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Universal Studios Home Video presents
King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries (2004-2005)

"Looks like Mr. Jackson's mounting a one-man invasion."
- Thomas Kretschmann

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 12, 2005

Stars: Peter Jackson, Adrien Brody, Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Andy Serkis
Other Stars: Dan Hennah, Lobo Chan, Thomas Kretschmann, Jeremy Bennett
Director: Michael Pellerin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (minor language)
Run Time: 03h:57m:58s
Release Date: December 13, 2005
UPC: 025192947223
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A+B-C B-

DVD Review

Certainly one of the most anticipated films of 2005 is Peter Jackson's big-budget CGI remake of King Kong. Since he was favorably impressed by the use of the Internet to get feedback on and to promote The Lord of the Rings, he decided to go all out for his production of Kong, periodically releasing "video diaries" with a look at what was going on at the various sets during the 137 days of principal photography. A total of 54 of these diaries were released on the Kong is King website between September 2004 and April 2005. Those diaries are no longer available online, but are captured for posterity here on two DVDs.

Each of the diaries runs from three minutes to 10 or more, depending on the subject matter. The first few are rather perfunctory greetings from the set, but after Jackson watched them he wanted to do something more substantial. And when Peter Jackson wants to do something in grand fashion, he doesn't hold back. The remaining diaries are packed with behind-the-scenes information, plenty of humor, and an intensive look at the filming of a special effects extravaganza like no other. There have been many behind-the-scenes looks on DVD, the prime examples of which are on the Extended Editions of Jackson's own Lord of the Rings films. But no other package has taken a chronological approach to the filming, day by day so you can see how the process fits together.

It's a truly unique look that contains tons of fascinating details, such as the field trip of star Naomi Watts to the top of the Empire State Building to get an idea of what she will be seeing in green screen while in Kong's hand. Peter Jackson brings out his original Willis O'Brien dinosaur models from the 1933 Kong and gives us a good look at them. The process works in two directions as well, with the website soliciting questions for Jackson that result in new production diaries devoted to such topics as sound recording, makeup and hair and other subjects. Some of the most fascinating segments are devoted to the vintage vehicles seen on the streets of New York, as well as the task of building downtown Manhattan in New Zealand. There's some incredibly elaborate set dressing at work here, and this collection offers the opportunity to appreciate just how thorough this production's vision of 1933 is.

One of the more intriguing segments looks at a completely invisible job, that of lighting continuity. It's painstaking and thankless, but it helps greatly with the verisimilitude of the production. An entertaining segment tracks an utterly exhausted Jackson on day 100 of the shoot in "Day in the Life" format. It's amazing what he puts himself through on these films, and it's doubly amazing that after having just finished Lord of the Rings he immediately threw himself back into the same horrific grind.

The cast makes some appearances, with Jack Black (who plays Carl Denham) hamming things up and going into a mock fury upon learning that the website lists him as being 5'4" in height. Adrien Brody gets a nifty diary devoted to his doing his own stunt driving through the faux streets of New York, for which he was amply prepared by growing up driving in New York City. Naomi Watts doesn't show up much, although there are some great green screen segments of her, ostensibly in the hairy paw. There's plenty of comedy too, with Jackson having a bit of fun with some hoaxes and various bits of tomfoolery. Andy Serkis (who plays Lumpy the Cook) provides a number of humorous segments in character. Alas, Kong himself doesn't make any appearances except in concept art and in the animatics. Those segments are left for the post-production diaries, which aren't included here (though they are, as of this writing, still available at the Kong is King site). But be sure to check out the extras section.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The diaries were shot on video, so they have all the problems attendant to that format, including the occasional dropout or glitch. But on the whole the picture looks quite nice, and certainly a big step up from the compressed Internet versions. Some of the defects seem to be addressed by significant edge enhancement and artifical sharpening, which provides unsightly ringing at times, especially in daylight.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio, meant to be streamed over the Internet, is rather thin and unimpressive for the most part. It's almost entirely live sound, so one can't expect much. There's plenty of ambient sound, since these were shot in guerrilla fashion. Remarks are generally quite clear, and when they aren't the subtitles come in handy. Nothing to get excited about, but not a serious defect considering the intended use of these materials.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 70 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Boxed Set
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Book
  2. Art prints
Extras Review: Since the main feature is what one would consider extra material ordinarily, it's hard to know where to draw the line. Assuming the Internet production diaries themselves are the main attraction, we'll consider everything else extras. The diaries are in the most elaborate DVD packaging yet, in a large box made to resemble Carl Denham's steamer trunk, with a nesting doll array of boxes that enclose four gorgeous prints of concept art for the film and the DVDs. The discs themselves are held in a mock clipboard that also serves as a book with more concept art, photos, drawings, and other materials. It's an attractive and substantial gift packaging, though the added content is a little weak. There are options to play all of the diaries, or to choose them by date or a particular location (on the ship, on Skull Island, or in New York). Those wanting a look at the giant ape may want to go directly to the bonus production diary, which gives the anatomy of the fight between Kong and the T-Rexes. The diary concludes with a two-minute clip of this fight from the film that looks incredible. If you haven't seen the movie yet, this exciting clip will make you want to get in line.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

These discs act as a combination extended teaser and a film school in a box. Presumably they won't be repeated on the inevitable deluxe edition of King Kong, so you'll want to get this limited edition now.


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