King Kong DVD Review
PictureUniversal presents King Kong in a fantastic anamorphic 2.35:1 image that is breathtaking to behold. Without any digital defects to mar its incredibly vibrant picture, the transfer holds the spectacle with amazing clarity and a tremendous depth of field that truly pitches you deep into the jungles of Skull Island. Colours are gorgeously rendered, with lush jungles, deep orange rivers of fire, a vibrant Manhattan full of gaudy décor and bright vehicles, sumptuous skies that literally paint the screen like a real sunrise and marvellously varied shading that brings the festering foliage of Skull Island to steamy life. The great contrast that the transfer has is typified by the scene in which Denham and his crowd first stumble into the natives' camp amid the catacombs - lots of bright daylight is finely off-set by well-delineated shadows of true deep black in the same shot. Blacks, all throughout the film, are first rate, lending the image fantastic depth and weight. Look no further than the phenomenal Bug Pit scene and the sequence showing Jack Driscoll creeping through the caves of Kong's lair to see what I mean.
Detail is exceptionally well presented, too. The Venture has all manner of knick-knacks on display - from the cluttered kitchen to the intricate design of the cargo hold and all of its cages. Check out those rock carvings and the skeletons in the native camp, and what about the clarity of the natives, themselves? All top notch stuff, folks. But it is the jungle, itself, and all of its inhabitants that benefit most of all from such a clear image. The V-Rexes and the Brontosaur herd are obviously CG - your brain is telling you that constantly - but the detail afforded their appearances is breathtaking. You kind of want them to stand still for a little bit longer so that you can take it all in. And Kong, of course, is magnificent. His eyes, his scars, the leathery skin of his paws and silvery-sheen to his fur - all brilliantly held up for close scrutiny.
Even on super-large projection screens, the edge enhancement is minimal and there are no traces of artifacting, smearing, dot crawl or blocking. In short, King Kong has a fantastic visual transfer.
SoundWell, this release sees only a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. No DTS-ES, you ask? Well, if you cast your mind back to the theatrical cuts of the Rings DVDs, then you shouldn't really be surprised. There's going to be an ear-blisteringly cool DTS track at some point but, for now, just relax, turn up the volume and let yourself be transported to the insect-infested Skull Island and the bustling urban jungle of 1930's New York with a DD5.1 mix that certainly has a lot to offer.
Utilising the full speaker set-up, the sound design is fully immersive and exciting. Listen to the bustle of voices, vehicles and beeping horns during the opening moments in New York. How about the chugging of the Venture as it steams through the seas with a sound very reminiscent of the spacecraft approaching Earth in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home? Or the pounding of the tribal drums as Ann is dragged to the sacrificial altar? Or the tremendous approach of Kong through the jungle when he is summoned - cleaving his way through the foliage just over your shoulder amid thumps, grunts and snarls? All smartly and crisply reproduced.
The gunfire from the Tommy-guns sputters from all around, weighty impacts as Kong and the many other beasts clash thud from the sub and Kong's mighty roar swirls around the room with ear-popping savagery. I love the sound of the V-Rex's jaws snapping shut each time it narrowly misses Ann or one of Kong's flailing limbs. There is plenty of activity across the front and dialogue is never swamped or distorted despite all the bombastics taking place. And the rears are engaged often and with some terrific steerage, too. The final airplane assault features some dynamic swoops back to front and from side to side, and the shattering of the windows with machine-gunfire is crystal clear. Subtleties, like the sloshing of the sea, the rummaging for ammo clips and Kong's chewing of roots and shoots, are always handled with precision and a clear sense of immersive directionality. One caveat, though, is that the score seems slightly subdued compared to the many times that I saw the film at the cinema - in particular the V-Rex smackdown in which several elements of the cue seem overwhelmed by the fx.
I have every confidence that the inevitable DTS track, when it finally surfaces, will blow this DD mix out of the water. Afterall, the Rings Trilogy benefited enormously from the extra clarity, richness and depth. Still, this is a very good surround experience indeed.
ExtrasIf you thought that Disk 1 was going to contain just the movie, which clocks in at 3 hours and 8 minutes, you'd be sorely mistaken - we have 2 extras! Firstly, The Volkswagen Touareg & King Kong featurette, which runs for 2.05 mins, revolves around the VW commercial to advertise a car and contains King Kong - tenuous or what!? It's effectively 90 seconds explaining about the shooting and 30 seconds for the actual commercial itself. Pointless, but I suppose it gives a bit of completeness to these extras. Our second extra, which is See More of NYC in “Wish You Were Here” runs for 1:08 mins and is literally a commercial for visiting NYC! OK - sue me, I lied when I said extras - they're just bloody commercials!
Disc 2 begins with an Introduction By Peter Jackson. Lasting for 3.30 mins, slim-line Pete informs us what we will find on this disc and how to navigate our way through the Post Production Diaries.
These run for something like 160 mins and you can access them via Post Production Diaries By Date, Post Production Diaries By Department, or simply with a Play All option. Personally, I just dived right on and watched the whole lot in one marathon sitting - as I've mentioned earlier, the wife is quite happy now that Gladiator and Batman have been nudged aside. Now, I reviewed and loved the first batch of these diaries - the Production Diaries - and what we have here, again culled from the Kongisking website, is basically just more of the same. Each segment lasts a few minutes, packs in plenty of facts and behind the scenes secrets in a warts-and-all, fly-on-the-wall style that is quite endearing. The goofing around on set and among the different departments feels a little more reined in this time out as the impending release date for the finished movie is literally hurtling towards them. There's great stuff on the miniatures - the sets, the Venture, the jungle, the wall etc - and we even get to see a day in the life of a miniature, from conceptualisation, through maquette and full model stages to final approval from Jackson. We see the numerous pickup shots that have to be made. Check out the attention to detail that has to be adhered to with regards to continuity - hair, costume, makeup - and balance that with the rather loose-seeming approach of then mocking up the sets that were featured in Principal Photography quickly just on a soundstage. “Did you get that on Ebay?” asks Jack Black when Jackson proudly displays his copy of the original Kong's script. There's plenty of Andy Serkis prancing about in his motion capture suit - Mo-Cap, as they call it. He manages to put the incredible process into layman's terms for us, but it is quite clear that his dedication to the craft is unequalled. He thinks that this form of acting will become a normal part of the actor's job. Well, it certainly will for him, anyway! The fan-questions segment that made me giggle last time out is repeated with a new batch. Someone even asks Peter Jackson just why he is so open about the making of his films, and why he chose to allow these Diaries to be produced in the first place. Nice to see the treatment afforded the Theatrical Trailer - its creation was like making a mini-movie - and there's some tantalising, but brief shots from those scenes that didn't make it into the theatrical cut of the film. As far as Weta Digital go, I don't think we really see enough of what it took to produce Kong and his battles and presumably this, along with the recollections of the cast which is also curious by its absence on the DVD, will be catered for when we get the next edition of King Kong. But, as it stands, these diaries are very extensive and entertaining and, in a great many ways, form the perfect Making Of, in that you see exactly how things were done, meet all the unsung heroes and have almost everything explained to you along the way. There's not many releases that are this comprehensive, are there?
Then we get Kong's New York, 1933 (28.22 mins). This reveals the colossal amount of research that went into creating the New York that we see on screen. And it's funny how Peter Jackson managed to evoke in just his opening two minute montage what it took Ron Howard over two hours to do in Cinderella Man. Here we get a lot of professors and social commentators lecturing us on economic, social and political history of the 1930's, from the soup kitchens, the Hooverville shanties, Prohibition, the rise of vaudeville and the even greater rise of the skyscrapers. To be honest, this is all very interesting but it doesn't really have much relevance to King Kong. I like the feature but somehow I feel a historical look at the Ape and his influence would have been a better option. For the record though, we do get Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and some of cast and crew offering some titbits, too. Nice shot of Winston Churchill admiring the view from the 86th Floor of the Empire State Building, though.
Lastly we get a gimmicky-but-great featurette entitled Skull Island: A Natural History (17.00 mins). Now obviously bogus, this takes the form of an educational film about the location as if it really existed. Based upon the film tie-in book called The World Of Kong (which is superb, by the way), this has Jackson, creature designers Daniel Falconer and Ben Wootten, production designer Richard Taylor and conceptual artist Alan Lee amongst many others as they deliver a terrific little line in pure fun fiction. Employing a general narration, copious soundbites, film clips, conceptual art and some awesome paintings, interspersed with ominous-sounding quotes from supposed real-life scientists and explorers of the island, this feature covers everything from the flora to the wildlife, the ancient civilisation that once called it home, to the extremely primitive and nasty natives that eked out a perilous existence on the barren rocks behind the Great Wall. Swiftly and succinctly this delivers a smart overview of the many terrible creatures from the jungle floor, the waterways, the awful abyss and the high uplands - giving scientific rundowns of the vile pit-dwellers, the V-Rexes and Raptors and especially the breed of huge mountain gorilla unique to the island, Megaprimatus Kong. This is great stuff - daft, but great. Check out the sepia photographs of the expeditions from the thirties - they are the production crew, including Jackson, in period costume. Love it.
With no commentary track from a man that loves to chat about his films, it seems obvious that another edition will be swinging its way to us before too long. Let us just hope that it manages to condense some thoughts and feelings from the cast and crew into some more relaxed and composed documentaries, putting this huge undertaking into some proper context with the added benefit of hindsight.
VerdictUntil the inevitable Extended Edition comes out - and I, for one look forward to it immensely - this 2-Disc Special Edition should more than satisfy. The film is a breathtaking beauty and the AV transfer is marvellous. The image is glorious, and even if the eventual inclusion of a full-on DTS-ES mix eclipses the DD 5.1 on offer here, there is still plenty of acoustic awe to be savoured with this version. The film has a few drawbacks but, in my opinion, they are only minor when compared to the beauty and ferocity that Peter Jackson has fashioned. King Kong will always be a heroic tragedy, and this new take on the tale handles the power, the spirit and the soul of Kong with style, intelligence and a raw, unbridled sense of adventure, grace and doom. It can sit alongside the original with pride ... and that is all anyone could wish for.
The extras offer some great value. The Post Production Diaries are great fun and are far more comprehensive than the meagre offerings that most releases supply, and even if the New York historical lecture seems a little out of place, then the Skull Island mini-doc more than makes up for it. Still, I can't help feeling that there is an awful lot more to come ... one day.
Excellent all round. Very highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.21
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