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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:

  • Deleted scenes (46 min.), sixteen in all, which can be watched individually or as a "play all" feature, with or without introductions by Jackson. As virtually all of the scenes were cut or shortened because of either pacing or redundancy, it begs the question of whether Jackson and Boyens couldn't have spent a little more time refining the script and storyboarding before the fact, thereby saving a pile of money by not shooting scenes they ultimately didn't use.

  • Also here is "The Eighth Blunder of the World" (19 min.), a gag and blooper reel. Mostly it's the usual line flubbing, but there are a few delightful moments courtesy of those wacky Weta pranksters — if you've ever wanted to see Jack Black fighting giant bugs with a light saber, or stampeding dinosaurs pooping as they run, you should check this out.

  • "A Night in Vaudeville" ( 12 min.) offers audition footage of performers auditioning for the roles of vaudevillians seen in the film, and the bits of movie trickery employed to film one of the acts.

  • "King Kong Homage" (9 min.) is a look at the bits of dialogue from the original film that made it into the remake.

  • "The Missing Production Diary" (12 min.) is a cute featurette on the actors' obsession with watching themselves on video playback after each scene.

Disc Two offers the second half of the film, also with optional commentary. Here you'll also find:

  • Four Pre-Visualization Animatics with optional music tracks: "Arrival at Skull Island," "Bronto Stampede," "T-Rex Fight" and "Empire State Building Battle."

  • "The Present" (9 min.) is a cast-made film created for Jackson's birthday, with members of the cast each offing each other in silly ways in order to steal a wrapped present.

  • Trailers — the teaser, the theatrical trailer, and an Internet promo.

  • Weta Collectibles (6 min.), a look at the sculpting done for computer modeling, maquettes and collectible statues, chess sets and other geegaws — just in time for Christmas!

  • DVD-ROM content — Two versions of the screenplay, one from 1996 and the 2003 script.

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:

  • "The Origins of Kings Kong" (16 min.) looks at the original film, Jackson's love for it, early stop-motion genius Ray Harryhausen, and the initial ideas for the remake.

  • "Pre-Production Part 1: The Return of Kong" (42 min.) is just what it sounds like — pre-production meetings, ideas, sketches, location scouting, model-making, etc.

  • "Pre-Production Part 2: Countdown to Filming" (16 min.) begins with the actors arriving in New Zealand for costume fittings and rehearsals, and looks at the frenzied work that goes onto the final days before production starts.

  • "The Venture Journey" (22 min.) focuses on the ship used in the movie and the different versions (real, partial, soundstage and CGI) that played the part.

  • "Return to Skull Island" (30 min.) starts with early concept drawings and paintings and then shows how the island environment was created almost wholly in CGI, with the actors working on dressed hunks of soundstage.

  • "New York, New Zealand" (25 min.) shows how Jackson and his team used old photos and research to recreate 1933 New York with scale models, a massive full-scale street set, and CGI.

  • "Bringing Kong to Life Part One: Design and Research" (48 min.) and "Part Two: Performance and Animation" (26 min.) exhaustively cover every aspect of designing the ape, writing him for the screen, and Andy Serkis' Gollum-like performance that was created with high-end computer animation technology.

  • Closing it all out, "Conceptual Design Video Galleries" are five still galleries chock-full of sketches, drawings, etc.

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.
—Dawn Taylor



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