King Kong Blu-ray Review
King Kong arrives on a BD50, incorporating both versions of the movie on just the one disc.
Although I did, indeed, get myself a copy of the HD version when it came out - and what an outstanding transfer it had, too - I didn't hold onto it for very long as I just couldn't take to sitting through the Theatrical Cut when I knew that much more material existed. So, I can't actually compare the two AV transfers together for the purpose of this review. But, that said, the VC-1 encode for Kong's BD debut looks jaw-droppingly good. This is, quite simply, one of the most eye-deceivingly three-dimensional transfers around. The sense of depth is absolutely incredible for the most part, with the Skull Island chapters, unsurprisingly, being the extended showcase for such cinematic viewer immersion. Whereas, the original '33 film made pioneering use of glass plates to create the illusion of distance and depth-perception, Jackson had a variety of cutting-edge technologies to hand to help convince us of the size, scale and nature of Skull Island. Now, even if the far-too numerous flybys over blatant CG vistas stick out like a sore thumb, the actual footage of the jungle, itself, is staggering in its visual splendour. Many times, Jackson has a point within the frame that reveals the sheer depth of the valleys and mountains behind the characters and this transfer captures such breathtaking scenery to perfection. But not only this, there are also many occasions when the frame has numerous points of depth within it - such as the V-Rex smackdown which, if you look, offers an incredibly multi-dimensional aspect to the violence that is plunging all around it. Scenes of the Venture making hair-raising progress through the cliffs and the fog, once again, have a terrific sense of looming scale and even if some of the model work and matte-shots look a tad obvious, the overriding sense of size and grandeur is beyond question.
Colours are exceptional. The rich greens of the jungle and their many varied hues are simply captivating. The harsh greys and blacks of the barren rocky village of the natives a stark contrast to the eye-popping beauty to be found on the other side of the wall. Beautiful sunsets and sunrises yawn across the sky, turning the image into a pleasant riot of pastel incandescence. The blazing orange/red fires that the natives use to signal Kong are a wonderful shade too - that pull-back shot of the streams of fire running down channels cut into the walls is a pure stand-out. Skin tones, eyes and blood - a crewman lying in a pool of the stuff, for example - are evocative and veer purposely towards the Hollwoodised look that is in-keeping with the larger-than-life production values that Jackson strived to recreate. The colours of the biplanes - very carnival-esque, in fact - and the opulence of New York, especially the interiors of all those grand theatres, are resplendent. Gradation on the hides of those V-Rexes and other critters is very effective and these beasts certainly look a lot more convincing than they ever did before. Black levels are also spot-on, with some enormously deep swathes of shadow engulfing areas of the image. Greys, such as the fog-bank that the Venture pushes through were subtly varied and revealed no traces of banding that I could see. The depiction of the depth and shadows of the jungle is painstakingly evoked and I never once got the impression that any detail had been sacrificed within.
And detail, folks, is where this transfer truly shines ... for it is phenomenal. This encode provides shots that cry out for study. Almost any frame set in the jungle implores the eyes to rove about, taking in the majestic depth of the canyons and valleys, the thick foliage and dense canopy and then right down to the individual leaves, the incessant insects and the striations in the rocks and the vines, themselves. Facial detail can occasionally seem a little soft, but, on the whole, is delivered with a sharpness and clarity that is rewarding - especially with regards to Naomi Watts. Eyes - again, the prize must go to Watts - are radiant and gleam with life. Costumes have that down-to-the-material finiteness, weaponry and props are packed with, perhaps, unnecessary attention to weathering and ageing. The natives are a truly hideous sight to behold, with the transfer really picking out their hellish eyes, bone necklaces, primitive tools and weapons and their savage accoutrements with conviction. Some may say that close-up detail - particularly on faces - may now seem slightly smoother than before and point their accusing finger in the direction of unwanted DNR. Well, to be honest, this did flicker through my mind once or twice whilst watching the film. But that's all it did, folks. Flicker. Universal did some extremely minor tweaking with their BD release of The Thing, yet, as is the case here, the image still looks inarguably excellent. Some unbelievably minor filtering on skin textures is not - I repeat not - enough to warrant cancelling your order or skipping this release entirely. With regards to edge enhancement or artefacts being present, I can see no annoying haloing and perhaps only the slightest degree of blocking in some of the more dense colours. As I said earlier, I no longer have the HD edition to hand to do a complete compare-and-contrast operation, but I would still have no hesitation in recommending this transfer unreservedly. It offers some of the most immaculate and intricate imagery I have seen.
This gets a 9 ¾ out of 10. Yep, that's right ... I'm actually being a little stricter than usual.
This Kong has always sounded good and, naturally, with its audio now boosted via DTS-MA, its 5.1 soundfield provides some utterly magnificent, room-swelling, heart-stopping, ear-pulverising sonics. The aural fireworks just don't let up throughout the prolonged running time, generating an experience that has no problem thrusting you into the bizarre world that Jackson has fashioned. From the fierce percussive pounding of the native drum section during Ann's sacrifice to Kong, to the chirruping of the swarms of grotesque insect life, the audio track stretches around you with abundant detail and presence, with all speakers getting plenty of action.
This is a track that demands to be played loud.
Dialogue never bends, cracks, wavers or gets submerged despite all the riotous activity that surrounds it. High ends are sharp and clear, even soaring, when need be, over the top. The mid-range dynamics are rich and flowing, reaching right across the environment with ease, depth and penetration. Orchestrations, hubbub and ambience are always dealt with warmth and an impressive sweep. Low-ends are, reassuringly, spectacular. The sense of air-displacement whenever Kong rushes about, or roars, or hurls objects - rocks, vehicles, people - is marvellously authentic. His stomping may be generated with tremendously deep levels of bass, but this never once seems over-egged or jacked-up just for the sake of it. What I mean is that no matter how aggressive this bass activity may be, the positioning is always spot-on, with directionality and placement within the environment always adhered to, first and foremost, over any blitzkrieg effect. The stampede sequence is simply wonderful. There is so much going on - individual footfalls, screams, machine-gunfire, snarling, chomping, rock-skitters, etc - that you could be forgiven for allowing Jackson and Co to simply let the cacophony speak for itself, but they don't just settle for that - they strive to keep every little detail intact and perfectly situated around the soundfield. The rock-falls and distant thumping through the ground that preface the stampede are terrific examples of the natural, yet still clinically detailed approach to the sound that the engineers have taken. And, of course, the V-Rex tussle takes this dynamic precision several stages further. Body-blows, vicious chomps, scratches and thumps blister the ears. High impact contacts abound as the fight literally rages all around the soundscape, the effect one of the best examples of multiple-target steerage that I have heard, with the sound assuming a totally three-dimensional quality.
Another great thing is the sound of the gunfire. What you hear in Kong, particularly during the Skull Island activities, is bullets being unleashed against a wide backdrop, which is why they don't quite sound like the usual whizz-bang ballistic overkill that you would normally associate with lossless dynamics. These are smaller calibre weapons whose firepower is notably, and realistically, dwarfed by the surroundings. Hence, the little “put-put-put” effect that you hear. Attention to detail like this propels the film and its audio structure in my opinion. There are also a lot of convincingly placed effects to help depict the Venture steaming through the waves. We get plenty of engine-room noise, the sound of the waves either lapping against the side of the ship or severely walloping it during the storm sequence. The rain during this set-piece is also lashed around with all-channel accompaniment.
I have complained before that my favourite musical cue in the film - when Kong faces off, Western-style, against the marauding Dinos - was down-mixed for the home when it really cut loose at the flicks - but, considering that this lossless mix is supposedly exactly the way the soundtrack was intended and engineered all along, then I can now only concede that the cinema in which I saw the film several times, had the track pumped-up in some manner. But, beyond this personal - and very slight - gripe, I can only applaud the DTS-MA track for King Kong. It hits all the rights notes - raging at times, swooning at others, but always densely wrapped around you and full of wonderful detail. To be honest, I could probably write another couple of paragraphs just on this vital component alone, but I fear I would overdose on superlatives. So, let's just say that Kong's BD provides reference quality audio, eh? Excellent ... and a definite 10 out of 10.
As with the HD version, this is where the disappointment sets in. Beyond the Commentary with Jackson and Philippa Boyens, we only really get the U-Control feature that dips into woefully underused PiP segments that go behind the scenes and also offer up some conceptual artwork. This PiP track is absolutely no substitute for the sumptuous armada of extras that made the previous Deluxe Extended Edition such a meaty catch. Basically we have interludes that cover Andy Serkis' Motion Capture experience, the filming of certain sequences, the cast going through their paces on the treadmill, facial capture for Kong, a visit from film historian/collector Bob Burns - who owns the original articulated metal puppet from the 1933 version (making Jackson seethe with envy, I'm sure) - and footage of himself and his wife as extras during Kong's New York rampage. But there is so much left unsaid and uncovered. The artwork, although splendid in its own right, deserves to be housed in a properly extensive gallery and, here, is just the tip of the iceberg.
The actual Commentary track with Jackson and regular screenwriter/co-producer Boyens is also a slightly disappointing affair in that the pair go slightly too technical at times and lose the momentum of the piece. I've always loved listening to Jackson's chat-tracks, but this one feels both over-long and undercooked, leaving too much anecdote un-recalled and the nitty-gritty minutiae of such a colossal undertaking ultimately coming over as something of a laborious chore. Quite surprisingly, I found this leaving a stale atmosphere.
The disc is, however, equipped with BD-Live, and has the capability for My Scenes collection.
But, no matter how you slice it, this is the smelly end of the stick and you can certainly bet your bottom dollar that another, all-singing, all-dancing edition will come along at some point.
King Kong on BD remains an epic fantasy classic, and a prime-time cinematic over-indulgence - however it is also seriously malnourished in terms of added value, especially when you consider the wealth of material that has already been made available. Its AV quality is superlative, blending cutting-edge CG with elaborate sets and huge, enveloping vistas with sterling, retina-seducing aplomb and boasting a sound-design that can't fail to take the breath away. From the money-shot big moments to the tiny little, homage-rife details in the background, King Kong's BD delivers the goods in spades. The audio delivery is second to none and truly brings the movie to life, feeding every channel with either bombast or subtlety throughout.
The performances, bar the two from Andy Serkis and that from Watts, are either badly judged or just plain perfunctory. Jackson and Boyens bog their adaptation down with needless subplots and usher in a few too many characters, but their heart is certainly in the right place and the sheer sense of evocation and cinematic might that they conjure is more than enough to smooth over such rough edges. This is grand-scale yarn-spinning and even if many people refuse to be smitten by its sensory overload, there is a lot to admire in such a lavish and comprehensively wrought production. Personally, I love the movie. For all its faults, King Kong 2005-style provides exhilaration, action, mystery and the type of rip-roaring, big screen exuberance that doesn't come along all that often.
Whatever your opinions about the film may be, there is no denying the quality of this transfer. Whether you become overwhelmed by the romance and tragedy of the story, or just simply want to kick back and revel in hi-def glory, King Kong still reigns supreme as a home cinema show-piece that packs in pure AV-junkie nirvana each and every time you spin the disc.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59
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