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Did you ever hear the story of the giant ape that was seen walking around New York City? I’m sure you have, but never like this. The timeless tale has been ‘re-mastered’ with the latest technology thanks to Peter Jackson, the bearded fellow who brought the Lord of the Rings so memorably to life.

King Kong: Two Disc Special Edition

Feature


The story of out of work entertainer and actress wannabe Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) who is grasped by desperate by filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black), one film away from obscurity. Armed with a ship, a script from playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and a secret map leading to an unknown island, Denham promises Ann the stuff of dreams. What she gets mind you could be described as a thing of nightmares, as she finds that the island holds something no beauty has ever set face upon before—the beast.

What makes King Kong a breed apart from its predecessors is the love and enthusiasm of its filmmaker for the Kong universe, an affinity that started when he was about nine years old. This obvious adoration flows through Jackson's direction, which is nothing short of breathtaking, effortlessly shifting from one gear to the next as he unravels the story before our eyes. Calm and composed as he delicately creates the bond between Ann and Kong, before the exciting and genuinely amazing action sequences with their exquisite pacing and cutting take over, as the camera swoops, dodges and dives with the crewmates on Skull Island.

However, for the story to really convince, it’s the connection between Ann and Kong that had to be meticulously planned. Jackson and co-writers Phillippa Boyens and Fran Walsh paint Kong and Ann’s affection as more kindred spirits or friends, rather than focusing on any love or sex, which both the original and ill-fated 1976 ‘gigantic turned-on ape’ version tried to address. Sure, there's love between them, but their feelings are much more pure and human than we are used to. Indeed, throughout the film we see their bond blossom, from their first encounter as Kong bounds from the forest afar to snatch his new ‘sacrifice’, through Ann's attempts to awaken the gentle side of Kong as she performs some of her comedy routines, to their magical final encounter as Kong struggles manfully on an iced over Central Park, which is wonderfully effective.

King Kong: Two Disc Special Edition
Flowing black hair, menacing eyes, arms the size of buses, scars and a perfect set of monkey dentures, Kong is a miracle of CGI, wonderfully composed and beautifully rendered by Jackson’s digital arm, WETA. What they achieved in Lord of the Rings was nothing more than a warm up when you look at what they have done in this film. Their meticulous attention to detail and creative know-how has created a wonderful world of CGI, not just with Kong. In fact, it's their achievement in bringing depression ravaged 1930s America to life that has been subject of more praise than Kong himself. But it is of course their rendition of Kong that will mark another place for them in the history books.

But for all the work put in on Kong, it’s the wonderful performance of Andy Serkis behind all those markers and lycra suits which makes Kong breathe. His work as Gollum was brilliant, but here he gives a whole new angle to motion capture and is the undoubted star of the show. Not only does he nail the physical aspects of being an ape, whether it's the walk, the anger or even the scratching of ones butt, but he also manages to integrate his human self into the masses of computer graphics, and enjoys a unique emotional chemistry with his leading lady throughout.

Watts herself is a joy, and gives one her finest performances. And that isn’t no mean feat considering she spends most of her time acting and screaming at a blue screen. But despite that, she manages to convey not only the vulnerability and uncertainty of her character as she is thrown into this unknown world, but make us fully believe her deep lying feelings for the unimaginable beast through their brief encounter. We watch as Ann moves from undemanding plaything to heartbroken soul as Kong is captured and ultimately meets his demise. Jack Black too is outstanding in a much darker and more twisted role that we have seen him in before. His Denham is a selfish, egotistical arsehole, eager to succeed no matter what the cost, even death, and by the end, is drunk with the very power of fame, until it literally crashes down in front of him. And Adrien Brody, while not quite on par with his counterparts, is still his usual accomplished self as reluctant ‘action hero’ Driscoll, performing with strength and intelligence.  

If there are flaws to be picked, they mainly stem from the films huge three-hour run time. It's the first third, which suffers most, dragging slightly as we warm up to the appearance of Kong being introduced to the humans of the story. But Jackson wants us to care for these characters as much as he does, and is brave in his decision to leave editing to a minimum, even though he knows bums may be sore at the film's conclusion. But despite its very small shortcomings, no one can deny the power of King Kong both as an action spectacle and an immensely strong story of friendship and affection. And while its concept is pure fantasy, its emotional core makes it very authentic indeed.

King Kong: Two Disc Special Edition

Video


Presented with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, you would expect nothing but fantastic quality from a recent release like this one. And, I’m please to announce that King Kong is blessed with a phenomenally strong video transfer. There is so much to look at in this film, from the cityscapes of New York in both the daytime and in the snowy evenings, the mysterious and rundown spaces of the HMS Venture, and the vast forest life on Skull Island with its interchangeable climates, all of which are rich in colour and textures. Everything on show here is expertly realised, with fantastic attention taken to produce the film as Peter Jackson had intended.

The best examples of the transfer’s quality lie in two scenes. The first is a meeting with Kong and Ann up on Kong’s cliff top as Kong sits peacefully watching out at sea. In front of him, a clear and picturesque sky with beautifully colourings of orange, yellow, blue and white, lighting up the night sky as Ann looks on bedazzled by the sight. The second is the Kong/ T-Rex battle, which perfectly captures not only the forests of Skull Island and its environments, but is the best example of all the special effect components working together. The picture is clear, crisp and concise in detail throughout, as well as having a superbly realised colour palette. Colours are bold and bright without any hint of saturations, bleaching or disfigurement, which from a special effects laden film, you would expect. There is the odd sign of edge enhancement during the course of the film, but these moments are few and far between in a video package that is one of the best around.

Audio


As with the video side of the DVD, Universal has pulled out all the stops to give the film an excellent audio transfer. Presented to us here with a Dolby Digital 5.1 transfer, King Kong is surely one of the best films to help the sound technology stand out. And stand out it does, with its energetic and sometimes ferocious sound design bursting through the five channel set-up. It beautifully captures all of the environments of the film, from the night sidewalks of New York and the planes which later fly menacingly overhead as they try to tame the beast, to the brutal sounds of Skull Island as the tribes people attack, the T-Rex’s try to eat our intrepid rescue team with their snap-happy appetite, to Kong himself, who is loud and brutish, just as he should be, as he screams, laughs and bangs that big hairy chest of his.

Also excelling is the score from James Newton Howard, who follows his superb work on the magnificent Batman Begins with another excellent score, which perfectly captures the different moods of the film perfectly, even if at times it does feel a little muted. I’m sure the inevitable DTS soundtrack on some sort of ultimate edition somewhere down the line will be even better, but for now this audio presentation is fantastic.

King Kong: Two Disc Special Edition

Extras


The main feature on the second disc is the collection of post-production diaries, which run at about three hours worth of footage. Those of you not familiar with these small featurettes, allow me to explain. One King Kong fansite, Kongisking.net, was granted full access to the set of the film, able to watch a few minutes every week to see what was going on. Peter Jackson was a huge supporter of this idea, and is always on hand to give an introduction to each diary explaining what he and his cast and crew were up to.

The ‘Production Diaries’ also ran at about three hours in length, and were released prior to King Kong’s release, and are available on an excellent two-disc set. Anyhow, these are the ‘Post-Production Diaries’, and just like the ones released before them, they include a wealth of information, stories, anecdotes and looks behind-the-scenes, as well as some more funny entries along the way. Jackson takes us through every element of the post-production of Kong, guiding us through all the various departments that helped get Kong to the screen. Jackson himself is on hand to discuss the editing process with his two editors; WETA are on hand to show us how Kong came to life, including how Andy Serkis helped as there guinea pig, and the marketing team take us through their process of marketing and distributing the film before its release, before we join Jackson and cast at the world premiere in America last December. There is so much more that I have said to enjoy here, and all three-hours will have you glued and intrigued, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

The two other documentaries included examine and discuss the historical factors surrounding the film, even if one of them takes a wittier and spoof-like stance. That particular documentary, Skull Island: A Natural History has tongue firmly in cheek here, as Jackson and other members of the WETA Digital team discuss the creatures, habitants and environments encircling Kong on Skull Island. It aims to put some history and back-story to the Kong universe, even having Jackson and crew look like explorers on some of the images present here. It’s nice to see a blockbuster movie not take itself too seriously, and allow it’s self such a luxury, but this documentary just feels like a opportunity wasted to add some real meat to the extra features.

The second, ‘Kong’s New York, 1933’, is more historical, and comes straight out of the world of the Discovery channel, as it shows how its citizens battled against the Depression and the huge rates of unemployment that came with it. But, Jackson was all too keen to fully bring that era to life, and he and his crew discuss how they successfully recreated it with their CGI wizardry and the hard work of their incredible art department. A decent attempt this one, but like the ‘Skull Island’ doc, seems like an opportunity wasted.


King Kong: Two Disc Special Edition

Overall


A majestic, beautiful and wonderfully inspired epic from Peter Jackson, who crafts a movie-going experience like no other, and in doing so gives us his best effort yet. Filmed with love, passion and his obvious childhood obsession, flawlessly acted by his cast, and with some of the best digital effects ever seen on the big screen, King Kong will I'm sure soon find it's place in the list of the greatest movies of all time. The DVD is also superior in it's technical quality, and their is some interest to be had from the extras, mainly the diaries, but overall feels heart-hearted, and definitely geared up for a future Ultimate Edition. Plonk yourself in front of the screen and sit in wonder. Films do not get much better.


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