King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition (2005)
As movie lore has it, director Peter Jackson fell in love with the original King Kong (1933) as a child and longed to remake it for many years. In fact, one Jackson crew member opines on this DVD release of Jackson's 2005 King Kong that the man has spent his entire career attempting, in the theoretical sense, to make his own Kong. How early efforts like Dead Alive and Meet the Feebles fit into this theory is cause for speculation, of course, as is the entire question of why, if one loves a piece of art so much, you'd want to redo it at all although one could pose the same question to directors as diverse as Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, and Gus Van Sant. Jackson's big monkey movie, more so than Dino de Laurentiis's 1976 version, pays considerable homage to the original but still bears Jackson's own unique stamp. And that may be its biggest flaw. Coming off of the obscenely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson had free rein to do whatever he wanted and he wanted to do Kong. Given a blank check and his own special-effects factory (New Zealand's Weta Workshop), it would have been surprising if he didn't make a movie that was big, expensive, and amazingly self-indulgent. There are, as Roger Ebert said in his review of the theatrical release, "astonishments to behold" in Jackson's ape picture and, if nothing else, audiences certainly got their money's worth in terms of sheer spectacle. It can be said that many of the more impressive sequences actually go on longer than they should (the dinosaur stampede in particular) and that comedian Jack Black was an unfortunate choice to play hack director Carl Denham not because he's a bad actor, but because he's a much different sort of actor than stars Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody, and it's difficult to separate him from his Tenacious D/Nacho Libre screen persona. But these are quibbles when discussing a film as expansive as King Kong.
In almost every way, this reviewer will agree with writer Greg Dorr's excellent review for this site on the 2005 "Special Edition" DVD release. Here, we have Kong given the Lord of the Rings treatment, with a three-disc set that offers over six hours of bonus material. Does this film really rate six hours of extras? Is there enough of a market for the disc to justify the expense of producing a three-hour documentary on the making of the movie? It's a puzzler. While the multiple releases of Jackson's little hobbit picture seemed designed to cold-bloodedly suck every last dollar from Tolkein fans' Bags of Holding, the Kong double-dip brought to market almost a year after the movie's theatrical release and just in time for holiday shopping doesn't seem to be marketed to anyone in particular, and may exist purely due to Jackson's obsessive nature. Well, and Universal's desire to make some more of their money back.
* * *
Universal's "Deluxe Extended Edition" of King Kong boasts a breathtaking anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with big, rich Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Possibly to insure that the video quality would be especially good, the movie (which runs 3 hrs., 21 min. here) has been split into two parts on two separate discs. Could they have maintained this quality by putting the entire film on one disc and using the other two discs purely for extras? That's for hardcore cinephiles and video engineers to argue. Just be warned if you don't have a multi-disc DVD player, you'll be getting up halfway through to change discs. There are 13 minutes of excised footage restored to this version, mostly in the form of a scene on a raft (a memorable set piece from the original Kong that didn't make the theatrical cut), more time given to the military men, and even more business with the dinosaurs.
Disc One offers the first half of the film with optional commentary by Peter Jackson and writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens. It also features the first of the bonus supplements, offered under the "King Kong Archives" menu:
Disc Two offers the second half of the film, also with optional commentary. Here you'll also find:
Disc Three offers the meat of the bonus features "Recreating the Eighth Wonder: The Making of King Kong," a brand-new, three-hour documentary that's broken up into eight parts which can be watched together or separately:
To help you maneuver through all of the menus, the three-disc keep case has a schematic, designed like a treasure map, that's almost impossible to read without a magnifying glass. Perhaps they thought that would make the experience more authentic.