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King Kong (2005)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/20/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/27/2009

This may sound like an odd thing to say, but I've never liked simians. I'm not scared of them, they've simply never done anything for me. Be it apes, chimps, baboons, gibbons (Well, not Leeza Gibbons) -- I'm just not a monkey lover. When we go to the zoo and everyone can't wait to see the gorillas, I give them a courtesy look (which I'm sure they appreciate) and move on. However, this opinion shouldn't cloud my judgment of movies, and thus, I approached Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong with an open mind.

King Kong opens in New York City in 1933. People are still reeling from the Great Depression, and good jobs are hard to come by. Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is a struggling actress who is working in a vaudeville act, which is then closed. Movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black) is attempting to get funding for the jungle picture that he's shooting with actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler), but the studio executives have been unimpressed by his work. Carl's buddy, playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), has been working on a script for Carl. While scouting for a new leading lady, Carl meets Ann and convinces her to join his crew. She meets him at the docks, where she boards an old ship. Carl is also able to trap Driscoll on-board, where he is forced to pass the time working on the script. Carl has a map to an uncharted island which he feels will be perfect for the movie. Despite the protests of Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), the boat does make its way to Skull Island. Once there, the crew encounters natives who capture Ann and leave her for Kong, a giant ape who lives in the jungle. Kong takes Ann and Driscoll leads a search party to rescue her. The men soon learn that Skull Island is full of prehistoric surprises, but once Carl sees Kong, he is immediately convinced that people would pay a fortune to see the beast.

As with so many Fangoria readers, in the late 80s I tracked down a copy of Peter Jackson's Bad Taste and immediately became a fan. I enjoyed all of his subsequent films up until The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I didn't have anything against the films themselves -- the subject matter simply wasn't to my liking. (Although, if you've seen Clerks II, I do agree with Randall's assessment of the movies.) Nonetheless, I was glad to see Jackson getting recognition for his work and win an Oscar. Apparently, that success gave him the clout to tackle his dream project, a remake of King Kong. It also gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with the film, whether the audience like it or not.

On the surface, King Kong is an impressive film. The movie reportedly cost over $200 million to make and much of that ends up on-screen, as we view the impressive sets, landscapes, and recreations of 1930s New York. (Although, some of the blue-screen work leaves something to be desired.) The King Kong effects are top-notch and it's nearly impossible to tell when we are looking at a CG Kong or Andy Serkis in a suit. Jackson has also assembled an impressive cast for the film, and I especially like the fact that he took a chance on funnyman Jack Black in not only a serious role, but the lead in the film.

While the film is a technical marvel (it won two Oscars for sound and one for visual effects), something got lost in the storytelling and editing process. Jackson is clearly a fan of the 1933 original film, so why did his version have to be nearly twice as long. The movie spends far too much time setting up the characters and situations, and the journey to Skull Island seems never-ending. It's over an hour before we see Kong. From that point, the movie becomes a series of action scenes which go on far too long. The brontosaurus chase. The T-rex fight. The insect pit. These scenes are all engrossing at first, but then they just go on-and-on, and become mind-numbing. Once Kong makes it to New York and escapes, his travels through the streets and his fight on the Empire State Building take on this same dragged-out feel. Jackson got his start making very low-budget movies which managed to win audiences, but apparently having a ton of money in his corner has dampened his talent for making concise movies. King Kong could have been a great 2-hour movie. (The Blu-ray Disc also contains the extended cut of the film, which runs 12 minutes longer! What does it have? Kong doing laundry?)

Being a major movie fan, I try to see every popular movie. But, I'd somehow missed King Kong up until now. Now I kind of wish that I hadn't, as it's further tainted my opinion of Peter Jackson. King Kong shows that he's a master at staging action sequences which involve a lot of special effects. But, the scene where Ann does her vaudeville act to impress Kong also shows that he may have gotten out of touch with his audience.

King Kong beats its chest on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain and only one or two defects from the source material. The image has a nice crispness which really lends it a lot of depth and a very good level of detail. The colors look good, especially the green jungles, and the image is never overly dark. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Yet again, Universal proves themselves to be the best at Blu-ray sound. The stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects are constant in the movie, and this track really makes one realize how devoid of effects some tracks are. The stereo effects are detailed and show good separation. The surround sound effects are very impressive and always match the on-screen action. With all of the rampaging monsters in the movie, the subwoofer gets quite a workout, but the bass never overwhelms the other sounds.

The King Kong Blu-ray Disc only contains a few extras, all of which are only available while viewing the extended edition of the film. Director/Co-Writer/Producer Peter Jackson and Co-Writer/Producer Philippa Boyens provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY. The "U-Control" feature offers two choices; "Picture-in-Picture" offers behind-the-scenes information on the making of the film, including on-set footage, design art, and interviews with Peter Jackson (23 stops); "The Art Galleries" offers picture-in-picture paintings and concept art (11 stops).

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long