King Kong
R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (5th December 2006).
The Film

"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-2003) made Peter Jackson. OK, so he held a minor cult status in the world and little more than that in New Zealand, but the Rings films sky-rocketed him into the Hollywood stratosphere. The films have earned multiple Academy Awards and truck loads of others; millions have seen the films and bought the merchandise. It was a series that already had an in-built fan base and also managed to generate many, many more.
It is a hard task following up one of the biggest trilogies in motion picture history, Jackson you could say had this monkey on his back. Many people will be familiar with the fact that Jackson and partner Fran Walsh were at one time developing "King Kong" for Universal Pictures before he began work on "The Lord of the Rings", however forces outside his control led to the project being dropped. The original Jackson script is available online to curious fans, a script that seems to have very little of Jackson's unique voice and reads much like a script guided perhaps by studio influence. It's an interesting snap shot into what could have been. After the huge success of Rings, Jackson could write any ticket he wanted. Ranked by many as the "most powerful man in Hollywood" Jackson went back to his beloved Kong, rewriting the script into the film he truly wanted to see.
By now, just about everyone with access to the Internet and TV, and who has even the most minor interest in this film would know that Jackson has been a fan of Kong since childhood. Having seen the film on television, his imagination was immediately captured. This was the film that inspired Jackson to become a filmmaker. Making Kong would not be easy: budgeted at an enormous $207+ million dollars, the world would see Jackson eventually wear himself out (on the excellent production diaries hosted on the Kong fan site www.kongisking.net and now currently available on DVD). The pressure was monumental, and all this time Jackson kept one thing in mind, to make the movie he wanted to see. This somewhat selfish philosophy kept the director grounded and focused throughout the grueling production. And the result is breathtaking!
This version of "King Kong" is set in depression era 1933 New York. And tells the story of an intrepid film producer Carl Denham (Jack Black) who has seen better days with his film studio, his latest project is very nearly taken away from him when he decides to continue making the film at the behest of the studio. He steals the film reels and embarks on a ship journey to an uncharted island to complete what he hopes will be his greatest picture. With him are the leads Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) along with famed play write Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) who writes pages of the script during the sea voyage.
Having landed on Skull Island, the film crew are greeted by a tribe of islanders that take a liking to the blonde bombshell Ann and kidnap her to be offered to the mighty Kong as a sacrifice. From then on it is a mission to save the actress from the clutches of the beast. I will not bore you with more about the plot since many people are already familiar with it, and those that are not will likely be surprised by it, so for now let's take a closer look at the film.
Running at just over 3 hours, "King Kong" doesn't allow a moment of boredom. The first act primarily does what every first act should do, it introduces the characters and sets up the story, however in this version of Kong we get much more character depth for the key players than the original had given us, the first act mainly focuses on Darrow's struggling actress during the depression and Denham's passionate and law-breaking filmmaker, we meet Driscoll a half way through the first act and don't really learn much about him until the second along with most of the S.S. Venture boat crew, a wise move considering crowding too many character moments in the first act would have weakened the film's pace and would have felt incredibly rushed to get intros out of the way as soon as possible. The story's pace early in the film is nicely executed allowing enough time for the audience to get to know the characters and also keep the story moving and taking the action onto the ship the S.S. Venture that takes our intrepid crew to Skull Island. Some have commented that the first act could have been trimmed to shorten the trip to the island, I disagree, I think it's a perfect length to build your anticipation in what is to come when they eventually land on Skull Island.
Once on the ship the journey begins, a few scenes taken from the original "King Kong" (1933) make a welcomed appearance here, including Denham shooting parts of the film on the boat, but it is once they are on Skull Island (and so begins our second act) that the adventure truly takes hold. Skull Island is exactly how it should be, bordering the beaches are jagged and unwelcoming rocks, and the island has a decrepit feel of death and rot. The jungle is dangerous and populated with all manner of exotic beasts and insects, and of course the natives are truly a vision, so frightful you're more than likely to be, well afraid. I've heard people comment that the natives were portrayed as too evil and scary: well how would the film have ended up if our adventurers were greeted by joyous drum melodies and grass skirted ladies handing out wreaths? It is easy to simply say that sure they need to be that way in order to kidnap Darrow and offer her to Kong, but on a deeper level, these natives live in a world of death, sacrifice and the almighty Kong, their religion and beliefs seem to stem from this, so it is no wonder why they behave the way they do. I'm no anthropologist but that's what I got out them, in any case the Skull Island moments of the film are filled to the brim with one exiting action set piece after the next, from the insanely edge of your seat brontosaurus stampede to the depths of the chasm where our heroes are attacked by all manner of creepy crawly nasties, a scene that will make your skin crawl (in fact when I first saw this film in cinemas, someone in the back shrieked during this scene).
All the while I was thinking, Jackson's expending his entire bag of tricks too soon I should not have even doubted his talent, because our final act, running amok in New York was pure audio-visual sensory overload, all the way to the final moments at the top of the Empire State Building, Jackson even managed to throw in a scene that was truly romantic and sweet between Kong and Darrow in Central park gliding on the ice in a way that didn't bring up any creepy connotations.
One cannot discuss the merits of this film without talking CGI. The true marvel of this film was Kong himself, the character is so complex in his emotional performance yet simple on such a primal level, a balancing act Andy Serkis managed to maintain perfectly (he also had 132 sensors attached to his face so that his every facial expression could be captured, which also helped in breathing life into the beast). I suppose all that time spent in Rwanda studying the gorillas in the wild aided in his performance, because what I saw on that screen was a real f*****g gorilla! Additionally the wizards at Weta created a convincing beast, the level of detail is astounding and deservedly won their Oscar for best visual effects. I was however a little disappointed in some of the film's other effects; while it's clear that the majority of work and attention to detail was relegated to Kong it's a shame that other effects in the film had to suffer. There a few moments were the blue/green screen composites didn't look all that convincing, many times there were edge blurs around actor's heads especially in front of sky backgrounds. I also felt that the velociraptors in the brontosaurus stampede looked a little cartoon-like and not as vicious as they should have.
Special effects weren't all that could have used a spruce up, the score has gone through some drama of its own, originally Howard Shore was hired to score the film (Shore went on to win three Oscars for his work on "The Lord of the Rings") his working relationship with Jackson was second to none. Or so we though, when during post-production Shore left the project citing "creative differences" and at the last minute James Newton Howard. In a record amount of time the film's music would be complete. And I wasn't at all impressed by it, aside from being the standard adventure fare; the score was rather ho-hum in the sense that it felt generic and unoriginal. The only part of the film I thought was terrifically scored was the bug pit sequence.
Going back to the film's run time, which may be a stretch for some people, could have indeed been shorter, although the character development of certain Venture crewmen was interesting it didn't add anything to the overall story, the storyline with Jimmy (Jamie Bell) and Hayes (Evan Parke) could have been excised without anyone missing it.
These quibbles aside, it's the story that is ultimately engaging about this film, the cast all lend fine performances especially Black who is one of the break-through performances of this film (although his last line in the film, the famous "It was beauty that killed the beast" comes out unintentionally silly). Jackson and crew have created an amazing adventure film with real heart and depth that will please die hard Kong fans and I'm sure create many new ones (as long as they're not like these people). It is easy to see that everyone involved in this film really loved what they were doing as it's clearly translated on screen. So what are you waiting for? Give this one a spin, now.

Edit: The Extended Cut

This new release includes 13 minutes of additional footage previous not included in the original theatrical cut, these scenes are a mixture of extensions to previously exsiting scenes as well as totally new sequences such as:

An extra scene where the crew is attacked by a Ferrucutus (Stegosaurus)
An extra scene where the crew is attacked by many Scorpio-pedes.
An extra scene where the crew is attacked by a Piranhadon.
The Bug Pit scene is extended to include more nasties attacking the crew.
An extra scene where Kong leaps from cliff to cliff killing crew members.
An extention where Kong throws a stone at natives on a cliff.
An extention to the New York streets chase where a military truck with a man insulting Kong is destroyed.
Another extension to the New York chase where Kong kills the man who issues the "FIRE!" command.
And finally yet more scene extensions to New York chase where Kong picks up a car and throws it at another car

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio this 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer is a beauty to behold. If you've read my review for the previous 2-disc release then you can skip this part because the transfer is just as good and you'll only be reading my comments again: The transfer is immensely sharp and detailed this pristine image is as perfect as a transfer can be. Colors are rendered well capturing the look and style the filmmakers intended, with a washed out pallet for New York, a lush green environment for Skull Island and a warm atmosphere for most interiors. Skin tones are also well balanced. Blacks are deep and bold and shadow detail is consistent, just take a look at many of the Skull Island scenes and fine detail can be seen. Universal have done a very nice job in bringing this film to the digital medium. This is reference quality through and through.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included for this film and are in English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. Just as the visuals are reference quality so is the sound, this 5.1 track is totally immersive and aggressive. From the clear dialogue to the bass-filled Skull Island sequences to the heart-pounding finale this soundtrack makes use of every inch of sound space allocated, this stunning mix incorperates many sound elements into a natural sounding and exciting track that never lets up. Additionally the music demostrates expert seperation throughout the 5.1 channels and virtually flies around the space creating an enveloping effect. As far as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks go this has got to be one of the best, the only thing that could possibly make it any better is perhaps a DTS track or an uncompressed track for an HD release.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal have released "King Kong: The Deluxe Extended Edition" in a 3-disc set with a wealth of extra features that includes an audio commentary, deleted scenes, numerous featurettes, a series of Pre-viz animatics, an in-depth series of documentaries, gag reel, trailers, in-depth galleries plus some DVD-ROM content. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

First up we have an engaging and insightful feature-length screen-specific audio commentary by Writer/Producer/Director Peter Jackson and Co-Writer/Producer Philippa Boyens. From the start Jackson and Boyens inform us that they are going to cover as much of the production side of things without going into too much detail in respect to what you'd find in the video extras. Hence little to no repeated infformation will you find here. The two commentators tells us about virtually everything in this amazingly rich and detailed track, they kick things off commenting on the stylized opening credits and quickly move onto some background on the script writing process and constructing these scenes, how they were shot including trivia such as when in the production order they were shot. Additionally they discuss the extensive New York shoot (which was a massive set built in an industrial part of Wellington, New Zealand), they openly comment on the cast and their performances as well as informing the viewer on how the scenes changed over the course of writing and also were altered in the editing to make the story flow better. It's also interesting to note the amazing amount of research that went into making this period film, from architecture to costume and also props and other things that most people won't give a second glace to yet fills the frame with information pertaining to the time in history. These two cover just about everything you wanted to know about this production from writing to pre-visualizing, casting, costumes, set design, shot selection, lighting, editing, special effects, most especially the bringing to life of Kong himself and the many different stages of design he went through before the final version was agreed upon. Any fan of Jackson and this film should listen to this track, it stands as one of the best commentaries ever produced.

Following that are a collection of deleted scenes, the scenes are preceded each with a video introduction by Writer/Producer/Director Peter Jackson as he explains the reason why these scenes were cut. You can view the scenes with or without the introductions and they include:

- First up is an overall video Introduction by Peter Jackson which runs for 2 minutes 29 seconds welcoming you to the deleted scenes section of the DVD and provides a brief outline on why some scenes had to be cut from the film.
- "Preston Shows Ann Her Cabin" which runs for 1 minute 9 seconds, Preston gives Ann a tour of her quarters in this scene that was cut for time reasons.
- "How A Man Dies" runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds, Jimmy overhears Carl and Jack talking about a killing scene in the script and offers them the reality of what happens when a man is stabbed with a knife.
- "Jack Has Doubts About Ann" runs for 1 minute 17 seconds, Jack expresses his disappointment in Carl hiring a Vaudeville performer as the female lead in the film.
- "Ann Chooses an Outfit" runs for 2 minutes 1 second and sees Ann frantically trying to pick out a dress for her meeting with Jack.
- "Hayes Confronts Englehorn" runs for 2 minutes 56 seconds and sees Hayes expressing his concern about sailing into dangerous waters and is angered at the Captain for putting the lives of the crew at risk.
- "Preston Finds the Map" runs for 1 minute 31 seconds, while searching for a camera filter Preston stumbles upon Carl's map of Skull Island which freaks him out.
- "Dancing a Jig" runs for 2 minutes we see the complete version of the scene with Jimmy and Ann dancing on the deck of the ship, seconds of this was used in a montage.
- "The Rest of the Venture Voyage" runs for 7 minutes 47 seconds and is an extended version of the voyage that encompasses several different characters and includes some additional character development.
- "Lumpy and his Cabbage" runs for 1 minute 6 seconds, this strange clip sees Lumpy making out with a cabbage who he's carved a face into.
- "Scream for Your Life, Ann" runs for 2 minutes 38 seconds, this clip was featured in the teaser and sees Carl directing Ann on the beach as we hear Kong's roar for the first time.
- "The Venture Escapes" (Original Version) which runs for 7 minutes 54 seconds, is an extended version of the scene with a lot more activity happening including Choy trying to throw Carl's camera overboard which leads to a fight between Carl and Captain Englehorn.
- "Hayes' Story" runs for 1 minute 25 seconds, Jimmy talks about Hayes' military service.
- "A Sailor's Bad Luck" runs for 1 minute and sees a sailor bitten by a velociraptor during the Brontosaurus stampede.
- "Original Insect Pit Opening" runs for 3 minutes 44 seconds and is a longer opening sequence to this scene which includes Choy's death.
- "Kong Chases Jack's Cab" runs for 1 minutes 38 seconds, Kong picks up Jack's cab and Jack reverses out of his clutches which prompts Kong to chase after him.
- "Kong Versus the Army" runs for 3 minutes 33 seconds and includes additional footage of the Army pursuing Kong along the skyline of New York.

Next up is "The Eight Blunder of the World" a featurette which runs for 18 minutes 53 seconds and is basically a montage of gag reel footage from the filming as well as from behind-the-scenes of the cast flubbing lines, missing cues and also having fun on the set, laughing in takes and playing practical jokes. Overall this isn't your typical gag reel as it includes some candid and often funny behind-the-scenes moments.

Also included is "The Missing Production Diary" which runs for 8 minutes 17 seconds, this clip is hidden in the menu design but easily found as there is a clear gap between the previous featurette and the next, if you use your arrow keys on the remote to move down to the next clip you see this one highlighted. The clip is from the 59th day of shooting and features the cast all addicted to watching the video playback of the scene they just shot, the style was to reflect a serious addiction in which the cast needed to seek help for, the tone was deemed inappropriate to be shown and was dropped, but we get it here in it's entire glory.

Next up is "A Night in Vaudeville" a featurette which runs for 12 minutes 6 seconds and takes a closer look at the research undertaken and casting of the Vaudeville performers seen in the film's opening sequence. We get a behind-the-scenes look at the auditions and also the filming of each of the unique acts performed for the film.

Rounding out the extras on this disc is "King Kong Homage" a featurette which runs for 9 minutes 57 seconds and takes a look at comparing the original 1933 version with this new version as Jackson used the original as inspiration for many shots and scenes, lines were used from the original as well as original props that were collected by Jackson over the years were used as set dressing in this updated version among other things.

DISC TWO:

The feature-length screen-specific audio commentary by Writer/Producer/Director Peter Jackson and Co-Writer/Producer Philippa Boyens continues on this disc for the second half of the film.

Also included on this disc are some Pre-Visualization Animatics, which can be viewed with or without original music from the film. These animatics are presented in full and are produced so that the cast and crew can visualize the scene exactly how the director intends it to be. The animatics included here are for:

- "Arrival at Skull Island" which runs for 4 minutes 21 seconds.
- "Bronto Stampede" which runs for 6 minutes 35 seconds.
- "T-Rex Fight" which runs for 9 minutes 53 seconds.
- "Empire State Building Battle" which is split into two sections:

1) Pre-Viz Only which runs for 9 minutes 29 seconds.
2) Pre-Viz with Final Film Comparison which presents both in a split-screen for your reference and also runs for 9 minutes 29 seconds.

"The Present" is a featurette which runs for 9 minutes 27 seconds and Jackson explains that he celebrated a birthday while filming Kong and that the cast made a special video for him that was screened at the studio were he works, this clip also includes the film which features the cast chasing after an elusive present.

A collection of 3 trailers is also included:

- First up is the film's original teaser trailer which runs for 2 minutes 28 seconds.
- Second is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 57 seconds.
- Finally is the Cinemedia trailer which runs for 2 minutes 42 seconds and is a mini-featurette about how Jackson loves this film and making it is a dream come true.

Next up is "Weta Collectibles" a featurette which runs for 5 minutes 19 seconds, this clip takes the viewer behind-the-scenes of Weta Workshop as the artisans create the various collectibles for the film, there is some merit in having this clip included but overall it's a glorified commercial for peddling the merchandise.

Rounding out the extras on this disc is some DVD-ROM content which includes viewable and printable versions of the 1996 and 2005 versions of the scripts that were written.

DISC THREE:

First up is a video introduction by Writer/Producer/Director Peter Jackson which runs for 2 minutes 23 seconds welcoming viewers to the special features discs and letting us know what we can find here.

The major feature on this disc is the massive documentary entitled "Recreating the Eight Wonder - The Making of King Kong" running in at a whoping 186 minutes 3 seconds this is one of the most detailed and immaculate chronicling of the making of a major motion picture, it stands up against the making-of features seen on "The Lord of the Rings" extended DVDs. Universal get total bragging rights with this sucker, because nothing I've seen this year matches the sheer vastness of information presented on a single film than what's contained in this documentary covering eight aspects of the production, you can choose to view each segment of the documentary seperatley or with a 'play all' option. If you pick that option make sure you have the next three hours of your life free. The sections include:

- The Origins of "King Kong" which runs for 16 minutes 38 seconds.
- Pre-Production Part 1: The Return of Kong which runs for 42 minutes 18 seconds.
- Pre-Production Part 2: Countdown to Filming which runs for 15 minutes 45 seconds.
- The Venture Journey which runs for 22 minutes 5 seconds.
- Return to Skull Island which runs for 30 minutes 4 seconds.
- New York, New Zealand which runs for 25 minutes 54 seconds.
- Bringing Kong to Life Part 1: Design and Research which runs for 47 minutes 53 seconds.
- Bringing Kong to Life Part 2: Performance and Animation which runs for 26 minutes 30 seconds.

Watching this gargantuant feature is like a going on a journey in much the same way the filmmakers did in getting this film to the screen, starting off with Jackson's original foray into making this film with Universal back in 1995. Ten years and several Oscars later Jackson is back trying for the second time to make the film he's always wanted and this time it's a reality. As the behind-the-scenes crew take us through the laborious and painstaking pre-production period. This is the stage where the major decisions regarsing the look, feel and design of the film take shape and leading up to a month before production begins which involves the actors coming in from around the world and the training each of them had to undergo in preperation for this film. We are also treated to the restoration of the old Navy Frigate that was remolded as the S.S. Venture (a working ship) as well as the construction of the on-set version of the ship. Skull Island and it's natural geaopgraphy is intricatley covered as well, which was a combination of life-sized sets, miniatures and CG extensions and also the native inhabitants are also explored. And if you though bringing Skull Island was difficult, then just wait until you reach the New York portion of the documentary as the clip reveals the detail and scope that went into building 1930's period New York City on a stretch of Wellington located in the industrial section. Rounding out the final stretch of the piece is a 2-part look at bringing the giant beast to life with the complete process revealed to viewer from the performance of the creature on a motion capture stage to the intricate and superb special effects work that Weta Digital created. No stone is left unturned in this collection of footage.

After the documentary a reel of DVD credits is included and runs for 5 minutes 11 seconds.

Now that you've gotten past the documentary there yet more to find on this disc (I know I could hardly believe it myself!) a series of "Conceptual Design" Video Galleries follow and include 5 in total, these can be viewed individually or with the option of a 'play all' function. These galleries show you the various stages of development, from design (including artwork), technical artwork, photos to modeling, and final outcome and is accompanied with original music from the film's score. Included are:

- The "1996" King Kong which runs for 9 minutes 53 seconds.
- The Venture which runs for 4 minutes 6 seconds.
- Skull Island which runs for 15 minutes 38 seconds.
- New York which runs for 4 minutes 34 seconds.
- Kong which runs for 7 minutes 11 seconds.

A 2-panel booklet is also included inside the case which outlines the extras you'll find on these discs.

Packaging

This 3-disc edition is package in a deluxe amaray case that is housed in an cardboard slip-case.

Overall

If you already own the Production Diaries and the previous 2-disc edition then there is no reason why you shouldn't get this version. It makes the perfect accompaniment to the other releases as there's nothing here that has been repeated on the previous releases, everything featured on these three discs are worth every penny spent.

The Film: B+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A-

 


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