Title: King Kong Deluxe Extended Edition (3 disks)
Rated: NOT RATED, original film is PG-13
Screen format: Anamorphic 2.35:1
First Theatrical release: 2005
DVD released: November 14, 2006
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Adrian Brody, Jack Black, Naomi Watts, and Andy Serkis as Kong
Sound Formats: English, Spanish, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 3 hours, 21 minutes (13 minutes over the original theatrical release)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
(Note that portions of this review are adapted and expanded from my previous review of the 2 disk collector’s edition DVD set and the recently submitted HD-DVD review)
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 a shady movie producer (Black), enticed by the prospect of meeting her favorite playwright, 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 have kidnapper her. It is her rescue and his subsequent capture and their return to NYC that makes up the body of the picture.
The 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’s scheming producer Carl Denham is one part mogul, one part Napoleon, and Adrien Brody’s Jack Driscoll gives life 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.
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 those earlier releases.
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 the story. Revisiting it in my own home theater, first via the 2 disk collector’s edition DVD set and subsequently on the HD-DVD disk and on this 3 disk deluxe edition, has led to a lot of new perspectives for me, and I now find a lot to love in this film.
My major conclusion is that over the last 30+ years I have been used to seeing the story of King Kong told on the small screen, and in the privacy of my own home, which led to a lot of the disappointment for me in the theater experience. I expected a lot of changes to the story, and I now believe that those repeated viewings I had of the prior versions may have worked against my enjoying this new version.
Viewing this film on my own screen has led to quite a softening of those criticisms for me; I feel that this is one of those film experiences that, despite its length, is meant to be viewed multiple times to really appreciate. While I don’t believe that the younger viewers who are first experiencing the Kong story will have the opportunity to have endless replays of the Kong (and Godzilla) films on every Thanksgiving like I did as a kid, the availability of it on DVD and HD-DVD ensures that a repeat viewing is simply a rack selection away for most people. While King Kong was not among my favorite movies of 2005, it is more than the sum of its parts and the DVD and HD-DVD releases soundly beat the theater experience I had, which is saying a lot.
Sound Quality: 5/5
After just reviewing the King Kong HD DVD which features a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack, it is very difficult to accurately tell you how much better that track is than the ‘regular’ DD 5.1 found on this 3 disk set. I will say that I found it to be a bit fuller and more detailed, but not dramatically so. I would not have been able to pick out which one was playing without knowing which was in the tray at any given time, but putting just a few clips head to head I can say they both sound great and you wont be disappointed with either, but if you have the opportunity to choose the HD version you would be crazy to skip it.
King Kong is clearly a movie designed from the start to make the most of the full range available in a surround sound experience. The key visual effects sequences are accompanied by correspondingly intense sonic sweeps, pans, and booms. The stampedes of brontosaurs and T-Rexs thud and roar with a clarity that surpasses those from Jurassic Park. The battle in the spider pit aurally puts viewers in the middle of the action, with swarms of insects coming from all corners, only to be met in return with realistic and bass driven machine gun fire. Kong himself features a range of grunts and roars that mimics real language, every sniffle, snort, chest thump and snarl adds to the impact that makes us want to believe he is real, and not just some collection of bits in a computer. While it is unlikely that anyone in 1933 ever envisioned that the sound of biplanes encircling Kong on top of the empire state building could realistically match the onscreen action, in this 2005 version it seems to have been pre-destined. It is this audio rotoscoping of strafing runs that 5.1 surround seems to have been invented for.
And yet it is Composer James Newton Howard’s simple yet charming score that holds all of these effect sequences together, taking them beyond just a string of action events and allows us to empathize with the relationship between Ann and Kong, reaching into our hearts as she grows and learns about herself and she and Kong come to understand each other. Simple piano melodies slowly build into full orchestral bombardment as action sequences ebb and flow into the more emotionally grounded ones.
Visual Quality: 5/5
I believe it was Thomas Wolfe who said ‘You can’t go home again’. Well, if he were referring to DVD, Mr. Wolfe would be wrong. While the HD DVD edition of Kong is clearly more detailed in just about every way, this 3 disk deluxe extended edition represents the pinnacle of DVD technology and there is nothing at all wrong with that level for the vast majority of viewers. Most won’t ever miss the difference that HD represents. For me personally, having just watched the HD version, showing this one at 96” and upscaled, I was still enthralled enough to watch the whole thing through, mostly looking for the new content but still not minding the fact that it wasn’t true HD.
Fortunately DVD’s best is still very very good compared to HD. This version is very clean and colorful, with intense sharpness and deep detail. You will notice some more edge enhancement that just isn’t present on the HD release, although there is slightly less noticeable grain as a ‘benefit’ of the lower resolution, but as I noted on my HD review that grain was direct from the film stock itself and was present in the theatrical release.
This is clearly a reference quality DVD, specific scenes to look for include the colors used in final sequence of Kong on top of the empire state building with the sun setting; the beauty of the deep blacks surrounding soft snow when Ann and Kong ice skate, and of course the extraordinary detail in the fur in just about every closeup of Kong himself. Does Kong look better in High Def? Of course. It still holds up remarkably well on Standard Definition and viewers who are not HD enabled are still afforded a fantastic experience and reference quality visuals for that level of technology.
Extra Features: 5/5
While the HD DVD release I recently reviewed was nearly devoid of extras, this edition is simply bursting with them, and even includes a fold out map to help you find them all.
Most importantly 13 minutes of previously unreleased scenes have been edited back into the film to create this definitive ‘Directors cut’. These are difficult to spot unless you have viewed the film a number of times before, (tho they are marked in the 'scenes' menu if you dig in for that) and all are completely up to the quality of the theatrical release. While Kong is already a long movie, 13 more minutes helping to flesh out some of the story and adding a few additional action sequences is welcome. The bulk of these scenes are while the expedition is on Skull Island and feature more dinos, which is always a good thing. An additional 38 minutes of deleted scenes are available on disk 1, I haven’t had a chance to go through them all but it is definitely on my ‘to do’ list as a fan of the film and its predecessors. Finally, a feature length commentary is available should you wish to get even more insight from Jackson than what has been released so far.
Disk 1 also contains 3 additional extras: a comprehensive blooper reel which has live action gags and a few CG blunders; ‘A night in Vaudeville’ which combines both classic Vaudeville clips with an extensive look at how the film cast their performers; and ‘King Kong Homage’ which is a deep look into how Jackson brilliantly often directly references the original, and used actual costumes, props, scripts and other items related to the original in this production. Finally, disk 1 also contains the missing production diary #59 which did not appear on the first Production Diary DVD box set release, as a semi hidden extra.
Disk 2 contains the scripts for both the unreleased ’96 and this 2005 version of Kong, the original teaser trailer, the full theatrical trailer and a Cinemedia Trailer which features some behind the scenes looks on the film in addition to clips from the film. The heart of the extras on disk two are a behind the scenes look at Weta collectables, a special film the crew made to give Jackson as a birthday present (in the style of Spy Vs. Spy or It’s a mad mad mad mad world or similar capers), and four actual previsualization clips.
Disk 3 is entirely extras, with the vast majority going into the process of designing, building and making Kong himself real. Additionally, 5 Concept Design videos (think Ken Burns style documentary photos overlaid with music) are tossed in, the ’96 Kong, The Venture, Skull Island, New York, and Kong each show preproduction conceptual sketches about their relative topics.
Going through these extras would take a person over 6 hours, and to be honest I’ve skimmed and picked through just those that sounded interesting to me, but they clearly represent a whole new batch of neat additions that amazingly escaped either the production diaries or the 2 disk previous edition. You had me at ‘new scenes’ and ‘deleted scenes’ and these further behind the scenes extras are simply gravy for me.
Overall: 4.5/5 (not an average)
For the true fan, the decision whether to buy this 3 disk set or the HD DVD disk cannot come down to an either or decision, Universal has sneakily made both awesome in their own right: the HD has superior video and comparable or better audio, and this DVD set clearly blows the HD out of the water in terms of extras. That’s not to say this isn’t an amazing looking and sounding DVD set, it is, but to have the best you need to jump to that technology, and that technology comes at the price of extras these days. So either prepare for multiple dips or settle in for the wait for the inevitable next release combining the two. If you are sticking with DVD for the forseeable future, and have not seen Kong before, you clearly need to grab this version of the film. Those who have the original collectors edition will have to decide if 13 minutes of new scenes, 38 minutes of deleted scenes and a boatload of extras are worthy of a double dip. For most of them this will be a resounding yes, this edition makes a nice complement to that earlier release, adding a ton and taking nothing away. Recommended.