King Kong: 2 Disk Special Edition
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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