King Kong – Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries
February 16, 2006
In order to capitalize on the release of Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong (2005), Universal has released a collection of production diaries on a 2-DVD set. These brief segments originally aired on Kong is King, a fan website dedicated to the movie. It was Jackson’s attempt to show that despite the ambitious scale of the production, he was still accessible to his loyal fanbase. These segments, averaging two to three minutes in length, document the 131 day shoot that lasted from September 6, 2004 to April 8, 2005. Their purpose was two-fold: to build anticipation by providing glimpses of Jackson’s take on Kong and insight into the filmmaking process (much as he did on The Lord of the Rings special edition DVDs). He even took questions from fans on what they wanted to see on these diaries.
Their relatively short duration makes them easily digestible and on the DVD you can either view them in chronological order or by shooting location. Some of the cast join in on the fun, joking around on the set and getting into the spirit of it all. More importantly, these diaries shed light on the unsung aspects of the production that aren’t usually documented in making of featurettes. For example, we see how they simulate a raging storm on the sea on a soundstage on land.
A production of this scale, many things are happening at the same time. While filming on the Venture, other crews are creating the Skull Island set. In a more whimsical segment, Andy Serkis, staying in character as Lumpy, the ship’s cook, takes us on a tour of his galley. One quickly gets an idea of the amazing amount of detail that goes into these sets with the crew working all hours to get everything ready to be filmed.
Jackson and actor Jack Black even make fun of internet spies who try to find and post spoilers. Their good natured hamming harkens back to Jackson’s low budget Bad Taste (1987) days. Jackson even shows us some of his Kong memorabilia, including props used in the original movie! We are also taken through an international press junket as a group of journalists are given limited access to the set and some cast members in order to build anticipation for the movie. While Jackson and the cast seem to tolerate this, it looks like they’d rather be getting back to the task at hand: making the movie but it is clearly a necessary evil.
One of the most fascinating aspects is how Jackson created 1930s New York City in New Zealand. He studied period photographs and even took a tour of the Empire State Building (with actress Naomi Watts in tow). He didn’t want to create a stylized New York but depict it as realistically as possible. Ultimately, they create it through a mix of actual sets, miniatures and CGI. The second disc of the production diaries focuses on the shooting that took place on the New York City sets, providing snap shots of various aspects, like extras, dressing up the sets, the vehicles and so on.
So, why should you buy this set if you’ve already downloaded them all off the ‘Net? Well, the resolution of the segments is much better and you also get the discs contained in an attractive, collectible package with certified artwork from the movie. The key to these production diaries is to show enough footage to pique curiousity but not reveal too much and ruin the experience of seeing the finished film in theatres. They have succeeded and this set provides something to hold over fans until the inevitable, exhaustive special edition DVD is released.
One segment that did not air on the ‘Net was “The Making of a Shot: The T-Rex Fight.” It’s a substantial look at how they put together the exciting scene where Kong fights a family of Tyrannosaurus Rexes all the while trying to save Ann Darrow (Watts). This featurette goes from concept art to animatics to an actual clip from the finished film.