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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Warner Home Video
4K UHD Released: 7/18/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/11/2017

I'm always honest in my reviews and I'm going to be honest again here -- I'm not a fan of King Kong. The 1933 version is...well, it's a really old movie that has some good ideas, but is hopelessly dated today. Peter Jackson's 2005 remake is a bloated oddity which includes giant ape ice-skating. Of the various attempts, I would have to say that the 1976 one had the most impact on me, most likely because, due to bad parenting, my sister took me to see it in the theater when I was way too young. Having said all of that, I expected very little from Kong: Skull Island, the latest stab at bringing the great ape to the big-screen and something which, in my opinion, no one was asking for. Little did I know what I was in for.

The year is 1973. Monarch director Bill Randa (John Goodman) convinces the government to fund an expedition to "Skull Island", a mysterious piece of land which has shown up in satellite photos. Randa is able to procure the services of an U.S. Army helicopter team, lead by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), which has just left Vietnam. Jungle tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) round out Randa's core team. This group, along with a unit from a company called LandSat, depart from an aircraft carrier and breach the bizarre weather pattern which surrounds the island. Once there, Randa deploys seismic charges in order to map the island. This awakens a gigantic ape which attacks the helicopters. Now trapped on the island, the group must make their way to the rendezvous point while avoiding the nightmarish creatures which dot the land.

As far as I was concerned, Kong: Skull Island had a lot of factors working against it. Again, not a Kong fan. Secondly, the movie was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who had previously directed The Kings of Summer. And while I love that movie (if you haven't seen it, see it), nothing in it indicates that Vogt-Roberts should helm a huge tentpole movie. Lastly, did we really need another Kong movie? Haven't the previous installments garnered enough mixed reviews to last a lifetime?

Unlike many other movies, it appears that some planning actually went into Kong: Skull Island and someone (presumably one of the four writers involved in the project and probably Vogt-Roberts as well) looked at the other incarnations of Kong and got rid of the stuff which doesn't work. Gone is the "showman" angle where the goal was to take Kong back to New York. All of the action takes place on Skull Island, so we don't get that inevitable lull in the middle. In fact, there are very few lulls here, as the action is pretty much non-stop. Also gone is the "Beauty and the Beast" angle. There is a moment where Kong pays some attention to Mason, but otherwise that subplot is gone. Some of the same events which we've come to know in the other movies do happen, but not in the familiar order, which adds more novelty to this movie.

Instead of being called a "remake" or a "re-imaging", Kong: Skull Island should simply be called "an improvement". The movie has some minor faults, but what we essentially have here is an ingenious combination of the Kong mythos combined with elements of Aliens and Jurassic Park (and a dash of The Mist as well). Setting the film in 1973 wasn't necessarily a necessity, but it creates an environment in which the military presence and Packard's attitude make perfect sense. The movie doesn't skimp on the Kong, as we get a glimpse in the opening scene and he's very visible once the group reaches the island. The action sequences are very well-done, as is the creature design on the other monsters which live on the island. The cast is solid and there is a nice amount of comic relief which feels very organic and not tacked-on. This last piece flies i the face of the film's unflinching brutality -- ie: not many people survive here.

In the event that you can't tell, I was Kong: Skull Island completely caught me off guard. This is definitely one of my favorite movies of the year so far. The combination of a solid story and constant action makes for a rousing time. Again, many things are changed here, but I don't think that it will offend long-time Kong fans. Of course, all of this is a set-up for Kong to meet Godzilla, and I hope that they do so in a movie which is more Kong: Skull Island and less Godzilla.

Kong: Skull Island features "Me" from Me, Earl and the Dying Girl on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 55 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look excellent, most notably the greens of the island, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very impressive, as we can see the work which went into creating Kong's fur. The depth looks nice in this 2D version, as the landscape shots have a lot of scope. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos (7.1) audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences abound with surround, as we are treated to many sounds coming from off-screen. The subwoofer effects are strong and consistent, as each one of Kong's steps pounds the bass channel. The stereo effects do a fantastic job of alerting us to things happening off-screen.

Warner Home Video has also brought Kong Skull Island to Blu-ray 3D in a separate release. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an MVC 1080p HD 3D transfer which runs at an average of 23/11 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, although there is some mild blurring of the background at times. The picture displays a nice brightness and the colors, again the greens, look good. The depth is very good for the most part, although some shots look no different from the 2D version. There isn't much in the way of things popping out of the screen, but there is some excellent multi-plane action here. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track offers some noticeable surround sound and subwoofer effects, but it simply doesn't have the presence or the detail of the Atmos track found on the 4K UHD release.

The lone extra on the Kong: Skull Island 4K UHD is an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. The remainder of the extras are found on the Blu-ray Disc included here. "Creating a King" has two sub-sections. "Realizing an Icon" (12 minutes) has Roberts and others discussing the lineage of King Kong and the approach to updating the story. "Summoning a God" (13 minutes) focuses on the look of this new Kong and the creation of the character, including a nice amount of concept art. "On Location: Vietnam" (6 minutes) shows the cast and crew arriving in Vietnam and the on-location work in some exotic locales. "Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler" (7 minutes) has the actor describing working in Hawaii and Vietnam. We also get some comments from Larson here. "Through the Lens: Brie Larson's Photography" (2 minutes) shows that Larson was actually taking pictures in the movie and we get to see the pictures. "Monarch Files 2.0" (8 minutes) is a series of short videos which give more information on the mysterious group from the film. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. All of these moments are brief and don't include any new characters or subplots.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long