The film is spread over the first two discs and has been given an anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 transfer as per the two disc set. It is a breathtaking print in terms of quality, an absolutely pristine print. It is bright clear, bold and sharp, colours shine off the screen; the gorgeous reds and oranges of the sun sets, the deep blues of the sea the lush greens of the jungle, all are beautiful to behold. Contrast and brightness are set to give deep true blacks, detail is superb with nay an edge problem to be seen. No original print damage, no film grain, and only the slightest compression artefact during some of the mist sequences; an excellent transfer; in this day of high definition DVD this is a print that will be extremely hard to beat, proving that when it's done right standard DVD is still a quality product.
Although this isn't a comparison review I thought it might be interesting to compare the 2 disc picture against this newer transfer; the resulting image below was take with PowerDVD by playing at full screen and grabbing a 720 pixel wide image; then composted into a singe frame, no other alteration has occurred. The comparison disc was the Region 2, now I realise this is a little unfair because of their native resolution, however both are resized to the same pixel resolution. It is quite clear that this new transfer has greater clarity and depth of colour it is a superior picture in every respect; as it should be.
The set has been given three sound tracks, English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. And I am as stunned as Kong was on first sight of Darrow..... no DTS track? Why? One of those unanswerable questions I guess. The English track is a pretty solid affair with plenty for the each speaker to get its teeth into. The first half of the film is relatively tame with only the streets of New York and the sea and ship creaks providing anything like decent rear speaker action. But once we are into the island it's a different story. A fully immersive surround experience placing in the jungle. A decent grounding in bass gives a nice depth to the stage while maintaining enough tonal range to give the dialogue the nuances it needs to sound natural. King himself is terrifically beefy when he roars and the wizz, zip and rat a tat of the bi-planes in the final sequence lending a real finality to his death scene, especially when Jackson removes all the sound and you really hear the silence. A shame about the lack of DTS, but it is one of the best Dolby Digital tracks out there.
And now the extras section, anyone that has seen any of the Lord of the Rings extended discs knows what to expect with the extras package; it is as big as Kong himself containing anything and everything about the production with interviews from everyone with the possible exception of the tea boy. There are three discs to the set, each having its own set of extras to choose from.
First up is the audio commentary from Jackson himself accompanied by Philippa Boyens. This pair has already honed their commentary skills on the LotRs versions and here that pays off as they talk in depth about all aspects of the film. No stone is left uncovered as they talk about the characterisations and their plot direction over and above the 1933 and 1976 versions and Jackson's own abortive 1996 version. It is not particularly technical and at times tends to be scene specific, though tangents keep it all very interesting. The pair make for an interesting listen, their enthusiasm for the project plainly coming across in everything they say.
Next is thirty eight minutes of deleted scenes, each playable individually or as a play all function with or without an introduction from Peter Jackson. Jackson goes to great pains to explain why these scenes were removed and also places them within context of the film, he makes for a very interesting listen. Many of them have unfinished effects itself of interest to see what is needed to complete the final shot. Many concentrate on the Venture sea voyage before they crash into the island including the full version of the deck dance routine.
The Eighth Blunder of the World is a twenty minute blooper reel, containing gaffs, fluffs and intentional goofing off on set. At times this can be pretty funny but is also of interest to see plenty of behind the scene footage.
The Missing Production Diary #59 never made it onto the web, apparently its content was not suitable; basically it shows the main casts 'addiction' to watching themselves on the video playback after a take; its all done with good spirit and is entertaining in its way, runs for just under ten minutes.
A night in Vaudeville showcases many of the acts that make up the beginning montage of the film shown in their entirety. Some are ok, other no so, but these are genuine performers doing there acts, nice to see them get a slice of the limelight.
The King Kong homage featurette looks at the various similarities between this version and the 1933 original, down to verbatim lines, sets, music cues costumes and even Peter Jackson's own collection of original props. Shows the original film by comparison, I enjoyed this one.
First up is the continuation of the Jackson / Boyens commentary.
Next is four pre-vis anamatic playable with or without the music cues; they are Arrival at Skull Island, Bronto Stampede, V-Rex Fight and Empire State Building. It's always interesting to see how close these animatics resemble their finished product, proving that if the pre-production work is done right the finished product will shine. The V-rex fight is subtly different to the finished film with regard to Ann's treatment and the final sequence is also available to watch split screen with the finished film. Astonishing to think that this animatic was conceived so far before the finished film and yet is a near replica; in fact it was shown in a theatre to cast and crew members and some were even tearing up, such was its vision!
The Present, introduced by Jackson, is a short film made by the cast to commemorate his birthday; basically it involves various cast members fighting over a 'present' that was eventually given to Jackson at the end of the screening of the film. It is light hearted and fun and a welcome break from all the Kong related features.
WETA Collectables looks into the various models created by the WETA team for sale as collectable items; one of which is available to by with this very set. The are extremely well designed pieces of art that scream quality, even if it is just another merchandising tool.
Closing off this disc is the films trailers (presented anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 sound) and DVD-rom content of the 1996 and 2005 script for the film.
Heading up this one is yet another introduction by Pete Jackson, in it he explains the amount of extra material spread over the three discs and informs us that it is all new material; no Lucas syndrome there, no.
We are now into the extras proper with a three hour plus making of documentary entitled Recreating the Eighth Wonder: The Making of King Kong that can be played all as one feature or is chaptered into individual segments (titled below); it is all encompassing and as in depth as any making of documentary out there.
The Origins of King Kong takes a look at the abortive 1995 version in production before Universal pulled the plug. It is incredible how far the team got in terms of scrip, creature design and models, a fascinating look into what might have been. Once Universal pulled the plug, and Jackson got his sculpture back, he was free to work on LotRs and without that knowledge he gained during those seven years the Kong we have today might never have come about.
Pre-Production Part 1: The Return of Kong discusses the time when Kong was first green lit as a viable project; during the final stages of Return of the King. Basically Jackson went to WETA and informed them of his ideas and gave them cart blanch to develop as many drawings and pre vis animatic without a script as they could. There is plenty of information given here from everyone involved backed up by pictures and videos.
Pre-Production Part 2: Countdown to Filming when watched with the play all function doesn't receive a title card and fits seamlessly into the first segment. If anything this is more entertaining as we get to first meet the characters and their thought. Contains a hugely interesting piece with Jackson and Watts going to the very, very top of the Empire State Building on a location reccie; an amazing piece of video footage. The segment with Fay Ray is also very touching as is Jacksons genuine emotion upon hearing of her death.
The Venture Journey chronicles the production teams efforts when buying and restoring an actual boat used for the filming in Wellington Harbour, getting the crew used to sea voyages, various digital effects, scale models, a gimble mounted section and all things Venture related. Anything and everything you wanted to know about the ship and its voyage to the screen.
Return to Skull Island looks at the development of Skull Island from its initial concept drawing through to realisation of miniatures, digital back drops, a newly built sound stage to hold the massive sets and creature designs. Segments on the layering needed to produce a single shot that also moves are quite astonishing. The island never looks false on screen and this section explains exactly why, very informative but never over your head, enjoyable.
New York, New Zealand shows us that miniatures and digital models are no substitute for building a city in a back lot; New York of the 30's doesn't exist so it had to be created from scratch, and the WETA team built the first 20 feet of an entire city block. The rest of the cityscape was added digitally and quite seamlessly. Also interesting in the use of colour, we sometimes forget that it was colour, since all out reference material is black and white photos.
Bringing Kong to Life Part 1: Design and Research is the longest running of these segments and goes into more depth that all before it. Building on their 1995 designs WETA relooked at the main character of Kong, sighting if he wasn't right the film would fail. It took months to develop the final drawings and eventual 3d clay model; and once it was scanned it had to be changed again because it didn't look right. In the end it was Andy Serkis' video footage of real live gorillas in the wild in Rwanda that proved to be the most inspirational. Funny to think that the original theatrical trailer contained a version of Kong not actually used in the final film!
Bringing Kong to Life Part 2: Performance and Animation just like part two of the pre-production runs seamlessly from part one. This segment concentrates on Andy Serkis' portrayal of the mighty beast, both on set dressed in his gorilla outfit enabling an empathy between his and Watts performances that comes across through the digital ape, to the exhaustive work he had to do in the motion capture suit; even his face was motion captured to explore the facial expressions of the Kong himself. A truly engaging watch this one.
Rounding out this section is the DVD credits which play immediately after the above chapter when selected play all. Running at five minutes there are plenty of people involved with this DVD.
Finally there is the Conceptual Design Galleries which contains five galleries of drawings and artwork under the headings of 1996 King Kong, The Venture, Skull Island, New York and Kong. These can be watched individually or all together accompanied by James Newton Howard's original score and runs for a considerable 40 minutes. However, you can choose to view on fast forward if you so desire.
Wow, what a set. As complete a set of all things Kong as one could possibly hope to obtain. In the end there is only one overriding question; is this set worth upgrading. And despite my reservations about the actual extended version of the film, this set is well worth the upgrade; extras alone do not a DVD make, but with such a quality product so lovingly put together as this one, it is hard not to admire. If all DVD's took as much care in their presentation as this one does the format would be irreplaceable. Picture, sound and extras, this is a quality product and deserving of the title delux.
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