King Kong appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. DVD One includes the first 80 minutes of the flick, while DVD Two presents the final two hours. The first disc ends not long after Kong’s abduction of Ann; it occurs soon after the men chase after her. I thought the transfer of the theatrical cut looked great, and this Extended Edition provided similarly stellar visuals.
Sharpness looked terrific. At no time did I discern any instances of softness or ill-defined shots. Instead, the movie consistently came across as nicely accurate and concise. I saw no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. The movie lacked any examples of print flaws. I witnessed no specks, marks, or other defects during this clean and smooth presentation.
Kong often went with a restricted, somewhat golden tone. The movie rarely featured bold colors, as it usually went with subdued hues. Even the greenery of Skull Island looked a bit pale. I didn’t regard this as a problem, though, since the DVD clearly replicated the movie’s intended visuals. The colors were appropriately vivid when necessary and seemed accurately depicted.
Black levels also came across well. Dark shots demonstrated good depth and clarity. Low-light shots were nicely displayed and seemed clear and adequately visible. Shadow was clean and tight. Given the darkness of so much of the film, those components became especially important, so their high quality was an important factor in the success of the transfer. Overall, the image of King Kong appeared virtually flawless. This is about as good as you can expect a standard-def DVD to look.
And the audio didn’t disappoint either. At all times, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of King Kong worked exceedingly well. The soundfield appeared very active and involving. All five channels presented lots of material that kept the viewer at the center of a realistic and immersive world. Elements seemed appropriately placed and they blended together well. Planes and flying creatures soared from location to location accurately, and other pieces popped up in their proper places too. The whole thing meshed together quite nicely, and the piece worked swimmingly. Not surprisingly, fight sequences were the most impressive, but the entire package seemed strong.
Audio quality equaled the positive nature of the soundfield. Speech was natural and distinctive, and I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant, as the score presented rich and full tones. Effects came across as accurate and concise. No problems with distortion appeared, and these elements were clean and broad.
Early returns indicated that the soundtrack might be a “sub killer”, a mix with bass so overwhelming that it could decimate subwoofers. I didn’t see that as the case, though. My sub isn’t a great one; it’ll pop and sound like it’s on the verge of exploding when it takes on louder tracks. That’s usually due to mastering issues, though, as it almost always results from overcooked bass. For instance, the theatrical version of The Fellowship of the Ring featured excessively loud low-end that overwhelmed the rest of the mix. (The extended cut remedied this.)
Although I feared the bass response of Kong would replicate the theatrical DVD of Fellowship, that wasn’t the case. Was the low-end loud? Without question. Was it overcooked and too heavy? Not in the least. The mix featured clean, concise bass at all times. The low-end was smooth and extremely effective. At no point did it threaten to dominate the audio, as the bass fit in with the rest of the track well. All of this combined to make the soundtrack of Kong a complete winner.
How did the picture and audio of this DVD compare with the theatrical edition? I thought both discs seemed virtually identical. The theatrical release looked and sounded amazing, and the Extended Edition continued along those lines. This was a stellar presentation.
As we shift to the extras, an audio commentary spans DVDs One and Two. We get notes from director Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. At the start, Jackson notes that he wants to avoid covering the same subjects addressed in the documentary, so I worried he might stick with minutiae. I needn’t have worried, however, as the pair touch on a nice mix of subjects.
Jackson and Boyens discuss sets and production design, story issues and development, musical choices, issues with the shooting schedule, various historical references and influences, cast and characters, visual elements like costumes, wigs and color design, effects, adaptation concerns and sequences added for the “Extended Edition”, and various trivia about the flick.
Jackson and Boyens offered nice chats for the three Rings flicks, and that trend continues here. They give us good information from start to finish of King as they make sure they stay focused on the appropriate subjects. There’s little chaff on display during this meaty, informative and entertaining discussion.
16 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 37 minutes, 24 seconds. We can watch these with or without optional introductions from Jackson; if you include those, the running time adds up to 46:22. Note that some of these didn’t make it through the final processes, so expect some rough visuals at times. Most look pretty good, but you’ll occasionally see green or blue screens and crude computer effects.
Much of the cut material comes from the Venture’s voyage; that segment runs too long for many tastes as it is, so these trims were sensible, though some interesting development of the secondary characters pops up here. We also see quite a few alternate or lengthened sequences, including a clip that actually shows a hint of a conscience from Denham, a factor lacking in the final flick. One scene I’m happy to see: the alternative first exposure to Kong’s presence. This segment appeared in the movie’s trailer, so it’s great to find out why it didn’t end up in the eventual release.
Don’t expect much additional action, though a few pieces appear. There’s a slight extension to the bronto stampede, and there’s cut material with Kong and Jack in New York. We also find more of the Army’s pursuit of Kong through Manhattan. All in all, the deleted scenes prove quite interesting. I don’t know if any of them should have made the final movie, though I’d probably argue for the inclusion of “Kong Versus the Army”. In any case, they’re fun to watch.
Jackson’s introductions prove uniformly useful. He gives us production basics but devotes most of his time to explanations of why the clips didn’t make the movie. We get plenty of good information in these efficient chats.
Entitled The Eighth Blunder of the World, a “blooper reel” runs 18 minutes, 51 seconds. That’s a lot of goofs, and most of them fall into the usual category of mess-ups and goofiness. However, even though I usually don’t care for these reels, this one has some good moments. The cast jokes around a lot and gives us some funny bits. Heck, we even get to see a quick glimpse of what it’d be like if Jedi took on dinosaurs! This is one of the better gag reels I’ve seen.
Called The Missing Production Diary, a featurette goes for eight minutes and 16 seconds. Fans who hope to find the entry about canned composer Howard Shore will encounter disappointment, as that’s not what we get here. It focuses on “Monitor Watching Syndrome”, the addiction that overcomes the actors as they can’t resist the desire to check out their performances on the set. It’s jokey in nature and not worth much more than as a piece of comedy.
A Night in Vaudeville lasts 12 minutes and five seconds. It gives us a closer look at the acts that appear during the vaudeville montage at the film’s start. We see longer film clips along with auditions and rehearsals. It ends up as a good little look at these quirky talents.
Finally, King Kong Homage goes for nine minutes, 56 seconds. It mixes clips from the 1933 King and this one as it lets us see the many references in Jackson’s version. This turns out to be a fun and useful program made better by the occasional split-screen comparisons between the two flicks.
Over on DVD Two, we find four Pre-Visualization Animatics. These come for “Arrival at Skull Island” (4:19), “Bronto Stampede” (6:33), “T-Rex Fight” (9:51) and “Empire State Building Battle” (9:28). Each of these allows us to see the original computer-generated pre-viz sequences. We can watch them with or without music, though they all come with effects and dialogue. They’re very fun to inspect, especially in the case of “Battle”, since it also includes an option to compare the animatics to the final film.
A short film called The Present comes next. This starts with a 95-second introduction that gives us information about the piece from Jackson and actor Andy Serkis. From there we watch the seven-minute and 50-second flick, a cute feature created for Jackson’s birthday. This offers a great little addition to the set.
Trailers offers three promos. We get the teaser and theatrical ads for Kong along with a “Cinemedia Trailer”. That two-minute and 41-second clip provides comments from Jackson, actors Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Jamie Bell and Adrien Brody. They tout the flick in this brief infomercial.
More promotional material comes to us in the Weta Collectibles clip. This five-minute and 17-second piece features notes from Jackson and Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor as they discuss the retail sculptures created for fans to buy. Though essentially an ad, this provides a decent look at how these were made.
DVD-ROM owners can check out two different Kong scripts. We find the text for the 2005 edition as well as Jackson’s aborted 1996 rendition. The 2005 screenplay is interesting to see as a comparison to the final product, but the 1996 script is the real gold here. It provides a truly alternate take on the material; it’s fascinating to see what Jackson wanted to do differently back in the Nineties.
On DVD Three, we begin with a two-minute and 30-second Introduction from Peter Jackson. He gives us a basic overview of what to expect here and also what we might have missed back on Discs One and Two.
A documentary called Recreating the Eighth Wonder: Making King Kong runs three hours, six minutes and 33 seconds. No, that’s not a typo – this program really does last almost as long as the movie’s Extended Edition! And here I thought the two-hour and 53-minute show for Superman Returns would end up as the year’s longest DVD documentary.
During “Wonder”, we hear from Jackson, Boyens, animation director Christian Rivers, pre-production CG supervisor Matt Aitken, digital destruction supervisor Gray Horsfield, Weta creature designers/sculptors Christian Pearce, Greg Broadmore, Jamie Beswarick and Daniel Falconer, special makeup – creatures and miniatures artist Richard Taylor, Weta senior creature designer/sculptor Ben Wootten, conceptual artist Alan Lee, producer/first AD Carolynne Cunningham, visual effects DP Alex Funke, conceptual designers Gus Hunter and Jeremy Bennett, supervising art director Dan Hennah, production designer Grant Major, special makeup effects supervisor and creature effects art director Gino Acevedo, senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, animation sequence leads David Clayton and Richard Frances-Moore, motion capture manager/first AD Lisa Wildermoth, miniatures model technician Shelley Stewart, miniatures supervisor John Baster, editor Jamie Selkirk, art director Simon Bright, supervising set dresser Tanea Chapman, visual effects supervisor Ben Snow, 3D CG supervisor Christopher Jon Horvath, special effects technician Darian Lumsden, Weta Digital art director Michael Pangrazio, Skull Island costume supervisor Gareth McGhie, extras casting coordinator Miranda Rivers, Skull Islanders’ on set coordinator Jamie Wilson, animation director Eric Leighton, creatures supervisor Dana Peters, digital effects supervisors Dan Lemmon, Guy Williams and Eric Saindon, 2nd unit director Randall William Cook, co-producer/visual effects producer Eileen Moran, 3D CG supervisor R. Christopher White, cameo guests Rick Porras, Jim Dietz, Frank Darabont and Rick Baker, special projects supervisor Mark Sagar, sound designer Brent Burge, ADR editor/mixer Chris Ward and actors Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Andy Serkis, Colin Hanks, Thomas Kretschmann, Kyle Chandler, Lobo Chan, Jamie Bell, John Sumner, Evan Parke, and Adrien Brody.
“Wonder” opens with a look at the original 1933 Kong. Jackson discusses his love for the flick and its influence on him. From there we move through the aborted development of Jackson’s 1996 Kong and its elements. Once that journey ends, we hear reflections on how Lord of the Rings abetted a reborn attempt at Kong.
That takes us to pre-production and its elements. This area follows research at the Empire State Building and with Fay Wray, conceptual design and pre-visualization, miniatures and sets, actors’ training, the read-through and script complications. When we shift to the shoot, we learn about the design and creation of the Venture, set design and decoration, and various visual effects. Issues connected to Skull Island fill a lot of time, as these parts delve into the location’s look and execution. These parts include elements for the Skull Island natives as well as effects and sets.
Of course, we learn a lot about the other Skull Island natives: the dinosaurs, “Wonder” digs into their visual design as well as how the film put them on screen. This leads to the methods used to recreate – and then destroy - New York circa 1933 and view all the techniques involved. After that, we find get to the King and cover the methods behind the creation of Kong. This goes through design and execution, with good footage of Serkis’s research and performance as well as attempts to make a fake ape interact with real people.
Bar none, “Wonder” now goes down as one of the all-time great DVD documentaries. It delves into many nooks and crannies of the production and does so in a wonderfully involving and entertaining manner. From the start, it draws in the viewer with great footage of Jackson’s childhood Kong puppet and early stop-motion animation. Scads of terrific material from the set appears, and we even get to look at footage the actors shot with the old Bell & Howell featured in the flick. The documentary’s three hours fly by as this adds up to a simply stunning program.
Finally, we conclude with some Conceptual Design Video Galleries. These break into five subdomains: “The 1996 King Kong” (9:52), “The Venture” (4:05), “Skull Island” (15:37), “New York” (4:34) and “Kong” (7:10). That’s a total of 41 minutes and 19 seconds of material. Each of these shows tons of art and other elements created for the movie. The 1996 pieces again stand as the most interesting since they show ideas not used in the 2005 edition, but all of these give us a fine look at the movie’s visual development.
I must say I’m not wild about the video format, however. Most of the components would work better in the traditional still frame approach, especially if we want to rewatch them. With this method, it becomes awkward to find what we desire.
I thought the theatrical King Kong offered a flawed but generally satisfying piece of work, and the film’s “Extended Edition” continues that trend. The extra 14 minutes offers some fun but doesn’t fare any better or worse than the original. Though this is a good version, it doesn’t improve on the theatrical cut.
That goes for the picture and audio of the “Extended Edition” DVD. I thought both were excellent for the theatrical disc, and the EE continues to look and sound amazing. It adds some very solid extras as well. We get a terrific audio commentary along with many deleted scenes and a very substantial documentary.
I’ve been reviewing DVDS for almost eight years, but the EE of Kong marks a milestone. It’s the first release that’s ever earned triple “A+” grades, as I thought it deserved the highest honors for all three characters. At the risk of sounding like a negative Nelly, though, I do want to note that this doesn’t mean I think it’s the greatest DVD ever released. Others outrank it in various ways; I’d still pick the LOTR extended sets as the pinnacle of DVD achievement.
Indeed, compared with them, it may not sound right that Kong got the same “A+” for extras. They all have two full discs of extras plus four audio commentaries apiece. That fact made me a little reluctant to award Kong a similar grade, but the breadth and quality of the components led me to do that. Virtually everything here is excellent, and it all really satisfies me. Dang it, this package is just too good not to deserve such high marks. It’s a really amazing release.
With three DVD versions of Peter Jackson’s King Kong on the market, recommendations become trickier. Fans who just want to see the theatrical film and don’t care about supplements will remain happy with the basic one-disc set. Those with an affection for extras run into a dilemma – if they only want to own one version, at least. Both the theatrical cut’s two-disc special edition and this “Extended Edition” include copious extras, all of which are exclusive to the respective releases.
I recommend that serious fans own both packages since they’ll want to own all the various supplements. If you refuse to own two versions of the flick, though, I’d recommend the “Extended Edition” as the best of the bunch. It includes a good cut of the flick and presents the best extras. This set doesn’t quite match up with the Lord of the Rings packages, but that shouldn’t lead to disappointment. The Kong EE is a stellar DVD that deserves high praise.
To rate this film visit the original review of KING KONG (2005)