King Kong: Extended Edition (US - BD)
Gabe Powers revisits the bloated giant monkey movie remake on Blu-ray disc...
Boy meets girl. Girl and boy are tricked into a boat trip to a lost island. Girl is kidnapped by the natives. Girl meets giant gorilla. Boy looks for girl. Giant gorilla protects girl from dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and giant gorilla kill most of boy’s friends. Girl and boy are used as bait to get giant gorilla back to New York City. Giant gorilla takes girl to the top of the Empire State Building, then dies.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong was a very long time coming. I still own copies of Fangoria from the 90s that covered the film as the next big thing on Universal Studio’s plate, but after about a million false starts (and one disappointing box office performance from The Frighteners) it looked like the project was as extinct as the dinosaurs. Jackson and company, who had grown out of their raunchy horror roots to some extent with the aptly titled Heavenly Creatures (a film you really need to see if you still aren’t sold on Jackson as a director), moved onto an even bigger project— The Lord of the Rings. When LOTR, a massive gamble for everyone involved, managed to pull in money, critical accolades, and tie for a record number of Oscars, Universal was willing to take a second look at that King Kong script.
But post- LOTR Jackson had changed again. His appetites for adventure had not quite been satiated by his five-plus year spanning experience with the epic trilogy, but his craving for tear-jerking had increased, as had his love of budget bursting digital effects. The studio, not willing to curtail their golden goose, ended up indulging the director’s now insatiable appetite, and paid the price in the busy Holiday 2005 marketplace. King Kong was not a flop, but it was a disappointment, and has unfortunately stood as Jackson’s final legacy for the past four years.
On the whole King Kong is the masturbatory, bloated mess it was accused of being on its initial release. There’s an excess of unnecessary narrative information, an overabundance of unmotivated action footage, and more self-congratulatory in-jokes than you can shake a beheaded sailor at. But anyone that doesn’t get an iota of enjoyment out of the film’s under-moderated excesses is a suspect film lover in my book. Jackson’s film is itself a contradiction on most levels—it’s dulled by its own intensity, it’s equally old-fashion and new-fangled, it’s cornball to the point of profoundness. There’s an undeniable genius at work, it just happens to be a genius fed by too much macaroni and cheese, Saturday morning serials, and cold, hard cash to be taken entirely seriously.
Jackson’s opening establishment of Depression era New York City is a breathtaking in scope, technical bravado, and speed. It’s incredible how efficient the film is in its pre-boat scenes, considering the following boat trip to Skull Island is practically a prayer to the gods of inefficient storytelling. The character building during this never ending boat trip is important, but to slog an audience expecting a giant gorilla movie through an awkward series of ‘getting to know you’ montages, and the development of a bunch of sailors that will amount to meat in the next act, is cruel. Once the film hits Skull Island the more interesting drama of beauty and the beast comes into play, and the pacing is pressed up to Jackson’s normal levels.
The creature effects work beyond oohs and ahhs because of the savagery in which Jackson contextualizes them. The Skull Island sequences are nothing if not the most expensive mini-monster movies ever made, but the inhabitants feel like dangerous animals hell-bent on eating our heroes. Jackson is permitted to go full horror show in this section, and he’s relentless in his ability to freak his audience right the fuck out. For a supposedly family-friendly blockbuster King Kong was darker, more brutal, and all around more frightening than any of the Jurassic Park movies. Sometimes the magic just isn’t there (the brontosaur stampede comes to mind), but there are many moments where the audience simply doesn’t care that what they’re seeing is impossible.
The last act, where Kong is taken back to New York, is the make it or break it moment, where the audience is expected to watch a tragic ending they knew was coming, and accept the relationship between a giant gorilla and a sexy blonde. Kong can look like a photo-real gorilla until the cows come home, but without a character built into him by the writers and actor Andy Serkis, or Naomi Watts’ amazing green screen reactions to the character, it’s a failure, and if it’s a failure the entire third act is a failure. The distinct lack of dialogue during the final thirty minutes of Kong’s life is a real brave move on top of everything else. In my eyes the third act works. It works a little too well actually, because I’ve only been able to watch Kong die a few times myself. It’s just too sad.
I’ve noticed lately that the one of the best ways to really appreciate a hi-def transfer is to look for close-ups on prop text. Whether it is hand-written, typed or printed, on parchment, paper, or human skin, text will always be crisper and cleaner on hi-def. Between maps and freshly typed scripts there’s a lot of close-ups on prop text. Say what you will about special effect gorilla hair being ten times the resolution of the DVD releases (which were great looking discs), I’m most impressed with the lack of edge enhancement on this text.
Okay, that’s not entirely true; I’m just looking for some kind of original way to praise what everyone already knew would be a flawless transfer on a grand scale. Jackson’s visions of a cold, Depression addled New York City, his deep, dark boat set, his jungle inferno, it all looks grandiose, massive, and positively beautiful here in hi-def. Marvel at the lush greens, and highly textured creatures of Skull Island. Stare in awe at the maddening detail of the digital replica of 1933 New York. Dance for joy at the prospect of… um, more dinosaur scales.
What better way to scare the hell out of your pets than a giant gorilla screaming in DTS-HD Master Audio? This track is easily reference level stuff, complete with massive, overlapping sound effects, clean and crisp dialogue, thick and punchy bass, and ear tickling directional effects. Those looking for just the right scenes to impress your friends with aural stimulation I submit: the boat crashing into the rocks at the edge of Skull Island, the climax of the brontosaurus chase, the whole of the T-Rex scene, and the final battle atop the Empire State Building.
At some point in production Jackson and LOTR composer Howard Shore had some kind of disagreement about the direction of the score (obviously there weren’t any hard feelings, because Shore makes a cameo), so production turned to James Newton ‘I’m the only good thing about M. Night Shyamalan’s movies anymore’ Howard, who crafted a generally dark and melancholy score. Howard doesn’t exactly step above expectations, but he mostly avoids stereotypes, and colours the entire film with an eerie sadness. It could’ve been a tragically mawkish soundtrack, but it’s genuinely tragic instead.
Well, we’re still missing almost all the behind the scenes footage from the various production dairies DVD releases, but this Blu-ray release is a definite upgrade over the HD DVD release. Both releases feature bits and pieces from the production diaries PiP during the film, and featured some PiP image galleries, both as part of the U-Control option. It’s cool to have the option, but given the storage space on Blu-ray Discs it would’ve been preferable to have the production diaries all in one place, with the option to watch them apart from the movie (which is exactly why I didn’t re-buy The Thing on Blu-ray).
What the Blu-ray release does have is the extended version of the film, and with it Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens’ commentary track. Why would we want the extended version of an already over-long movie? Because most of the extended scenes feature dinosaurs, of course. Actually, the extended cut mostly just adds more lumps to an already lumpy feature, but it does feature the dinosaur fish scene, which is one of the creepiest in the movie. In a perfect world Jackson would’ve shortened the boat scene, entirely removed Billy Elliot and Token Black Man’s subplot (which goes nowhere anyway), and then replaced the brontosaur stampede with the fish scene, as they serve generally the same purpose. The commentary track is uniformly good, up to Jackson’s normal standards (though the other co-writer, Fran Walsh, is missed).
Peter Jackson’s King Kong is one of the most beautiful and bloated dream projects in film history. The film has the good fortune of not bankrupting a studio (like say, Heaven’s Gate), and Jackson still has all the good will that came along with The Lord of the Rings in his corner, so despite some aggressive dissenting opinions King Kong might actually stand the test of time. This Blu-ray disc is demo quality stuff, but it’s missing about a dozen hours of behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes, and other goodies that were available on previous DVD releases.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 20th January 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono Spanish, Dolby Digital Mono French
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Director/Co-Writer Commentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jack Black, Colin Hanks
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama and Fantasy
Length: 201 minutes
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