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Universal Pictures Video released Peter Jackson's King Kong: Production Diaries to DVD on the 5th December 2005, just in time for the fans that hadn’t caught them on kongisking.net to get a look before the film descends on the world on the 14th December.

King Kong: Production Diaries

Feature


”So, are these people really earning their money or are they just a complete sham?”

I’ll get this out of the way up front—if I was to be picky this entire two-disc set would end up in the extras section, but I’ll be a good little reviewer and take the package in the way it was meant. What we have here is a large collection of mini-documentaries, cataloguing the trials and tribulations of the cast and crew over the eight month shooting schedule of the sure-to-be-blockbuster movie King Kong. From 6th September 2004 to 8th April 2005, fifty four behind-the-scenes snippets show us what was involved in getting the main live action shots ‘in the can’. Disc one houses the following:

  • Day 1 - Peter's Welcome (31s)
  • Day 4 - The Diner Set (1m33s)
  • Day 6 - Rough Seas on Land (2m09s)
  • Day 7 - Filming Inside the Venture (2m52s)
  • Day 8 - Denham's Camera (1m25s)
  • Day 10 - Plane Spotting (1m10s)
  • Day 12 - Storms on the Venture (1m37s)
  • Day 14 - Animal Droppings (2m26s)
  • Day 16 - Dump Tanks (2m47s)
  • Day 18 - Dump Tanks Part 2 (2m19s)
  • Day 20 - Skull Island Preview (2m44s)
  • Day 22 - Lumpy's Galley Tour (4m07s)
  • Day 25 - Clapper Boards (3m31s)
  • Day 27 - Previsualization (2m57s)
  • Day 31 - Skull Island Rocks (2m02s)
  • Day 33 - Skull Island Shoot (2m44s)
  • Day 36 - Gandalf the Spy (4m06s)
  • Day 40 - The Swamp Set (3m15s)
  • Day 42 - Peter's Kong Collection (3m06s)
  • Day 46 - Is Jack Black 5'4"? (3m47s)
  • Day 48 - Creating Skull Island (3m45s)
  • Day 51 - Location Logistics (4m57s)
  • Day 53 - International Press Junket (5m33s)
  • Day 58 - The On-Set Art Department (8m04s)
  • Day 62 - Cameras (6m17s)
  • Day 66 - Journey of a Roll of Film (5m29s)
  • Day 68 - Creating New York in New Zealand (6m39s)
  • Day 70 - Shooting at the Civic Theatre (3m49s)
  • Day 73 - Concept Art (5m25s)
  • Day 76 - Happy Holidays! (8m22s)

With Disc two bringing us back after the Christmas 2004 break:

  • New Year's Message from Peter (1m)
  • Day 77 - Shooting Begins in New York (3m22s)
  • Day 82 - New York Extras (4m22s)
  • Day 85 - Vintage Vehicles (3m46s)
  • Day 87 - New York Set Dressing (4m12s)
  • Day 90 - Sewers and Steam (4m05s)
  • Day 92 - Lighting Continuity (4m32s)
  • Day 95 - Times Square becomes Herald Square (4m07s)
  • Day 97 - Adrien the Stunt Driver (3m52s)
  • Day 100 - A Day in the Life of Peter (8m41s)
  • Day 103 - Skull Island Miniatures (4m07s)
  • Day 105 - Naomi in Kong's Hand (4m04s)
  • Day 108 - Hair and Makeup (4m32s)
  • Day 110 - Global Partner Summit (4m31s)
  • Day 113 - Second Unit (4m06s)
  • Day 115 - Sound Recording (4m09s)
  • Day 118 - Helldiver Airplanes (4m06s)
  • Day 120 - Filming Winds Down (3m38s)
  • Day 123 - The Kong Sequels (5m49s)
  • Day 125 - Costume Design (3m41s)
  • Day 127 - Unit Photography (4m01s)
  • Day 129 - Andy's Revenge on the DVD Team (4m01s)
  • Day 130 - Peter Calls in Help (4m51s)
  • Day 131 - The Last Day (3m10s)

So, as you can tell there is quite a lot here—3h33m26s or thereabouts—and it is actually chock full of good stuff on the making of what is hopefully a great film.

King Kong: Production Diaries
We get to see everything from the building of the New York sets (it’s nice to see that the ‘digital backlot’ hasn’t found too much favour with this director yet) and of a replica Helldiver aircraft (none of the originals exist anymore), to Sound Design and Lighting Continuity in full flow. The inner workings of green screens, blue screens and waves made from 1000 litre buckets are exposed to the world, 3D photographs of poo are taken, and Gandalf makes an appearance. Even the small but important role of the ‘Plane Spotter’ is revealed.

Peter Jackson guides us through the hectic schedule, gradually looking more tired as the production progresses, and as the diaries gained popularity ideas were asked for from visitors to kongisking.net which gave rise to a few of the more informative pieces. The biggest surprise, however, comes on day one hundred and twenty three, where it is revealed that plans for the sequels to the film are already in progress (you might want to check the date on that one though).

The main actors are conspicuous by their absence for a large portion of the runtime, with Naomi Watts hardly showing up at all before Christmas, but like it says on the tin these are the Production Diaries. Jack Black and Adrien Brody warm up to the cameras as the production steams on, but the star of the show has got to be Andy Serkis who, as well as portraying the cook on the S.S. Venture, gets to dress up in an ape suit and monkey around with Naomi Watts and a Barbie doll (oo-er). His own ‘Revenge Video Diary’ is one of the more entertaining bits to be found here as well.

With the feature being what it is, and no plot to speak of other than the terrifying, heart-breaking, joyful, tiring (insert more adjectives here if you like) journey of a man trying to make a film, there isn’t much else to say really.

The discs themselves allow you to view the footage in a variety of ways. Both discs carry ‘Play All’ and ‘Production Diaries by Date’ options, with the latter allowing you to select a particular diary to view by itself. There are also ‘Production Diaries by Location’ selections available, each one stringing all the related diaries for a certain set together. On disc one, you can select:

  • S.S. Venture (13 diaries, totalling 30m41s) – you can also choose between Exterior (17m43s) and Interior (12m58s);
  • Skull Island (11 diaries, totalling 43m57s) – with Ruined Valley (8m54s), The Swamp (10m10s), The Jungle (3m46s), The Wall (18m37s) and The Cove (6m17s) all individually selectable;
  • New York (6 diaries, totalling 31m21s) – with New York Diner (1m34s), Vaudeville Theatre (12m10s) and Broadway Theatre (17m38s) again available individually.

Disc two offers up only a single location:

  • New York Streets (9 diaries, totalling 33m23s);

Each of these options can take you to a list of the individual diaries, with ‘Play All’ available for the whole locations and the separate entities. Finishing off the viewing options, disc two also boxes off the Final Six Weeks of Production should wish to view them in isolation from the rest of the days and weeks.

King Kong: Production Diaries
Overall, this is a pretty in depth collection of ‘diaries’ with way too much information to impart in a review (the diary titles will give you a clue to most of the content though). My only qualm is the lack of any real footage of the film itself, although there is enough here to suggest that Peter Jackson has taken the original and expanded it greatly. Almost doubling the original’s runtime, and beating the 1976 effort by a good forty-five minutes, the work that has gone into the 180+ minute epic that is Peter Jackson’s King Kong is documented well here. The post-production diaries that have continued on at a pace of one a week since the end of those shown here are sadly missing, but they will no doubt show up on the eventual DVD release of the film itself.

Video


The diaries make their way from internet to disc in an anamorphically enhanced ratio that is around 1.80:1. However, its origins are sadly laid bare here with the picture lacking in detail on close inspection. At a decent bit-rate of a little over 6Mb/s the picture still loses quite a lot with any movement, so much so that it was difficult to get any screen grabs where people weren’t static. The downsides of filming with a camera on the run (as it were), no special set-ups and with the lighting not ideal, the production values—somewhat ironically—don’t achieve the same heights of the film the diaries are documenting. Colour is quite good, however, even if the aforementioned lighting does play a part in how the things fare overall.

With the people that created the diaries always quoted as being the DVD crew you would have hoped that it would have turned out better on the format, but to be fair these were never meant to be feature film quality. It’s just a pity that the only real clip of the film that we get here seems to suffer from the same inadequacies.

King Kong: Production Diaries
The English subtitles are well timed—moving out of the way of captions where necessary—and are generally very readable, the only exceptions to this being when they are up against one of PJ’s horrendous shirts.

Audio


Similar to the video, the fly-on-the-wall documentary style produces a soundtrack that isn’t up there with the stellar efforts of your average effects-laden affair. But then you wouldn’t expect it to be.

The sole English Dolby Digital Stereo track is clear for the most part, with the participants that get away with being miced up faring the best. Some of the on-set footage is a victim of the elements (wind, especially), but generally we get all the information across to us. This is a serviceable track, but nothing more.

Extras


If you don’t count the main feature, bonus material is a bit thin on the ground. Further enhancing the idea that this is aimed at hardcore fans rather than trying to persuade normal, everyday folk to see the film, there is the sad omission of a theatrical trailer. We do get the following bits though.

On disc one, An Introduction by Peter Jackson (5m34s), erm, introduces us to the disc and the reasons why it exists. The evolution from its awkward beginnings to the playful banter that came about as time went on is also touched upon, but not much else.

Over to disc two, and we probably arrive at the bit most people want to see. The Making of a Shot: The T-Rex Fight (16m28s) takes us quickly step-by-step through the process of bringing one of the film’s main CGI set-pieces to the screen, and as a bonus we get the scene itself.

Finishing things off are the credits (6m15s) which feature a follow up to Andy Serkis’ shenanigans on day one hundred and twenty nine, with more camera based antics, along with the actual credits of course.

There is an Easter egg featuring the second unit on a day out at Wellington Zoo (directions available in the panel on the right) but that, I’m afraid, is pretty much it. The lack of any other promotional material such as the teaser or trailer is just plain wrong given the nature of the disc.

King Kong: Production Diaries

Overall


Also coded for regions four and five, this set is more of a teaser for the actual content of the film than showing any real footage (other than the bonus of the T-Rex fight), and as such it is a strange one to rate. What is here definitely does what the team set out to do and does it well, but the nagging thought that the entire package is just extras without a film irks me a little. The picture quality is very average, although the source is no doubt to blame for that, but I can’t really argue with the sound quality as it was all that was needed.

As for the disc presentation, everything is optionally subtitled (which is nice for those that need them) and the menus are nicely done. They can be a little slow when moving from item to item in the ‘Diaries by Date’ options due to it loading a different still for each entry, but otherwise it’s a good effort. That said, I did have minor problems with pages being skipped when navigating through with the mouse on my PC, but using the cursor controls works fine. You can see examples of the menus in the news item linked to below, along with a nice big picture of the packaging.

Pick this up if you are a big fan of Jackson’s or the Kong phenomenon, but it’s probably not one for the casual viewer.


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