Peter Jackson's King Kong wasn't only the biggest film of 2005; it was also the first feature film Jackson worked on since Lord of the Rings. Riding on the heels of success from one of the most breathtaking trilogies of our time, everyone was curious to see if Jackson would be able to do the original black and white film justice. Whenever the word 'remake' gets whipped out, it always gives the audience a worrisome feel in the pit of their stomach. Fortunately, Jackson proved once again that his magnificent vision wasn't just a onetime fluke. Unfortunately, another thing we've learned about Jackson is he can't make an epic film without pushing the three hour mark!
Carl Denham is a filmmaker who aspires to become a household name in entertainment, and it seems his wish may finally come true after hearing about Skull Island. It's said to be the home of a creature so large and so fantastical, that Carl would surely wow the world and gain the fame and riches he so desired. Unfortunately his leading lady backs out at the last minute. Carl finds an unknown actress, Ann Darrow, and dupes her into coming along for the ride. Unfortunately for Ann and the rest of Carl's film crew, they have no idea what they've just gotten themselves in to.
Jack Driscoll is the love interest of the actress who is eventually kidnapped by the beast. Jack is also the head writer for Denham's film. When Kong has Ann in his clutches, Jack pulls together a team to rescue her. Many succumb to the terrors that await on the island, and it's all seemingly for nothing as Ann grows fond of the beast and finds his inevitable capture to be the most heartbreaking moment in her life.
King Kong can be related most easily to Beauty and the Beast. The monster finds he's falling in love with a beautiful girl. At first the poor girl is frightened, but she finds a warm place in her heart for the ape as well. She can see he isn't really a savage monster, he's just misunderstood.
Once Kong and Ann finally understand one another, they're torn apart by the greed of the filmmaker. Carl with dollar signs in his eyes, sacks his 'monster' so he can show his prize off to the entire world.
Kong's transport to civilization eventually leads to the ideology that man simply cannot fool around with mother-nature. Kong escapes his chains that kept him imprisoned as a sideshow freak, and wreaks havoc throughout the city. It's not long before everyone demands the big ape be stopped. This eventually leads to the climactic battle for Kong's life on the top of the Empire State Building, a scene that has lived on in cinematic infamy since the original film debuted decades ago.
Peter Jackson intended to take the short 1933 version of Kong and make it into a longer feature with more depth. King Kong is already epic in its own right, so Jackson had quite a large task in front of him. He succeeds in some ways while coming very short in others.
The first thing Jackson did to try and achieve this, was bring along new characters for the ride. He was hoping we would identify with all of the characters involved, such as the ship's crew. They were merely disposable extras in the original King Kong. Unfortunately they seem almost as disposable here despite Jackson's effort to make us care for them. In the end, this translates to a longer run time and not enough to show for it. The background provided for the members of the crew are still minimal at best. When we lose these secondary characters, we don't really feel like we lost anyone of true significance.
Jack Driscoll provides a nice contrast for the greedy Carl Denham. Carl was meant to be an example of corporate greed, while also being the cold hearted bastard that can't fathom another creature's right to exist, and Jack continually reminds the audience of that.
The only thing that Jackson didn't add was the depth necessary for the secondary love story between Jack and Ann. We get to see glimpses of them falling for each other, and Jack is very passionate about wanting to rescue Ann from the beast. However, by the end of the film we don't feel much of a connection between the two at all.
What Jackson's King Kong really needed was some more time on the script, and a few people to tell Peter that some of the material needed to be cut. So many ideas are introduced that require a great amount of depth to work, but that depth just isn't there. The only thing the additional characters provided was a slow build-up to when we eventually get to see Kong, which doesn't happen until over an hour into the film. I believe 'the long wait' is a filmmaking tactic that isn't used enough anymore, but unfortunately we have to suffer through a lot of unnecessary character development that means very little before we get to the impressive payoff.
For those who never got to see the extended cut, there are a few extended scenes, as well as some completely new ones as well.
The first additional involves a Triceratops attacking the crew as they're searching for Ann. It's a pretty exhilarating scene, but it's over practically before it begins.
Next up is a scene featuring some sort of sea monster. I remember being disappointed when this didn't make the theatrical cut. Don't ask me why, but that was one scene that stood out to me ever since I was a little boy, so I was thrilled when I found out this was in the extended cut of the film! It's much better than the Triceratops battle, because there's actually a little bit of a struggle here!
Last but not least is the bad-ass and grimy character Lumpy getting attacked by some creature with long legs, small body, and long neck. I can understand the Triceratops inclusion as well as the sea monster, but what the heck is this thing? Again though, it's just another quick scene that ends pretty shortly as Lumpy blows it away before anything exciting can happen.
The problem with the new and extended scenes is that they don't add any meat to the bones of the first hour or so, and that's where the film really needed it.
The movie may start off slowly enough, but once we're on Skull Island and we're ready to rumble with the larger than life primate, the film seems to move along at a nice clip. Jackson really gets the story between Ann and Kong down to a T, and I almost wanted to cry near the end! There's some powerful filmmaking here, and that says a lot, especially since this was a story I already knew very well from my childhood.
First up is the feature commentary with Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens who had been writer/producer. Peter Jackson recently had an interview explaining his absence in The Hobbit. In this interview he mentions how passion is the main thing needed in order to make a great film. It's clear to us from this very in depth commentary with Jackson, that passion for King Kong is clearly something he has a ton of. The two together are very informative, never dry, and really spell everything out for us from a simple idea to the presentation of that idea on the big screen. I'm sure Jackson could have done a very nice commentary even by himself, but with Boyens with him they're constantly bouncing off of each other for a magnified experience in commentary. If you're one who likes to listen to commentaries, this is one I can say for sure is worth the time.
Also On Disc 1
There are 16 deleted/extended scenes that are included. They can be viewed with an introduction by Peter Jackson, or they can be seen together as is. These scenes also don't really add all that much to the experience but you expect that with deleted content. Obviously they were considered as material that really didn't add anything to the final product overall so they're removed. I would highly suggest watching the Peter Jackson introductions. One thing he never is in his extended editions for films is vague. Jackson tells us about the context of each scene and why it was removed. Many times we don't see a director actually telling us about the deleted content as it apparently isn't ever very important, and when we do we're just told about what we're about to see anyways. Jackson tells us in very deep detail about every scene and it's his comments that make watching this deleted content a pleasure.
Next on the agenda is The Eighth Blunder of the World featurette. It's just what it sounds like. We have ourselves a gag and blooper reel. We get to see some behind the scenes shenanigans as well as some filming flubs. Personally the gag reels never do all that much for me. I'm much more into wanting to learn about the process of making the film and bloopers just seem to be fun yet throw away content. If you're into bloopers though as I know many of you are, you have nineteen minutes worth to view here.
Production Diary #59 is included. I had watched a couple of the production diaries as they were being placed online, but I never got very involved in making sure I had seen them all. Apparently this production diary was never online as it was said to be a little too unsuitable for the entire audience that surely had been following the production of King Kong. If you enjoyed following just about every behind the scenes aspect presented in the production diaries, this short eight minute diary will tickle your fancy.
A Night In Vaudeville shows the auditions and filming process of the Vaudeville acts that appeared in the beginning of the film.
The King Kong Homage is a short featurette that shows where to spot little shout out's in Jackson's take of King Kong. You'll see the examples from the original feature and how they're presented in the new film. This is absolutely fantastic for those that have never seen the original King Kong, yet I can't imagine there's many out there who haven't. What's interesting is that some things are directly taken from the old Kong and placed right inside the context of the new Kong very well, thanks to Jackson's ability to recreate that natural yet 'play' style acting that the old film portrayed into his new feature. I was quite pleased with how the acting in King Kong didn't take itself too seriously, so that it would replicate that old style of acting you just don't see anymore. Jack Black would be a prime example of wearing his character out on his sleeve in such a manner.
On Disc 2
Pre-Visualization Animatics show us a few scenes in their basic form of computer animation that serve as the building blocks to how it's going to look in the final scene. That's only the beginning however as shooting has to be done in just the right way on blue screen to work, and we get to see how that is all arranged as well. Eventually we're shown side by side comparisons of the basic and final versions of the scenes. The ones included for this featurette are Arrival At Skull Island, Bronto Stampede, T-Rex Fight, and Empire State Building Battle. You have the option to watch these basic form scenes with the final music, or without. If you want to see how primitive a scene looks in creation you can skip the music, or if you want to see the full effect with the music you can do that as well. It's sort of funny to watch these pre-visualization animatics with the score.
The Present was a short film produced by Jack Black for Peter Jackson on his birthday. It has all the main players of the film in it. They run around frantically back and forth with a present intended for Peter Jackson. It's a lot of fun to watch as they all have a hand in playing 'relay' with the package as they all try and gank it from one another. The acting is done primitively in a way that's light-hearted and fun for the short film, and it really shows just how much fun everyone had on set and how much they enjoyed working on Kong as well as with Peter Jackson himself.
There are some trailers available in the most common forms you'd come to expect for a large release. First is the teaser, followed by the theatrical, and then the Cinemedia trailer which is under three minutes in time. The Cinemedia trailer shows some quick blurbs of interviews with key players from the development of Kong, some old footage of the original Kong, as well as some behind the scenes blue screen shots.
Weta Collectibles shows us some of the high quality items Weta has created for sale for the release of Jackson's King Kong.
The 1996 and 2005 scripts are available for viewing on your home PC.
On Disc 3
Peter Jackson introduces what's available on this set and talks about everything that went into this triple disc set in a short blurb. He talks briefly about the content available on all three discs. I'm not sure why this was presented on the third disc as opposed to the first. Perhaps it had just been so that most of the quality could have been preserved for the video and audio of the film itself? Who can say for sure.
Recreating the Eighth Wonder is a feature length documentary itself weighing in at just over three hours. It covers everything you could imagine from pre-production for every single scene to the final product overall. You'll see how Kong was created and what research went into it. This feature can be viewed in its entirety which includes an introduction from Jackson separate from the one we get on this disc, or you can chapter select whatever portion you're interested in seeing.
Conceptual Design Video Galleries shows us lengthy in depth coverage at forty one minutes of drawings, paintings, pictures, models, as well as computer program worked that helped create the beautiful imagery overall in King Kong. This presentation is sort of dry compared to what we see extensively throughout the rest of the bonus features on this set. You have a three hour documentary and much more on the first couple of discs as well, and I find all of what was already mentioned to be a much better alternative.
This DVD set has everything in the way of extras you could ever ask for. The content on this set is also pretty much entirely new and is not just a repackaging of the old two disc set with a few additional features on a third disc.
The film is now spread out over two discs in its OAR of 2.35:1, which is of course anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. I wonder why the film wouldn't have been split up before. If it's so trivial that thirteen minutes warranted the additional disc, they should have done it before on the original DVD release. I guess it wouldn't have looked very good for a theatrical DVD release to be split up upon its first release though. I've seen this film in HD so it really puts the standard definition content in perspective that much more, and really makes me that much more picky about what I see. Really though, the colors are all rich, the black levels are fantastic, and there's really nothing to complain about with edge enhancement. Even after viewing HD material Kong, the film quality is picture perfect here. The picture is sharp, there's great contrast, and there's really nothing to complain about with grain either. The original DVD release of Jackson's Kong had a very nice transfer as well, and to really compare this release to that one is kind of silly considering just how nice the other release looked. DVD's seem to be hit or miss at times with depth but this release offers that. If only every DVD could look as fantastic as this.
Light the torches and rally the village people, there's no DTS track here, it's true. I know that there are audio purists here who simply can not believe how it's not included considering how this set pretty much offers everything else. Really though, and I know I'll be burned by saying it, but how much more could a DTS track offer? The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks presented in English, French, and Spanish, are all fantastic. This film offers a very nice dynamic range and plenty of 'boom'. Your surround channels get an excellent workout and truly help bring to life the epic experience Kong wants to present to the viewers. Also included are subtitles for each language as well.
I personally enjoyed the original version of Peter Jackson's vision more than the extended form. I thought it caught a lot more flack than it really deserved, although I can't deny that it certainly had its share of flaws when it came to the script. Everyone acted out their roles just fine, even Jack Black who I generally find to be a bit obnoxious. At this point though, the main question is if this set is worth a double dip.
Personally I felt that the additional scenes weren't really fantastic enough to entice me to purchase this new three disc set. They don't really add anything other than some good action that works well enough on their own but they just didn't provide anything to the film overall other than a longer run time. If I had to justify spending money on this three disc set, it would be for all the bonus content that's available on this set and only on this set. The features available are truly what shine and any completist wouldn't want to be without them. There's hours and hours worth of extra material here. If you're a fan of King Kong or Peter Jackson, it would be a crime not to view the bonus material included here.
I would highly recommend this set. Although the new and extended scenes don't add anything new to the feature, it doesn't take away from the film either. The high recommendation comes from the major care that had been put into this DVD set in terms of quality of the extra content, as well as the quality of all the extras included. A Peter Jackson project once again schools the industry on how a special edition should look. The only complaint I have other than the lack of additional depth to the film itself, is the packaging. It opens up and you have one disc on the left hand side, as well as two overlapping discs on the right hand side. I've never been a fan of the overlapping disc packaging, as it's usually hit or miss if you're going to get a loose disc inside or not. Fortunately I didn't experience such a problem with this set, and I hope you don't either.
Other King Kong Related Reviews
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King Kong (2005) 2 Disc Special Edition
King Kong (1933) Special Edition