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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Mark Steven Johnson
Cast:
Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan
Writing Credits:
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Merian C. Cooper (story), Edgar Wallace (story)

Tagline:
The eighth wonder of the world.

Synopsis:
Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) brings his sweeping cinematic vision to King Kong. Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody star in this spectacular film filled with heart-pounding action, terrifying creatures and groundbreaking special effects unlike anything you've seen before! Get ready for breathtaking action in this thrilling epic adventure about a legendary gorilla captured on a treacherous island and brought to civilization, where he faces the ultimate fight for survival.

Box Office:
Budget
$207 million.
Opening Weekend
$50.130 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$217.619 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 187 min.
Price: $30.98
Release Date: 3/28/2006

Bonus:
Disc One
• “The Volkswagen Toureg & King Kong” Featurette
• “Wish You Were Here” Featurette
Disc Two
• Introduction by Peter Jackson
• Post Production Diaries
• “Skull Island: A Natural History”
• “Kong’s New York, 1933”


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RELATED REVIEWS


King Kong: Special Edition (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 3, 2006)

After the enormous success of the three Lord of the Rings films, director Peter Jackson could take on his dream project: a remake of 1933’s King Kong. This project almost got off the ground in the late Nineties, but it didn’t happen and the Rings trilogy took priority.

That series made Jackson an “A”-list director and allow him to write his own ticket. Thus his Kong became the common choice as the big flick of 2005. It hit the screens with glowing reviews and predictions that it would dominate the box office and earn serious Oscar consideration.

However, Jackson’s Rings success wouldn’t quite repeat itself. On the surface, Kong did well. It made $217 million in the US and grabbed four Academy Award nominations. Those were all four the usual technical categories, though, and these days $217 million just isn’t a great take for this kind of blockbuster. Really, anything short of $300 million rendered Kong a disappointment, so it came up decidedly short of its anticipated goals. It ended up fifth in the year’s box office charts, a spot lower than most people dreamed.

Unfortunately, all of this seems to have affected the public perception of Kong. Before release, it looked like it’d be an unqualified success, but now the naysayers appear to dominate. Box office success or failure clearly impacts on the way people view the movie itself, and now it looks like lots see Kong as a lackluster flick.

Balderdash, say I. Not for a second will I claim that Kong doesn’t suffer from some flaws, but I think the whole package adds up to a very satisfying experience.

Set in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, we meet adventurous movie mogul Carl Denham (Jack Black). He wants to film another spectacular but he runs into a mix of problems. For one, he lacks a finished script, as writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) hasn’t completed one. Denham also hasn’t found a leading lady, and his financial situation makes it tough for him to do much about any of these situations.

However, Denham’s fast-talking savvy allows him to sucker Driscoll, charm and cast vaudevillian ingenue Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), and escape on a boat just ahead of the dudes to whom he owes money. Denham plans to take them all to a fantastic location called Skull Island. There they encounter vicious natives and an assortment of prehistoric beasts.

Among them they find an enormous gorilla referred to as Kong. Ann ends up in his clutches, and the others lead an attempt to rescue her. The movie follows their pursuit and subsequent drama.

Since I think many now view Kong in a negative light, let’s start off with the film’s problems. What goes wrong here? The flick’s main drawbacks stem from its length. I don’t think that a running time of more than three hours is a flaw in and of itself. To be sure, that factor didn’t cause concerns during the Rings pictures.

However, Kong really does drag at times. Most of the slow spots turn up in the excessively plodding first act. The expedition takes forever to get going, and that’s one area which the original Kong excelled. It zipped through the exposition to get us to the fun. It told us just as much as we needed to set up the characters and situations, but it didn’t tire us with those elements.

The 2005 Kong falters in this area. I don’t know if I’d say it bores us during the first hour, as there’s enough interesting material to keep our attention, but I will admit the flick tests our patience. The fact many of us already know the story doesn’t help. It’s not like we aren’t aware where the journey will lead, so we want to get there even more quickly. Perhaps Jackson’s pacing pays off in ways I can’t see and the second and third acts would work less well without the long build-up, but I imagine the flick still would’ve succeeded with less exposition.

Once our characters finally get to Skull Island, however, the movie improves radically. Jackson gets to indulge his love of over the top action and he does so with all the skill he displayed in the Rings movies. I won’t say that Kong is a non-stop rollercoaster ride for its last two hours, but it sure pours on the thrills.

Key among these is the spectacular “V-Rex” fight. I don’t want to discuss its specifics too explicitly as I want new viewers to see it without much foreknowledge. That’s how I examined it theatrically, and it made a big difference. The flick took this battle to incredible heights and left my jaw on the floor. I couldn’t – and still can’t – get over the amazing level of action and power Jackson packs into this sequence; I’d argue it’s one of the all-time great segments of this sort.

Not that the rest of Kong’s second and third hours disappoint. The film offers a great level of action and drama as it pursues its familiar story. Jackson may not reinvent the wheel when it comes to the movie’s plot and characters; both change a little from the 1933 flick, but this isn’t a radical reimagining. Jackson does bring the film more in line with modern styles, though, and manages to turn the action into something special.

That’s what ultimately makes the 2005 King Kong a winner. The film lacks the innovativeness of the original, and its excessive running time means that it lacks that flick’s popcorn-chomping consistency. Nonetheless, it recovers from a slow first act to become a memorable experience. Kong isn’t Peter Jackson’s finest hour, but it achieves most of its goals.


The DVD Grades: Picture A+/ Audio A+/ Bonus A-

King Kong appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Maybe someone else will find flaws in this transfer, but I sure couldn’t.

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 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.

When we head to the extras, Disc One of this 2-DVD Collector’s Edition replicates the single-disc edition of King Kong. The Volkswagen Touareg & King King lasts two minutes, 10 seconds. This shows how some parts of the film’s crew created a commercial on the same sets. We also watch the final product. It’s little more than a slick way to get us to view an advertisement.

”Wish You Were Here” fills 74 seconds. It really is nothing more than a commercial. It advertises New York City.

For the meaty extras, we move to DVD Two. The disc opens with a three-minute and 31-second intro from Jackson. He gives us an idea what we’ll see via its goodies.

Kong’s New York runs for 28 minutes, 25 seconds. It mixes behind the scenes materials, movie clips, and interviews. We hear from director/writer/producer Peter Jackson, writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens, authors Daniel Okrent, Mike Wallace and James Sanders, history professors Josh Freeman and Robert Snyder, production designer Grant Major, supervising art director/set decorator Dan Hennah, Skyscraper Museum director Carol Willis, Weta Digital senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, and actors Naomi Watts and Jack Black.

“New York” looks at the history of the Great Depression and its impact on the city. We also learn about elements connected to the film such as vaudeville and other forms of entertainment, New York Harbor, transportation, Prohibition, skyscrapers and the Empire State Building. This show acts as a nice backdrop for the movie’s events. It allows us to better understand the world Kong depicts and it offers a tight little history of the involved elements. It’d be a good piece to watch before you take in the movie.

Next we get the 17-minute and one-second Skull Island: A Natural History. Unlike the fact-based “New York”, “Island” offers fake history. It tells us about the movie’s fictional island. It includes comments from Jackson, Hennah, Major, Boyens, creature designer Daniel Falconer, senior creature designer Ben Wootten, conceptual artist Alan Lee, creature designer Christian Pearce, special makeup effects supervisor Gino Acevedo, creature designer Greg Broadmore, special makeup, creatures and miniatures creator Richard Taylor, and conceptual designer Jeremy Bennett.

View “Island” as a fanciful way to examine the location and creatures and ignore the goofy attempts to pass all this off as reality. We get a nice view of the various elements found on Skull Island, though unlike “New York”, I wouldn’t endorse a screening of this show prior to a viewing of the movie. It spoils too many surprises. It’s silly at times but it’s informative in the way it fleshes out our understanding of movie elements.

A continuation of a separately released set, Production Diaries #55-#90 last a total of two hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds. These pick up where the earlier “Diaries” ended and cover the post-production process.

The “Diaries” themselves feature lots of footage from the production along with comments from participants. We find remarks from Jackson and actors Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Jed Brophy, Matt Chamberlain, Lee Hartley, Evan Parke, Thomas Kretschmann, Lorraine Ashbourne, and Colin Hanks.

We get more statements from editor Jamie Selkirk, Avid editor Jabez Olssen, associate producer Annette Wullems, Weta animation director Eric Leighton, Weta design and effects supervisor Richard Taylor, director VFX photography Alex Funke, mo-cap department manager/AD Lisa Wildermoth, supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins, supervising sound editor/sound designer Ethan Van der Ryn, mo-cap technician John Curtis, ADR editor/mixer Chris Ward, sound designers Brent Burge and Dave Whitehead, sound FX editors Melanie Graham and Justin Webster, and first assistant sound editor Martin Kwok.

As the “Diaries” progress, we also find first assistant editor Dave Birrell, VFX editor Matt Villa, second assistant editor Mark Hawthorne, miniatures unit production manager Belindalee Hope, motion control operator Gerald Thompson, Weta miniatures supervisor John Baster, Weta miniatures technicians Daniel Bennett and Ian Ruxton, urethane technician Duncan Brown, Weta senior animator Stephen Buckley, Weta senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, co-producer Eileen Moran, Weta camera supervisor Lee Bramwell, Weta animators Kenneth Roy and Victor Huang, Weta Digital compositing supervisors Charles Tait and Mark Lewis, Weta Digital modeler James Ogle, Weta pre-production department manager Fiona Foster, Weta creature supervisor Dana Peters, Weta pre-production CG supervisor Matt Aitken, trailer editor Steve Harris, Weta Digital FX supervisor Eric Saindon, Weta Digital producer Cyndi Ochs, Universal Pictures Marketing co-president Eddie Egan, and Universal Pictures vice-chairman Marc Shmuger.

As we continue, we see sound effects editor Katy Wood, key 2nd AD Marc Ashton, Weta compisiting sequence lead Frank Ruter, Weta Digital compositing supervisor Erik Winquist, SPFX supervisor Steve Ingram, post production runner James Meikle, production runner Jamie Lawrence, art department manager Chris Hennah, supervising art director Dan Hennah, production manager Brigitte Yorke, rigging electronics Gus Salla, unit production manager Anne Bruning, on-set unit assistant Missy Rika, construction foreman Derek Misseldine, lighting storeman Chris Palmer, gaffer Reg Garside, key standby costume Emma Harre, stunt performer Shane Rangi, NZ makeup and hair supervisor Rick Findlater, stand-ins Julia Walsh and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, producer/1st AD Carolynne Cunningham, 2nd 2nd AD Skot Thomas, and script supervisor Victoria Sullivan.

The roster doesn’t end there! The “Diaries” continue with lighting technician Reuben Morrison, stills photographer Pierre Vinet, 3rd AD Zo Hartley, digital assist assistant Zeb Simpson, digital assist operator Luis Olivares, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, health and safety coordinator Andy Buckley, co-producer/screenwriter Philippa Boyens, HOD model technician Paul Van Ommen, greensperson Lucy Woolhouse, model technicians Fraser Wilkinson and Nicole Cosgrove, model maker Kate Wyatt, Weta lead roto artists George Oliver Jr., Peter Demarest, and John-Michael Bills, Weta paint and roto supervisors Quentin Hema and Sandy Houston, foley supervisor John Simpson, foley artist Carolyn McLaughlin, foley recordist Robyn McFarlane, Weta senior photographer Matt Mueller, and Weta 3D lighting lead Jean-Colas Prunier.

The hits keep coming with Weta lead texture painter Mel James, Weta creature TD Eric Petey, scan/record supervisor Nick Booth, supervising digital colorist David Cole, Weta special projects supervisor Mark Sagar, Weta animation director Christian Rivers, Wet mo-cap supervisor Dejan Momcilovic, Weta motion editors Ileana Stravoskiadi and CJ Markham, Weta lead creature TD Rudy Grossman, animator sequence leads David Clayton and Richard Francis Moore, Weta animators Kenneth Roy and Jeremy Bolan, 2nd unit DP Richard Bluck, VFX on-set supervisor Brian Van’t Hul, miniatures unit gaffer Rob Kerr, film historian/collector Bob Burns and wife Kathy, sound FX mixer Chris Boyes.

For the final lap, we hear from music mixer Michael Hedges, dialogue mixer Michael Semanick, pre-dub mixer Tom Johnson, composer James Newton Howard, technical music coordinator Chris Bacon, orchestra conductors Peter Anthony and Mike Nowak, supervising orchestrator Jeff Atmajian, scoring crew Adam Michalak and Greg Loskorn, score co-producer James T. Hill, music consultant Stuart Thomas, supervising music editor Jim Weidman, music coordinator Nigel Scott, Universal Pictures Film Scoring Feature Music director Tiffany Jones, score mixer Alan Meyerson, lab liaison Andy Wickens, Weta visual effects supervisors George Murphy and Ben Snow, Universal Pictures Senior Vice-President Post-Production Greig McRitchie, Universal Pictures Editorial Picture and Sound Support Jonathan Phillips, Universal Pictures International Publicity Mark Markline, Universal Pictures Senior VPs of Special Projects Hollace Davids and Linda Pace Alexander, and Jhada of NY event coordinator Patricia Michaels.

In the “Diaries”, we observe a mix of subjects. These cover miniatures and their photography, Kong performance capture, recording sound effects, sound design and the mix, various editing concerns, digital visual effects and all those elements, and the creation of the teaser trailer. From there we fly through second unit and pick-up photography and their many complications, ADR and foley, color grading, creating Kong and the other creatures, and the film’s score. The “Diaries” end with an overview of wrapping up the various projects, publicity junkets, and premieres.

I really liked the “Diaries” released back in December 2005, and I continued to enjoy the post-production elements. There’s very little about which to complain here. The level of detail is strong, as the “Diaries” cover so much of the work done for Kong.

They make sure we understand the details and often ignored aspects of filmmaking. Those prove quite illuminating as we learn a lot of neat tidbits about the flick’s creation. Some may see this as overkill, but I think the “Diaries” offer much charm and vivacity. They take potentially dry information and present it in a fun, entertaining way. These are very enjoyable and illuminating.

Note that one of the “Diaries” that originally appeared on the movie’s official website fails to show up here. The September 16, 2005 entry doesn’t pop up on the DVD. That one featured info about composer Howard Shore. He was later dropped from the production and replaced by James Newton Howard, so we don’t see the material with Shore.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong seems destined to be perceived as a disappointment in many ways, but I don’t think it deserves such a fate. Though the movie sags during its first act, the excitement and thrills of the subsequent two hours make up for its flaws. The DVD offers virtually flawless picture and audio along with a nice set of informative extras. I definitely recommend Kong and think this two-DVD Special Edition stands as its best current iteration.

Final pursestrings note: rumors abound that a deluxe extended DVD of Kong will materialize in the future. As I write this at the end of March 2006, these hints clearly do reside in the realm of rumor. Even though Peter Jackson himself has indicated a desire to release this kind of DVD, there’s no official confirmation that it will happen. I’d bet it’ll occur, though.

To rate this film, visit the original review of KING KONG (2005)