Some criticized director Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong remake for its three-hour-plus running time and Vaudevillian melodrama. I love that film, but can appreciate this new, leaner edition of the big ape from Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer). Unrelated to Jackson's film but part of Warner Brothers' recent Godzilla universe, Kong: Skull Island is solid popcorn entertainment, and is surprisingly intense for a PG-13 film. Here, U.S. government official Bill Randa (John Goodman) enlists British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to visit the uncharted Skull Island. They quickly encounter an aggravated Kong and various other deadly creatures, and learn the ape is their only hope of survival.
In the brief prologue, two World War II fighter pilots - one American, the other Japanese - crash land on Skull Island. They try to kill each other before a giant hand comes crashing down and the opening titles roll. Years later, during the Vietnam era, Randa hopes exploring Skull Island will lead to medical and sustainability advances. Photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins the expedition party, believing the operation is about more than science and technology, and the group leaves from a carrier ship on several helicopters. After a turbulent ride through the perpetual storm system surrounding the island (complete with a badass Samuel L. Jackson monologue), the choppers reach clear skies. But when Packard's men start dropping explosives to help map the island, Kong appears and begins bringing down the circling helicopters. After this initial chaos, the group is divided and rapidly diminishing in ranks. They reach relative safety and discover the island is not completely deserted of human life.
The producers of this film, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, and Mary Parent, also produced Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, and evidently took the criticism that film received about its lack of on-screen monster destruction to heart. Kong appears on screen in Kong: Skull Island frequently. With its excellent visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic, Skull Island offers a lean, energetic Kong and dinosaur-like beasts to torment the humans. Relatively novice director Vogt-Roberts proves adept at staging action, and Larry Fong's handsome cinematography lends an air of sophistication to the B-movie thrills. Much of the film was shot on location in Vietnam, and the breathtaking jungle landscapes are impressively integrated with the visual effects. The location is not the only allusion to Apocalypse Now and other Vietnam War films. You even get slow-motion shots of helicopters blasting wartime tunes from onboard speakers.
The leads give energetic performances, though none of the characters is particularly deep. John C. Reilly shows up to give a quirky performance, and Terry Notary provides the motion-capture bones of Kong's movements. There is plenty of action, and some of the spine ripping and skull dropping pushes the film's rating. This is a different breed of Kong, and he, like the most recent Godzilla, just wants to live in peace. It will be interesting to see how Warner Brothers brings these two beasts together, and a post-credit sequence hints at other films yet to come. Although it is not as memorable or weighty as Jackson's film, Kong: Skull Island is excellent entertainment from a promising young director.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Shot digitally and finished at 2K, Kong: Skull Island is presented with a 2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer at 2.40:1. Although the resolution is upscaled to 4K, this is a handsome transfer than benefits from a stunning HDR pass and the expanded resolution. Viewers may not notice a night and day difference between this 4K image and the Blu-ray's 1080p image, but there are subtle differences. Fine-object detail is often breathtaking, from Kong's fur and facial features, to the textures on costumes, to the jungle landscapes, sand and trees. There are noticeable improvements in this fine-object detail in the 4K image, and facial features are noticeably more lifelike. Colors are breathtaking here thanks to the HDR pass, and this 4K image really highlights the excellent photography and ‘70s color explosion. Contrast is strong and black levels are inky, and I noticed only very minor shimmering on a couple of trees.
Warner includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack (which can be downgraded to 7.1 Dolby TrueHD), and, interestingly, a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix to which the disc defaults. The soundtrack is plum fantastic here, and replicates the theatrical experience. All elements are perfectly balanced, and there are some truly immersive action sequences. Ambient effects, like a storm, jungle noise and wind, surround viewers, and dialogue is crystal clear, whether delivered front and center or directionally. Action effects are bombastic and realistic, and the surrounds and LFE get a heavy workout. The score and musical selections are layered appropriately, and I don't have a single complaint about this mix. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subs.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc "combo pack" includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray and an UltraViolet HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a black eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Both discs offer an Audio Commentary by Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and the remaining extras are found on the Blu-ray. You get two featurettes about Kong, Summoning a God (11:39/HD) and Realizing an Icon (12:47/HD); On Location: Vietnam (5:38/HD); Tom Hiddleston: Intrepid Traveler (6:53/HD); Through the Lens: Brie Larson's Photography (2:19/HD); Monarch Files 2.0 (7:58/HD); and four Deleted Scenes (3:45/HD).
This new Kong outing is lean and filled with action, and is a promising addition to the universe Warner Brothers began with 2014's Godzilla remake. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts leads Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson into battle on Skull Island, and Kong emerges king. The 4K Ultra HD offers a strong picture, excellent soundtrack, and a couple of decent bonus features. Highly Recommended.