rendering in particular. There is 2.5 hours of this stuff and it is great so far.

Eric: I do not currently have a copy of the one disk version. I will try to get an answer for you tonight.

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#9 of 134 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted March 30 2006 - 12:55 AM

Sure, here is PPD Week 13. It requires QuickTime 6 or higher. There is a smaller version, as well.

- Steve

#10 of 134 OFFLINE   Jerome Grate

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Posted March 30 2006 - 12:59 AM

Just trying to plan a night to watch it. Wished it had DTS to make it complete, but anyway looks like Sunday night since Grey's Anatomy I think is a repeat.
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#11 of 134 OFFLINE   Johnny Angell

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Posted March 30 2006 - 01:13 AM

Quote:
The final confrontation on top of the Empire State Building is wonderfully filmed but with little in the way of new twists.
I have to mildly disagree. If we are talking plot points here. In the original Ann was a captive of Kong and wanted to get away from him at first opportunity.

In PJ's Kong, she has bonded with Kong and makes a futile effort to save him.
I think this is a significant change from the original. I also recognize this plot change made some viewers unhappy.

The original's ESB sequence was breathtaking and so is the new one, for me, even more so. There are moments when it has the grace and beauty of a ballet.
Johnny
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#12 of 134 OFFLINE   Andrew Radke

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Posted March 30 2006 - 01:15 AM

Well, let me tell you. My girlfriend and I had our Saturday night all planned out. We were going to see "Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector" in the theater, until we found out that it's not playing in this city. So we eventually agreed on "Slither", only to find that it is not playing here either. lol. So I decided I'm going to buy "King Kong" tomorrow and we're staying in. Posted Image Going by the excellent review (thank you by the way), Robert Harris' comments, and the overall word of mouth, this sounds like an excellent film. I'll most likely be getting the single-disc edition. I don't own the 'Production Diaries' set, so the 'Post-Production' would be of little interest to me. Not to mention the places I've priced the DVD at want $10 more than the single.

Quote:
For the three people who have not see the original:

Count me in as one of those three. I've never seen 'King Kong' in any incarnation. I'm really looking forward to this.
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#13 of 134 OFFLINE   SteveJKo

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Posted March 30 2006 - 01:22 AM

Viewed this two nights ago in an attempt to give the film a "second chance". Whatever my feelings about this movie, the transfer is beyond perfect. It Looked better at home than it did in the theatre. Unfortunately I found the 5.1 soundtrack to be pretty basic. It certainly did it's job, but it had a slightly anemic quality, I kept feeling I had to turn it up.

Now, is this thing gonna kill my subs?


At least on my system, my sub didn't even have to "break a sweat". It was definitely being used, but there was nothing it hadn't encountered before.
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#14 of 134 OFFLINE   Chad R

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Posted March 30 2006 - 01:51 AM

I think this is a significant change from the original. I also recognize this plot change made some viewers unhappy.


But, it was in the '76 remake. While on the top of the towers, Dwan (I can't believe that was the character's name) begs Kong not to put her down because she knew the choppers were holding their fire while Kong held her. PJ's Kong just feels like an extended amalgamation of the two previous versions, just with a way better Dinosaur fight.

#15 of 134 OFFLINE   BillGo

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Posted March 30 2006 - 01:54 AM

I felt the film was excessively long and an hour could have been cut from it while still preserving the plot points, expecially since it's the second remake of a film that is familiar to many. I actually got bored with some of the action scenes on Skull Island; they seemed to go on interminably. After Jurassic Park, the scenes with the dinosaurs were pretty routine.

Also, while on the ship, when Driscoll is writing the movie script, he comes up with the name "Skull Island" before they arrive at the uncharted island and see all the skulls. Did I miss something?

Fortunately, I purchased only the single disc version and paid only $13.99 and received a free candy bar to boot.

#16 of 134 OFFLINE   Brett_M

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Posted March 30 2006 - 03:36 AM

BillGo,

Denham tells Jack the name of the island. It's low because he doesn't want anyone else to hear. Jamie Bell's character overhears him and tells the others. Then they confront Denham in the galley.

SteveJKo,
The recorded volume was a bit lower than other discs -- kind of like Star Wars, especially Sith. I just turned it up a spot or two. I found it to be very dynamic with a great use of the surrounds. The sub was not overused. Again, I thought it was one of the best mixes I've heard for a non-SE.
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#17 of 134 OFFLINE   Johnny Angell

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Posted March 30 2006 - 03:51 AM

Quote:
But, it was in the '76 remake. While on the top of the towers, Dwan (I can't believe that was the character's name) begs Kong not to put her down because she knew the choppers were holding their fire while Kong held her.
That illustrates how long it has been since I've seen the '76 version. For me, I still think there are two versions KK, the original and PJ's.
Johnny
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#18 of 134 OFFLINE   Jay Pennington

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Posted March 30 2006 - 04:21 AM

The island looked like a skull, or had a skull drawn on it, on the map.
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#19 of 134 OFFLINE   Paul McElligott

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Posted March 30 2006 - 04:42 AM

Quote:
Also, while on the ship, when Driscoll is writing the movie script, he comes up with the name "Skull Island" before they arrive at the uncharted island and see all the skulls. Did I miss something?
Quote:
The island looked like a skull, or had a skull drawn on it, on the map.
Trivia: The name Skull Island was never used in either the '33 original or "Son of Kong." It was always "Kong's Island."
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#20 of 134 OFFLINE   Mike Williams

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Posted March 30 2006 - 05:02 AM

To complain about the colors not being very vibrant is to complain about the way the film was shot. The first third (slightly more) of the film is shot in very subdued colors to reflect the Depression era they're conveying. The colors on the island are much more vibrant, however, and are again subdued when we get back to New York.

I did notice ONE ugly, noisy shot on the ship when the captain tells Denham, "I want you off my ship." Wasn't certain of the reason for that, cause the next shot was very similar yet clean as a whistle.

The one disc version is nothing more than the first disc of the two-disc special edition. They're identical.