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King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition DVD Review

King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition

November 29, 2006

Director: Peter Jackson,
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall, Kyle Chandler, Bill Johnson,

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DVD Review

King Kong (2005) is Peter Jackson’s epic, mega-budget, fanboy love letter to the film that inspired him to become a movie director in the first place. Clocking in at double the running time of the original, Jackson’s film is an ambitious juggernaut of a movie that, like his The Lord of the Rings films, is epic in scale and scope and yet still has that personal touch. One of the common complaints leveled at the movie is its bloated running time and this new version is even longer but this is more than self-indulgence on Jackson’s part. He spends more time developing his characters, their motivations and their relationships. Even the excessive and extensive dinosaur sequences in the second act are there for a reason.

Ann Darrow (Watts) is a struggling Vaudevillian actress whose venue has been closed down due to poor attendance. The country is in the grips of the Great Depression and times are tough. Carl Denham (Black) is a filmmaker working on an adventure film that is in danger of losing its funding. However, he has come into the possession of a map to a mysterious island that may save his film. Denham even tricks up-and-coming screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Brody) to stay on board so that he can finish the film’s screenplay. In desperation, Denham steals the existing cans of film and assembles a cast and crew (including Darrow) and sets sail for the island on his map.

Jackson follows the story structure of the original quite faithfully but fleshes out each segment so that we spend more time in New York City, on the boat, Skull Island and back in New York. He takes the elements from these segments and amplifies them. For example, Kong doesn’t fight a Tyrannosaurus Rex, he fights three of them! Jackson also goes to great lengths to flesh out the main characters and show what motivates them and develop the relationships between them. By the time we get to the action sequences we know what makes them tick, what is at stake and what they have to lose thereby making the action sequences more compelling.

He still manages to think like an independent director by inserting whimsical interludes, like those early on in the film between Denham and his assistant (Hanks). It is these details that are just as important as capturing Manhattan circa 1930s. Jackson thinks on a macro and micro level unlike Ridley Scott or Michael Bay who work on only a grandiose level. Jackson takes the time to let us get to know the characters.

The attention to period detail is incredible. 1930s Manhattan is faithfully recreated. The extensive use of warm, golden lighting in a lot of the New York City scenes is quite inviting. There is a scene where Denham convinces Darrow to join his expedition that takes place in a diner and is like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Another example is the glowing, warm light that comes out of the portholes of the Venture in the background of a scene that suggests warm life and a more intimate feeling. There is a connection between the characters and all the elements in the scene.

Jackson is also a master at creating the kind of atmospheric worlds in his movies that immerse the viewer completely. The places the characters inhabit have that lived in look and an authenticity that gives this world texture. The lighting in this film is impressive with nods to Classic Hollywood cinema. For example, Naomi Watts looks absolutely radiant in the initial scenes on the boat as Jackson manages to top the visual splendor of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). In sharp contrast is his depiction of Skull Island as a horrifying, foreboding place, a harsh environment filled with jagged rocks and inhabited by nightmarish natives. There is something very unnatural about them and it’s in their wild and crazed eyes.

The film takes us deeper into the island as the rescue party sets out to find and bring back Darrow from the clutches of Kong. This is an action-packed section that manages to top anything seen in all three Jurassic Park movies. The Brontosaurus stampede, for example, is intense and exciting as is the Tyrannosaurus/Kong rumble in the jungle. New to this version is a battle through treacherous swamp land (a sequence that was in the original) that features frightening creepy crawlies that further decimates the away party.

Jackson is able to create almost unbearable amounts of tension out of every exciting chase as the rescue party is picked off by Kong and other nasties on Skull Island. He also gently guides us into terror as we go from the whimsy of the Darrow-Driscoll romance to the tension and an unease of the fog-enshrouded, uncharted waters of the island. Its first appearance, cued by ominous music and then the sight of the massive wall appearing out of the fog is impressively staged.

Kong is arguably the most realistically CGI rendered character ever put on film (even topping Jackson’s previous achievement with Gollum from the Rings films) and this is due in large part to Andy Serkis providing the basis for Kong’s movements and the realistic expressions on the giant gorilla’s face. For example, there is a scene where Darrow performs for him and we see his mood go from anger to bemusement and back to anger when she stops. We see all of these emotions play out on Kong’s face in completely believable fashion. It really is an astounding achievement as over the course of the movie we begin to empathize with Kong just like in the original.

Both the 1933 and 2005 versions are about the hubris of man. Jackson understands that the message of the original King Kong was that man shouldn’t mess with things that he does not understand, like the forces of nature such as Kong because it will only end tragically. He has created an epic action/adventure film with a heart.

Special Features:

Like the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings films, Kong is spread out over two discs with extras sprinkled over them and a third disc with an in-depth look at the making of this epic feature.

The first disc features an audio commentary by co-writer/director Peter Jackson and co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens. In a nice touch, Jackson makes it a point not to talk about any material covered in the various documentaries or in the production diaries. So, this track isn’t bogged down with technical information but with more of an emphasis on how they tried to capture the spirit of the historical period, character motivation, references to the original Kong and filming anecdotes. Listening to this track you also find out what was real (as opposed to CGI) and this more impressive than all of the CGI creations because it has become standard for this kind of film. Jackson and Philippa talk about the changes from the original and why they tweaked characters like Jack Driscoll. This is a solid, chatty track packed with loads of information and told in an engaging way that really conveys how much of a labour of love it was for Jackson.

Also included are 16 deleted scenes that total 46 minutes. There are optional introductions to each scene by Jackson who puts them into the context of the movie and briefly explains why they were cut. Best of all, he explains that with this extended cut he didn’t simply throw all of it back into the movie but made choices and explains them here. A lot of this footage is from the boat trip and fleshes out the relationships between various characters.

“The Eighth Blunder of the World” is an 18 minute blooper reel of the cast goofing around on the set and flubbing their lines (especially potty mouth Jack Black). Also included is the very funny bit where Bryan Singer came in from directing Superman Returns (2006) and “directed” a few scenes for an “exhausted” Jackson.

“The Missing Production Diary” was not included on any previous DVDs and documents shoot day #59. The actors get to see footage that they just shot on video monito

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 98%

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