King Kong [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (25th January 2009).
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 "King 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 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 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 been.

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.

This Blu-ray edition is released with both versions of the film, the 187 minute "Theatrical Cut" as well as the 200 minute "Extended Cut" of the film via seamless branching. The "Extended Cut" 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 extension where Kong throws a stone at natives on a cliff.
An extension 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 in a widescreen ratio of 2.40:1 high-definition 1080p 24/fps transfer mastered in VC-1 compression codec. The previous DVD releases of this film where considered reference quality material, and it's with great pleasure to announce that Universal have continued the tradition of excellent transfers. The image is about as beautiful as can be, I was impressed with the immense sharpness of the image (although some special effects suffer a bit from soft edges... and some backgrounds as well, but this is minimal at best as the effects do hold up pretty well in general). I was blown away by the detail, from the hairs on Kong himself to the location and sets on a grand scale are presented here in all their breathtaking glory. Furthermore the image is pristine, there are no flaws, colors are rendered well capturing the look and style the filmmakers intended, from the washed out pallet for New York to the lush green environment for Skull Island and a warm atmosphere for most interiors. Skin tones are also well balanced, the black levels are deep and bold. The DVD was reference quality for that format and this Blu-ray can be considered reference quality for this HD format.

Audio

Universal has released this film on Blu-ray with three audio tracks in English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 surround mastered at 48kHz/24-bit as well as DTS 5.1 surround tracks in both French and Spanish. Films like this are what the HD format are made for, the film is filled with spectacle, incredible action sequences and music that evokes an epic feel, and this sound track manages to capture that perfectly. The audio is as immersive as you can get, form clear and distortion free dialogue to subtle ambient and environmental sounds that place you within the location whether on the S.S. venture or deep in the jungles of Skull Island or the bustling streets of New York City circa 1933. The mix is complex, rich and displays incredible depth and range. The mix does a wonderful job of balancing the softer more intimate moments and the aggressive action elements. The score makes excellent use of the sound space and it will put your home theater through a total work out. It's a fantastic mix and I can't praise it enough.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal has released this film with a small collection of extras that include an audio commentary plus some Blu-ray exclusive extras such as a picture-in-picture commentary, bookmarks and BD-Live content. below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we have an engaging and insightful feature-length screen-specific audio commentary accessible only on the "Extended Edition" of the film 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.

There are some Blu-ray exclusive bonus features such as:

- "U-Control" interactive experience for profile 1.1 players or greater that features a Picture-In-Picture video commentary which plays many (but not all) of the "Production Diary" excerpts that were previously released. These videos play while you watch the film.

You can also access "My Scenes" which allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes from the film.

There's some BD-Live content which can only be accessed with Profile 2.0 players only, at this time this feature is unreviewed but you can share your "My Scenes" with other fans online.

Packaging

This disc is packaged in a Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

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

 


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