Impossibly beating all odds, destroying every bad memory about the 1976 remake, and setting a new standard for creature features, King Kong is a remarkable film. It’s intense, brutal, and draining. You’re actually tired after leaving the cinema. Peter Jackson’s remake is a $207 million gift for every Kong fan in the world. Except for a few ugly spots, it’s hard to imagine a better way to resurrect one of cinema’s all time greats.
Jackson’s direction follows a straight path that doesn’t stray far in pacing. Once the initial set up is taken care of, there’s hardly a scene in the movie that doesn’t feature Kong or one of his island co-inhabitants, just like the ’33 Kong. If you felt the opening exposition was dull, you’ll forget those dialogue scenes were even included once the special effects from WETA take over.
Turning the large ape into a believable creature (as opposed to a typical rampaging beast) works on countless levels. The film’s finale is easily the best of the three takes on this story. The emotional pull is unbearable as the agonizing sequence continues to bombard the viewer from one cringe-inducing moment to the next. There’s a reason Kong is made out to be the victim, and the ending proves it.
Jack Black is a sore spot here, playing a completely different character than Robert Armstrong did back in 1933. Instead of being overly zealous and ambitious, his character has a reason for his actions: insanity. His slow descent into madness doesn’t really work, mostly because Black is out of his element and his unnatural style doesn’t mesh with the rest of the cast.
Some of the action is also over the top. The spider pit sequence pays homage to a forever-lost sequence from the original, and the action here (along with the rather pitiful rescue) stretches things a bit far. The stampede does the same, with far too many close calls that are contrived and convenient. The same thing can be said for the Skull Island natives, shot with a rather aggravating slow motion and blur effect. It takes away from the horror of the sequence.
When Kong is on though, it’s one unforgettable moment followed by another. The sign this is a sure classic comes from the dramatic sequences. The brutal three-way T-Rex fight has plenty of merit, yet when you leave the theater, it’s the touching scenes between Ann and Kong that stick out. The playful romp in Central Park, the sunset on a ledge, or the final shot of the beast staring at her as his life slips away are the shots we pay to see.
In this extended cut, 13 minutes have been put into the film. The raft sequence, one of the few scenes from 1933 not to find a home in the theatrical release, has been included. It’s exciting, fun, and a memorable creation. Another dinosaur attack finds its way in not long after the adventurers reach Skull Island. A triceratops-like beast makes its mark on the crew, ending with another excellent homage to the original. While well made, it becomes one too many in the scope of the film.
Bits and pieces have been added everywhere throughout the movie. The army has a longer role in this extended version, including a priceless end to a speech given by one of the commanders to his troops. It was a wise cut from the initial release, as the humor element doesn’t gel with the impact of the rest of the sequence. In another addition, more tension plays out on the island, well before the log sequence, though the way it’s edited doesn’t necessarily work as intended.
None of the new footage takes away from the film, and if the theatrical version gripped you, it’s a must have. If you barely made it through the three-hour running time initially, adding the extra bits will probably be enough to make you reach for the power button. Story elements remain the same and everything revolves around more action. Both versions sit on equal ground for their own reasons. King Kong is a modern classic regardless of the presentation.
The movie is now split across two discs. This creates an obvious increase in video quality, one significant enough to make the seamless special effects not so seamless. Matte lines and other visual imperfections with the effects are impossible to hide with the stunning clarity. If you know what to look for, you’ll see it in nearly every frame with a CG effect. Also, new scenes tend to have color problems when directly inserted into older sequences.
Compression used to be visibly evident in the backdrops if you were searching for it (especially when doing a direct comparison), but this extended disc is as perfect a standard DVD you’ll find. The detail is at a level that is almost impossible. The jungle sequences and their exquisite backdrops are flawlessly captured without excessive aliasing. Black levels are consistent while creating a perfect contrast.
Audio presents a few minor tweaks, including some extra separation at times. Surround work is still a pinnacle for standard 5.1 audio. It’s a shame the audio didn’t receive a boost as well, either into DTS or 5.1 EX as it was in theaters. The final battle between Kong and the bi-planes is a masterpiece of home audio and the effectiveness of Dolby on the experience of watching an epic like this.
If the added scenes sounded like overkill, the extras take that a step further. The lack of commentary on the first release was an obvious setup for the inevitable here. Peter Jackson has plenty of time to discuss his reasons, thoughts, inspirations, and film secrets along with co-writer Philippa Boyens.
Each disc has a section called the King Kong Archives, leading into a tree of features that can take hours to get through. Disc one contains a fun feature telling the viewer of all the homages to the original, pointing out lifted dialogue and original props from ’33 Kong that found their way into this remake.
A Night in Vaudeville is a piece on the brief sideshow acts found in the film. The zany pieces are here in their entirety, along with interviews with the people that performed them. The Eighth Blunder of the World is a nearly 20-minute blooper reel. It’s technical in nature while still featuring extensive mistakes by the cast. Finally, there’s one last HYPERLINK "http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/12/09/171339.php" production diary, short behind-the-scenes pieces that were never shown online or on the DVD releases.
A slew of deleted scenes, most completely unfinished, have an introduction by Peter Jackson explaining why they were never completed. Nearly all of them were cuts to keep the film moving. In total, there are nearly 40 minutes worth of them to view, and that’s not including Jackson’s dialogue.
Disc two contains the second half of the film, a blatant promo for Weta Collectibles, three trailers, early animatics for key sequences (with direct comparisons to the finished product), and The Present. The cast shot this goofy 10-minute short film for Jackson’s birthday quickly and cheaply. It has the main members trying to deliver a wrapped gift to the director and desperately trying to become the one to make the final hand off. Sadly, we’re never told what was in the box.
The menu for the third and final disc seems limited – then you see the running time. Containing a documentary clocking in at what has to be a record three hours and four minutes, it’s only two minutes shorter than the theatrical version of the film itself. For Kong enthusiasts, the extensive detailing of the failed 1996 version of Kong is worth the price of this DVD alone.
Plenty of footage of an early WETA crew creating dinosaurs, Kong mock-ups, script discussion, and animatics of a planned dogfight are all included. That’s only the first twenty minutes. As an aside, it’s worth noting the full script for the 1996 Kong can be found on disc 2 if you have a DVD-ROM drive.
This is as massive as documentaries get. In an amazing feat of filming, nothing here has been used previously in other behind-the-scenes pieces (all of the extras in this set are brand new for that matter). Jackson makes it very clear in a separate introduction on this disc that this is all new footage, and that’s a promise he keeps. If that’s still not enough giant ape for one DVD set, then some additional conceptual galleries, including more on that lost 1996 version, are available.
For the true Kong fanatic, the deluxe gift set is the way to go. Including this three-disc set, along with a decent statue of Kong making his final climb (with Ann in tow), this is the definitive DVD version. The box it comes in is especially attractive.