It'd be easy to dismiss Universal's pre-emptive release of Peter Jackson's Production Diaries as blatant commercialism or flimsy opportunism, if you wanted to. We are, after all, talking about a lengthy series of "behind-the-scenes" video clips that, prior to last October, were available online, for free, to anyone who wanted to watch 'em. Nowadays, and not coincidentally, the production diaries are gone from the website (kongisking.net), which means your only place to enjoy them is on DVD. And that DVD package hits shelves only one day before King Kong stampedes the theaters.
So yeah, it does feel a little bit like a "money grab" release from Universal, but the simple truth is that these video diary entries are so fascinating, so entertaining, and so informative in regard to the art of big-budget moviemaking, well, I'm finding it pretty tough to complain all that loudly. (I still think Uni should have waited for the movie to be in (and out of) theaters before releasing the thing, but I guess that's why I don't work for the studio's marketing department.)
Scattered throughout more than 50 diary entries are insights and experiences from the director, the costumers, the production artists, the extras, the makeup artists, the various FX technicians, the set builders... Just about every facet of the production process is covered here, although I think they might have left out the craft services department the guy who services the water coolers.
Anyone who's experienced one of the Lord of the Rings extended edition DVD releases is more than well aware that Peter Jackson loves three things: he loves making movies, he loves his fans, and he loves explaining how the magic is made. Obviously, all three of those passions are on full display throughout the whole of this collection. So to those who've never been to the Kong site, or those who just didn't bother with the Production Diaries, you're in for an all-new and expansive collection of treats. Here's the breakdown:
1. Day 1 - Peter's Welcome (09/06/04)
2. Day 4 - The Diner Set (09/09/04)
3. Day 6 - Rough Seas on Land (09/13/04)
4. Day 7 - Filming Inside the Venture (09/14/04)
5. Day 8 - Denham's Camera (09/15/04)
6. Day 10 - Plane Spotting (09/17/04)
7. Day 12 - Storms on the Venture (09/21/04)
8. Day 14 - Animal Droppings (09/23/04)
9. Day 16 - Dump Tanks (09/27/04)
10. Day 18 - Dump Tanks Part 2 (09/29/04)
11. Day 20 - Skull Island Preview (10/01/04)
12. Day 22 - Lumpy's Galley Tour (10/05/04)
13. Day 25 - Clapper Boards (10/08/04)
14. Day 27 - Previsualization (10/12/04)
15. Day 31 - Skull Island Rocks (10/18/04)
16. Day 33 - Skull Island Shoot (10/20/04)
17. Day 36 - Gandalf the Spy (10/26/04)
18. Day 40 - The Swamp Set (11/01/04)
19. Day 42 - Peter's Kong Collection (11/03/04)
20. Day 46 - Is Jack Black 5'4"? (11/09/04)
21. Day 48 - Creating Skull Island (11/11/04)
22. Day 51 - Location Logistics (11/16/04)
23. Day 53 - International Press Junket (11/18/04)
24. Day 58 - The On-Set Art Department (11/26/04)
25. Day 62 - Cameras (12/02/04)
26. Day 66 - Journey of a Roll of Film (12/07/04)
27. Day 68 - Creating New York in New Zealand (12/09/04)
28. (Easter Egg) A Day at the Zoo (12/14/04)
29. Day 70 - Shooting at the Civic Theatre (12/14/04)
30. Day 73 - Concept Art (12/17/04)
31. Day 76 - Happy Holidays! (12/22/04)
32. Hiatus - New Year's Message from Peter (01/19/05)
33. Day 77 - Shooting Begins in New York (01/24/05)
34. Day 82 - New York Extras (01/31/05)
35. Day 85 - Vintage Vehicles (02/03/05)
36. Day 87 - Set Dressing (02/07/05)
37. Day 90 - Sewers and Steam (02/10/05)
38. Day 92 - Lighting Continuity (02/14/05)
39. Day 95 - Times Square becomes Herald Square (02/17/05)
40. Day 97 - Adrien the Stunt Driver (02/21/05)
41. Day 100 - A Day in the Life of Peter (02/24/05)
42. Day 103 - Skull Island Miniatures (03/01/05)
43. Day 105 - Naomi in Kong's Hand (03/03/05)
44. Day 108 - Hair and Makeup (03/07/05)
45. Day 110 - Global Partner Summit (03/09/05)
46. Day 113 - Second Unit (03/14/05)
47. Day 115 - Sound Recording (03/16/05)
48. Day 118 - Helldiver Airplanes (03/21/05)
49. Day 120 - Filming Winds Down (03/23/05)
50. Day 123 - The Kong Sequels (04/01/05)
51. Day 125 - Costume Design (04/03/05)
52. Day 127 - Unit Photography (04/05/05)
53. Day 129 - Andy's Revenge on the DVD Team (04/06/05)
54. Day 130 - Peter Calls in Help (04/07/05)
55. Day 131 - The Last Day (04/08/05)
(If you add up all the material on both discs, the Production Diaries clock in at just around four hours in length.)
Video: The video-shot diary entries have been gussied up from their previous incarnation at the Kongsite. Here they're presented in a very crisp and clean anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) format that puts teeny-tiny Quicktime to shame.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. Audio quality is perfectly fine, although obviously not on the flashy side.
Disc 1 contains a 5.5-minute introduction by Peter Jackson, in which the director express his enthusiasm for the project and the production diaries.
Both discs offer the option to watch the diary entries in either chronological or location order, which means you can go from September straight through to "wrap," or you can sit down and enjoy only the "Skull Island," "New York," or "Venture" sections if you prefer. On disc 2 you can (again) go chronologically or pick through the "New York Streets" and "Final Six Weeks of Production" headings.
Disc 2 delivers a bonus video diary entry called The Making of a Shot: The T-Rex Fight, which runs about 17 minutes and offers a behind-the-scenes peek at one monumentally amazing action sequence. There's also a 6-minute credits clip, which offers a lot of light-hearted teasing from the Kong-makers to DVD producer Michael Pellerin and his crew.
Packaged within the (rather large) case you'll find four (rather beautiful) production art prints with an individually numbered certificate of authenticity, and a full-color 52-page collectible booklet that's packed with diary notes, production photos, and Kong artwork. Very nifty, but mainly for the "collectibles" fans.
After sitting through all 3.5 hours of production diary entries, it seems obvious to me that this material was originally intended for use in a "Special Edition" DVD release, but perhaps Mr. Jackson wanted to keep his fans excited by sharing the featurettes at a much brisker clip. So while it's true that Peter Jackson's Production Diaries feels like discs 2 and 3 of a particularly exciting three-disc release, the simple truth is that there's a whole lot of fun to be had here. Universal just wanted to release the supplemental material before the feature film ... which makes one wonder what they'll have to produce for next year's King Kong Special Edition.
My advice: Wait until you see King Kong in the theaters (and you know you will) before dropping the 25 bucks for this relatively unique collector's item. If you fall enthusiastically in love with Peter Jackson's newest creation, then you'll certainly enjoy this swanky little set. But regardless of the fact that these clips have been recycled from internet airplay, there's more than enough behind-the-scenes spectacle to earn these diaries a Recommended rating.