King Kong
R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (3rd April 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 Jacksonís unique voice and reads much like a script guided perhaps by studio influence. Itís 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 is 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 letís take a closer look at the film.
Running at just over 3 hours, King Kong doesnít 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 Darrowís struggling actress during the depression and Denhamís passionate and law-breaking filmmaker, we meet Driscoll a half way through the first act and donít 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 filmís pace and would have felt incredibly rushed to get intros out of the way as soon as possible. The storyís 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 itís 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 youíre more than likely to be, well - afraid. Iíve 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. Iím no anthropologist but thatís 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, Jacksonís 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 didnít 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 filmís other effects; while itís clear that the majority of work and attention to detail was relegated to Kong itís a shame that other effects in the film had to suffer. There a few moments were the blue/green screen composites didnít look all that convincing, many times there were edge blurs around actorís 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 werenít 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 filmís music would be complete. And I wasnít 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 filmís runtime, which may be a stretch for some people, could have indeed been shorter, although the character development of certain Venture crewmen was interesting it didnít 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, itís 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 Iím sure create many new ones. It is easy to see that everyone involved in this film really loved what they were doing as itís clearly translated on screen. So - what are you waiting for? Give this one a spin, now.

Video

Presented in the filmís original theatrical ratio this 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer is a beauty to behold. 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 brining this film to the digital medium. This is reference quality through and through.

Audio

Only one audio track is included here, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track and the only thing that could improve this track is a full bit rate DTS ES number. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, but what makes this a benchmark track is itís incredible depth, you are totally immersed into the world of this film and nothing feels out of place from the directional effects to the music to the intense sound effects. This track provides a wonderful compliment to the stunning visuals.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

DISC ONE:
The first disc primarily houses the film, although two short extras are included here, the first is the "The Volkswagen Toureg And King Kong" featurette that runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds and gives us a behind-the-scene look at the filming of this commercial and we also get to see the actual ad at the end of the clip. Itís a rather pointless extra that doesnít deserve any repeat viewing unless you really love to watch ads.

Next we have a "See More of NYC: Wish You Were Here" commercial which runs for 1 minute 8 seconds and is a tourism ad in the form of a theatrical trailer, itís quite an interesting way to present a city but at the end of the day this is a commercial, and not really worth anyoneís time.

DISC TWO:
This is were all the real goodies are kept, the first thing youíll find here is an introduction by director Peter Jackson which runs for 3 minutes 32 seconds. If youíre familiar with his intros on the supplements of the Lord of the Rings DVDs this is no different, Jackson tells us about what you can find on this second disc and how you can choose to view the material.

Next up we have the rest of the Production Diaries, originally a series of behind-the-scenes diaries were created for the fan sitehttp://www.kongisking.net, once production ended these segments continued in to the Post-Production Diaries following the road to completion on the film and finally to itís unveiling at the premiere. These segments are exactly what was originally shown on the site, with one omission: Diary #77 entitled 13 weeks to go which takes a look at Howard ShoreĎs scoring session for the film. This was omitted from the DVD release because Shore left the project due to creative differences. This is an amazing collection of footage, largely fly-on-the-wall stuff but also includes many interviews and insights into the filmmaking process, these diaries really give you a whole new level of appreciation of what actually goes into making a feature film. This makes for a valuable resource for fans and film geeks. As stated before these segments follow the filmís post-production (if you want to view the production diaries that followed the filming this is available separately on DVD and was released before the film was theatrically.) There are a total of 35 diaries presented here with a total runtime of 152 minutes 30 seconds, you can watch these clips with a Play All function that plays them in order of release, or grouped by date or department. The diaries are:

- 33 weeks to go which runs for 4 minutes 13 seconds and covers the first day of post-production and a rough intro to these series of diaries.
- 32 weeks to go which runs for 4 minutes 7 seconds and covers the miniatures shooting.
- 31 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 7 seconds and takes a look at the motion capture process.
- 30 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 6 seconds and covers the sound department collecting various sounds for the final mix.
- 29 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 5 seconds and covers the editing process.
- 28 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 30 seconds and itís here were Jackson answers some viewer questions.
- 27 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 3 seconds and takes a look at the second miniatures unit run by Brian Vanít Hul.
- 26 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 5 seconds and covers Wetaís Richard Taylor telling us about the miniatures construction.
- 25 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 46 seconds and looks at Weta Digitalís work on the film.
- 24 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 14 seconds and gives us a peek at how the filmís trailer was created.
- 23 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes 19 seconds and takes a look at the sound editing.
- 22 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes and covers the elementís crew that shoot rocks, sand, wind, etc, all the elements used by Weta Digital to create realistic scenes.
- 21 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 15 seconds and covers the build up before pick-ups.
- 20 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes 20 seconds and takes a look at the first day of pick-ups shooting.
- Pick-ups day 4 runs for 4 minutes 14 seconds and takes a look at the fourth day of pick-ups shooting with some of the extras.
- 19 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes 53 seconds and takes a look at continuity during the pick-ups shooting.
- Last day of pick-ups runs for 3 minutes 59 seconds and looks at what was shot on the last day of pick-ups shooting.
- 18 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 40 seconds and covers the ADR sessions, or automatic dialogue replacement.
- 17 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes 59 seconds and covers the model department and the work they have been doing.
- 16 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes 47 seconds and covers the rotoscope and digital paint department.
- 15 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes 42 seconds and takes a look at the Foley sound recording.
- 14 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 8 seconds and takes a look at the use of digital doubles.
- 12 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 50 seconds and takes a look at the color grading process.
- 11 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 8 seconds and we are taken back to the motion capture department to look at the creation of Kongís expressions.
- 10 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 9 seconds and takes a look at Weta Digital brining Kong to life.
- 9 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 21 seconds and takes another look at the miniatures department.
- 8 weeks to go runs for 5 minutes 32 seconds, here the original King Kong armature from the 1933 film makes a special visit to Wellington.
- 7 weeks to go runs for 3 minutes 49 seconds and covers the final sound mix of the film.
- 6 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 22 seconds and continues to look at the final sound mix of the film.
- 5 weeks to go runs fro 4 minutes 38 seconds and takes a look at the writing for music for the film.
- 4 weeks to go runs for 4 minutes 51 seconds and takes a look at the music recording process.
- 3 weeks to go runs for 5 minutes 23 seconds and takes a look at the final push to get the film completed in time for its premiere.
- 2 weeks to go runs fro 4 minutes 34 seconds and Jackson and cast are in New York City for the World Premiere of the film and to take part in a series of press junkets for the promotion of the film.
- 1 week to go runs for 6 minutes 48 seconds and takes a look at the New York City premiere and after party.
- The Last Production Diary runs for 6 minutes 11 seconds, Jackson back in New Zealand takes us through the Wellington Premiere and puts an end to this series of diaries.

Next up is the "Skull Island: A Natural History" this featurette runs for 17 minutes 2 seconds and takes an in-depth look at the creatures, geology and native inhabitants of Skull Island. This is done in a sort of historical chronicle of the Island much like something that would be seen on the Discovery Channel, The History Channel or perhaps Animal Planet. Itís an interesting clip that shouldnít be taken seriously as something real but provides an interesting perspective in the amount of work and practical research that was put in to portray this landscape as a real environment.

Rounding out the extras is the "Kongís New York, 1933" featurette which runs for 28 minutes 26 seconds. This takes a look at the city of New York in the 1930ís, covering the depression and its effect on people, the creation of slums that became known as Hooverville after the president of the time. As well as how people survived in that time, the riots and problems surfaced as a result of the mounting frustrations, the chance of the social climate was quite drastic. The featurette also looks at the popularity of Vaudeville, the effects of prohibition and the skyscraper boom that paved the way for the Empire State Building.

Overall the extras are fascinating especially the Post-Production Diaries which provide a wealth of information, itís a shame a commentary is not provided, but weíll likely see that in a more elaborate release set for s 2007 release.

Overall

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

 


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