Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 15, 2005)
Now I’ve seen everything! For movie promotion, studios often put out fluffy “making of” featurettes that air on cable. These offer some minor tidbits about the productions but they don’t tell us much since they exist just to get fannies in the seats.
Not content to wait until 2005’s King Kong remake comes out on DVD, director Peter Jackson stages a pre-emptive strike. With a two-disc set called King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries, we get a full look at the production before the flick even hit the screens. If this is the teaser, what will they show on the movie DVD?
Diaries offers exactly what you’d expect from this kind of package. It splits into 54 separate areas that open with Day One on September 6, 2004 and conclude with Day 131 on April 8, 2005. These originally appeared on the movie’s official website, but the DVDs collect them in one convenient place.
Mostly we hear from Jackson as he chats with us from the set. However, many of the other participants address the camera throughout the Diaries. The Diaries include a huge roster of folks, so prepare for a long list!
We hear from actors Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, Jed Brophy, Jason Whyte, Stephen Hall, Thomas Kretschmann, Will Wallace, Andy Serkis, Colin Hanks, Rick Porras, and Jim Dietz, VFX photography director Alex Funke, plane spotter Ngaire Woods, producer/1st AD Carolynne Cunningham, and camera operator Simon Harding.
We also get notes from director of photography Andrew Lesnie, art director Simon Bright, props maker Tony Drawbridge, standby props assistants Ben Milsom and Sarah Weinberg, senior SPFX technician Geoff Curtis, SPFX technicians Ross Anderson and Mike McDonald, supervising art director Dan Hennah, 2nd assistant camera Helen Ward and Kent Belcher, boom operator Corrin Ellingford, script supervisor Victoria Sullivan, previsualizer Richard Moore, previs supervisor Christian Rivers, and animation director Eric Leighton.
Continuing through the speakers, we find remarks from set finisher Chris Ramsey, sculpting laborer Aaron Frater, on-set production assistant Jacqui Pryor, health and safety coordinator Andy Buckley, lighting technician Richard Riwaka, Wingnut Films’ Carter Nixon, production designer Grant Major, brush hand Sean Golding, art director Joe Bleakley, stunt performers Tim Wong and Greg Lane, and grip assistant Paul Sawtell.
Who else pops up? We find VFX on-set supervisor Malcolm Angell, conceptual designer Jeremy Bennett, senior compositor Saki Mitchell, on-set until assistant Missy Rika, location/unit manager Peter Tonks, transport coordinator Jenny Morgan, drivers John “JT” Tamanui and Steve Harvey, rigging LX Mike Slater, caterer Mike Pugh, unit publicist Melissa Booth, journalists Kim Kastrup, Tony Magmusson, Carlos Gomez, Marty Duda, and Rieko Shibasaki, art department manager Chris Hennah, focus puller Dean McCarroll, 1st assistant camera Andrew Stroud and Charles Edwards, 2nd assistant cameramen Angus Ward and Stephen Allanson, camera trainee Alys Rowe, post production supervisor Pippa Anderson, clapper loader Garth Michaels, lab liaison Andy Wickens, film color grader Lynne Reed, and telecine colorist David Holden.
We’re not done yet. Diaries also includes telecine manager John Newell, 1st assistant editor David Birrell, AVID operator Jabez Olssen, digital building supervisor Chris White, carpenters Dave Moore and Ryan Esler, 2nd unit director Randy Cook, 2nd unit 1st AD Robin Murphy, Wellington Zoo team leader Suzette Nicholson, VFX senior on-set supervisor Nic Marrison, additional 2nd AD Richard Matthews, Weta Workshop supervisor Richard Taylor, dialect coach Tanya Blumstien, Weta Workshop designer/sculptor Ben Hawker, and rigger Geoff Weir.
This is getting ridiculous! More information comes from extras Tendayi Nyangoni, Richard Carrol, Anthony Dreaver, Joan Foster, Andy Johnson, Colleen Cleary, Bruce Collett, Charlie Bleakley, Trevor Cook, Dave Nisbett, Russell Thompson, Ivan Horn, Brian Ward, Tony Wyeth, Rob Doey, Elie Assaf and Jim Locke, NZ casting director Liz Mullane, extras casting coordinator Miranda Rivers, additional dresser Tammy Green, additional AD Fiona Bartlett, additional makeup Lisa Shearer, and picture vehicle technician Jaffray Sinclair.
Entering the home stretch, we learn about the shoot from set dresser Gill West-Walker, supervising set dresser Tanea Chapman, props buyer Phred Palmer, SPFX technician Darian Lumsden, SPFX assistant Sven Harens, lighting continuity Ants Ferrell, gaffer Reg Garside, construction foreman Alan Wyllie, construction supervisor Ed Mulholland, stunt coordinator Chris Anderson, stunt doubles Min Windle and Tony Marsh, Jackson’s assistant Matt Dravitzki, production manager Belindalee Hope, lighting electrician Al Baird Smith, HOD model technician Paul Van Ommen, lighting assistant Damian Seagar, motion control operator Hugh Smith, SPFX supervisor Scott Harens, and Weta Workshop miniature greens Dave Goodin.
Finally, we get details from greensperson Lucy Woolhouse, 2nd 2nd AD Skot Thomas, makeup and hair designer Peter King, makeup and hair supervisor Rick Findlater, makeup artists Michal Bigger and Susie Glass, supervising digital colorist David Cole, editor Jamie Selkirk, Weta visual effects producer Eileen Moran, 2nd unit production coordinator Ange Waller, 2nd unit 2nd AD Sarah Lowe, 2nd unit stunt coordinator Rodney (RJ) Cook, 2nd unit digital assistant Bram Tulloch, 2nd unit 1st AD Dave Norris, production sound mixer Hammond Peek, stand-in Peter Russell, aircraft consultant Gene DeMarco, Universal Pictures Marketing co-president Eddie Egan, assistant costume designer Eliza Godman, costume designer Tony Ryan, costume supervisor Carolyne Fenton, costume breakdown Tom Caddy, unit photographer Pierre Vinet, production manager Brigitte Yorke, digital assistant operator Luis Olivares, and 2nd unit 3rd AD Anna Groves. Whew!
Among the many issues examined, we get into the creation of animal dung and sanitary mud, using old-time cameras, plane spotting, dump tanks, concept art, set design and construction, and camera slates. We also learn about pre-visualization, location complications, firing guns on the set, the original movie’s creatures, effects photography on the set, press visits, set dressing, and film processing and editing. From there, we go through recreating 1930s NYC, filming in the zoo and other locations, working with extras, period vehicles, lighting continuity, stunt driving, miniatures, green screen Kong shots, makeup and hair, the “Summit Reel”, second unit photography, audio recording, aircraft, winding down the production, costumes, still photography on the set, and the conclusion of production.
A few comedic elements appear as well. We see “Gandalf” stalk the set and also get cracks about Jack Black’s height. There’s a good practical joke toward the end, and we watch “guest directors” take over the set while Jackson catches up on his sleep.
I was reluctant to watch the Diaries before I saw Kong on the big screen. I like to go into movies with as little foreknowledge as possible, and with more than three hours of footage, I worried that the Diaries would give away too many of the surprises. Granted, Jackson’s Kong is supposed to be a fairly literal remake of the 1993 original, so I don’t know how many potential surprises exist. Still, I’d have preferred to wait until after I took in the flick.
Do the Diaries seem likely to ruin anyone’s fun? I won’t be able to fully answer that question until I actually see Kong, but I’d give this a 99% “no”. We learn a ton about the production, but virtually none of it addresses story issues. We see the machinery put in place to create the film but we don’t learn what’ll actually happen in the film.
That’s a crucial distinction, and one that means the Diaries won’t ruin the flick for folks who’ve not seen it but also remain informative and interesting. Granted, if the mechanics of filmmaking don’t matter to you, I doubt you’ll get much from this. But for those of us who enjoy that sort of material, we get a treasure trove.
It’ll be interesting to see how the extras for the Kong DVD explore the film since so much behind the scenes information appears here. I assume they’ll take a more traditional documentary feel instead of the more impromptu nature of the Diaries.
That presentation works well here, though, as we feel almost like we’re along for the ride with the filmmakers. Since the Diaries look at the creation of Kong in chronological order and lack any form of retrospective insight, they capture the processes without much of a filter. Will the movie be great or will it suck? Will it live up to box office expectations or disappoint? No one knows, and the absence of that perspective offers an interesting tone to these components that doesn’t occur on most DVDs. The honest nature of the clips and the level of information presented allows the Diaries to prosper and become a great source of material.