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Universal Studios Home Video presents
King Kong: Two-Disc Special Edition (2005)

"In a few months, his name will be up in lights on Broadway: Kong! The Eighth Wonder of the World!"
- Carl Denham (Jack Black)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: April 02, 2006

Stars: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody
Other Stars: Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Lobo Chan, Kyle Chandler, Andy Serkis
Director: Peter Jackson

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (frightening adventure violence, some disturbing images)
Run Time: 03h:07m:12s
Release Date: March 28, 2006
UPC: 025192994524
Genre: fantasy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+AA A-

DVD Review

Peter Jackson was profoundly affected at a young age by the original film of King Kong (1933) and had wanted to film his own version for decades. He got fairly well along in the process with Universal in the 1990s when the plug was pulled on the project. But after the megasuccess of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, there was little question but that Universal would welcome him back and essentially give him carte blanche to make his film. The result probably would have benefited from a little more restraint, but it's hard to deny the emotional impact of the picture as it stands.

The essential outlines of the story follow the original closely, with entrepreneurial director Carl Denham (this time played by Jack Black) a step ahead of his creditors as he tries to make an amazing adventure film in 1933, with the key being an aged, scrawled map. Out-of-work actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is reluctant to take part in the picture until she learns the script is by respected writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). A tramp steamer carrying this threesome heads for Skull Island, the destination marked on the map. But they don't understand what it is they're liable to find there: Kong, a 25-foot ape, who is used to receiving human sacrifices. But blonde Miss Darrow appeals to Kong on a deeper level than just a snack, which proves to be his undoing.

Although everything here is on a much bigger scale, the most notable difference from the 1933 version is the emotional center of the relationship between Ann and Kong. Where Fay Wray pretty much just spent her time screaming at King Kong, Watts' version of Ann Darrow is entirely different. At first terrified, she quickly grows to both respect and in a way love the giant gorilla. This gives the otherwise bloated spectacle a heart that it wears on its sleeve. Several of these sequences are profoundly affecting, such as the one in which Kong is captured, or the quiet moment of joy in Central Park. Of course, there's the finale atop the Empire State Building, and Jackson plays it for everything it's worth. But none of it would work without Watts, who does an amazing job of emotionally connecting to a giant ape that isn't there at all. When combined with the extraordinary motion capture work of Andy Serkis as Kong, the result is an astonishing piece of work that makes this character-driven as well as effects-driven.

The downside, however, is that Jackson goes a bit overboard during the lengthy Skull Island sequence. There's dinosaur after dinosaur, monster after monster, with the centerpiece being a seemingly endless brontosaurus stampede. It just doesn't stop, going from one set of monstrosities and abominations to another to the point of monotony. Any one of these bits would be splendid, but all together they're just exhausting. Another 10 minutes trimmed out of this sequence would have helped immeasurably. (I can't believe I just complained that a movie has too many dinosaurs and monsters in it.)

Jackson properly kept the story set in its original 1933 setting; if it were brought to the present the tale would not be nearly as evocative and taking down Kong would just be too simple. But in its 1930s setting, Kong is a force of nature, practically unstoppable despite everything the army can throw at him. At the same time, the picture makes plenty of knowing nods to the Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Shoedsack original, such as a remark by Denham that Fay Wray is unavailable because she's making a film for Delgado at RKO. Other less apparent connections are also present, such as the inclusion of Max Steiner's classic score in several sequences. But few musical moments are quite as affecting as the heartbreaking rendition of Bye, Bye Blackbird by Peggy Lee, during a melancholy moment after the return to New York.

There were some complaints about the first act of the story taking too long to get to Skull Island, but I don't agree with them. While the original audience for King Kong knew about the Depression setting, it takes some time for Jackson to properly set the stage and put you into the miserable circumstances of the impoverished of 1933 New York. The realization of this world is truly first-rate, with an incredible amount of detail bringing forward the wretched living conditions. By contrast, the second New York bookend focuses on the carefree gaiety of the upper crust, dressed to the nines on Broadway. It's during that last act that some of the best and most beautiful moments of the film occur. The distinctive features of Adrien Brody are put to good use when Kong, just escaped from the theater where he's being exhibited, suddenly spots Driscoll, and recognizes him as the man that took Ann away from him. The interaction between them is splendid, as is the chaos that Kong wreaks in response.

The Skull Island sequence does make a terrific contrast to cosmopolitan New York. Probably the most disturbing segment is that featuring the truly terrifying natives of the island, who often seem as if they're undead. The beautiful scenery of New Zealand once again stands in for a fantasy world, and does so just as memorably as it did in Jackson's Tolkien saga. The effects work is excellent throughout, with Kong almost always being completely convincing. Only the long shots of Ann in Kong's paw are less than authentic. Supposedly, an extended edition of the film is forthcoming, but it might be better were it a shade less excessive in its middle act.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is pristine throughout. Detail is always sharp and crisp, with plenty of vivid color and texture. Black levels are deep and shadow detail is excellent. A bit of softness is possibly due to filtering, but edge enhancement and ringing are nowhere to be seen. An exceptionally fine transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive, with plenty of range and depth. Particularly overwhelming are Kong's roars, and the moving sound of the swirling biplanes in the finale put you atop the Empire State Building along with Kong. Very vivid and engrossing sound design.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 50 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Wish You Were Here
2 Documentaries
32 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:29m:58s

Extra Extras:
  1. Volkswagen Touareg ad tie-in
Extras Review: The first disc (which is also available as a stand-alone item) contains a trailer for another film as well as a short (02m:06s) segment on the filming of the Volkswagen Touareg commercial that ties into the picture, plus the advertisement itself.

But the real meat of the set is contained on the second disc. After a three-minute introduction by Peter Jackson, the previously-released saga of the production diaries continues with the 32 weekly post-production diaries from April-December of 2005, running up through the premiere of the picture. These cover diverse topics such as motion capture, sound design and mixing, development of the trailer, miniatures, music, editing, and other subjects right up to the premiere of the picture. The first set of diaries was excellent, and these short segments continue that tradition. One of the best is a segment during which collector Bob Burns brings the original Willis O'Brien armature of King Kong to Wellington; he is reunited with the armature of the pteranodon, owned by Jackson, and animated by the animation crew. It's a delightful little program that will make any Kong fan happy.

Also present on Disc 2 is a pair of documentaries relating to the two principal settings of the film: Skull Island and 1933 New York City. The first is a 17-minute mockumentary that treats Skull Island and its denizens as the real thing, with conceptual art from the film being used for re-creations of the wildlife. It's a cute notion that is carried out pretty well. More straightforward is a half-hour program on New York City in 1933, with plenty of footage of the Empire State Building being built. Any history buff will find a lot to like here.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Despite overkill in the middle, this is certainly a worthwhile remake that re-envisions its tale not as a horror but as a love story. In that, it exceeds admirably with Watts turning in a superb performance. The transfer is impeccable, and the second disc does a good job in continuing the tale of how the picture was made.

 


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