Peter Jackson has always been a respected filmmaker, from his early cult works to "Heavenly Creatures" to the incredible "Lord of the Rings" series. However, when photos of Jackson after working on "King Kong" started surfacing, people couldn't believe that it was the same Peter Jackson. The filmmaker had lost a remarkable and impressive 70 pounds over the span of the production, and suddenly looked a lot like "Lord of the Rings" and current "Lost" star Dominic Monaghan.
While "King Kong Production Diaries" unfortunately does not include a featurette on how Jackson was able to suddenly get so trim (although obviously, the pressures and long days of production probably had a major role in it), it does provide viewers with a remarkable level of behind-the-scenes access as Jackson and cast/crew attempt to film their massive remake. After Jackson's success with broadcasting clips of the "Lord of the Rings" production on theonering.net, he decided to continue allowing fans to get a rare glimpse into the process of making a major-budget feature, and allowed a camera crew to follow the production.
While these clips were broadcast on the internet, the picture quality is much improved here, and it's very nice to not only have all of the short segments together, but to be able to play them all back-to-back. Additionally, according to Jackson, these features will only be released on this set.
While the segments are short (several minutes max), they are always interesting and often a lot of fun. In fact, despite the fact that there are definite pressures that the production faces in trying to get the picture done, everyone seems to often be in good spirits. In an early segment, two stuntmen joke about not being prepared for being hit by water from the massive dunk tanks (which, as we find out shortly after, contain in the neighborhood of a thousand liters.) We see them get hit and then it's Jack Black's turn to get soaked. Speaking of Black, while the main draw of the set is obviously the ability to see all of the technical behind-the-scenes detail, fans of Black will delight in the actor's goofyness throughout the proceedings here.
As for the technical details of the production, various clips take a very detailed look at many different aspects. In one segment, we follow around the art department as they give us a fascinating tour of the kind of tiny details that have to be exactly right and taken into account on each day of shooting. Another interesting clip shortly after follows what happens to a reel of film after it comes out of the camera, as we see it be developed, scanned in and make its way to the editors after one day. Late on the first disc, we see Jackson, Watts and others take a research trip to New York and the crew start to build the film's NYC on a lot, as shooting a film this size in NYC would have been too difficult.
The first disc goes up to the end of 2004, as the cast and crew wishes everyone a happy holiday season. The second disc joins back up with the production in January 2005 and follows along until April. The second half starts with the production starting to work more heavily on the New York City sets, which are remarkably detailed and impressive. There's plenty of highlights throughout this section, including a sequence where Adrian Brody does his own driving stunts throughout the New York City set, as Brody proved himself to be a good enough driver to not need a stuntman.
The second half of the second disc starts off with shooting on green-screen sets, including a shot with Watts carried by Kong. As for the ape itself, we don't see it much here (just at the very end), although we do get glimpses of elements that went into the creation of the creature, such as filming of the previously mentioned Watts shot, and some footage of Andy Serkis acting out Kong. The second half of...the second half also features looks at the sound department, trying to build an old time airplane from scratch, the taking down of the New York City sets, plans for "Son of Kong", the final week of shooting and directors Bryan Singer ("Superman Returns", "The Usual Suspects") and Frank Darabont ("Shawshank Redemption") coming in to help out towards the end. Last, but not least, we see a breakdown and apparently, final version of a fight sequence between Kong and a T-Rex.
Overall, these production diaries were quite entertaining, as they provided a well-filmed look at the production at work, a lot of insights into the roles of various crew members and some hilarious moments from the cast and crew.
VIDEO: The production diaries are presented in approximately 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on digital video, the picture quality does certainly look better than these clips did when they were presented online. Still, having been filmed on digital video, the clips have slightly inconsistent quality. Sharpness and detail are mostly fine, although some low-light and interior scenes appear slightly softer.
Thankfully, while sharpness and detail vary somewhat, the picture essentially doesn't suffer from any concerns. A tiny bit of shimmering appears on a couple of occasions, but otherwise, the picture appeared crisp and clean, with no edge enhancement or pixelation. Colors looked natural and bright, with nice saturation and no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The production diaries are presented in stereo, and sound quite good. With all the background activity going on, the discussion by Jackson, the actors and the other crew could have sounded a bit muddy. Thankfully, the audio has seemingly been well-recorded, as everything sounds crystal clear.
EXTRAS: There really isn't much in the way of on-disc extras for the set, but the packaging itself is wonderful, and the set itself does come with four exclusive production art prints, as well as a 52-page full-color production booklet, with on-set pictures, drawings and other notes. The packaging itself is also quite stylish, with the discs and booklet held in an old school-style notebook. Additionally, there is an individually numbered collector's certificate of authenticity.
Note: Those who purchase the recently released "Director's Cut" of Jackson's "The Frighteners", that release includes a coupon for a free admission (max of $10.50) to "King Kong" (see specially marked packages for details.)
Final Thoughts: "King Kong Production Diaries" is definitely recommended, as the segments provide not only a lot of fantastic looks at the elements that went into the making of many of the film's scenes, but some hilarious moments of the cast and crew joking around, as well. The DVD provides very good audio/video quality (considering the material) and some nice additional collectables.