King Kong (2005) - Deluxe Extended Edition

Genre(s): Action / Adventure / Drama / Fantasy / Thriller
Universal || NR - 381 minutes - $34.98 || November 14, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-11-13


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer(s): Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson (screenplay); Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace (story)
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis


Theatrical Release Date: December 14, 2005


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:

    Disc 1:
  • Feature Film Part 1
  • Commentary Part 1
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Eighth Blunder of the World
  • A Night at the Vaudeville
  • King Kong Homage
  • Easter Egg


  • Disc 2:
  • Feature Film Part 2
  • Commentary Part 2
  • "The Present"
  • Trailers
  • WETA Collectables
  • DVD ROM: 1996 & 2005 Scrips


  • Disc 3:
  • Intro by Peter Jackson
  • Recreating the Eighth Wonder: The Making of King Kong (8 Featurettes)
  • Conceptual Design Video Galleries


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Peter Jackson’s King Kong swept into theaters last December and nobody, save for rabid fan-boys, cared. Despite tons of marketing from Universal, the big ape only managed a disappointed $218 million domestically (though worldwide it was a respectable $550 million). The problem might’ve been over saturation, but I think the reason why it wasn’t as huge as some expected was because this was one remake that really wasn’t needed. As much as I enjoyed King Kong in the theater -- and that was the last time I saw it -- I couldn’t say that this was really necessary, and at three plus hours no less.

After a two-disc release with the theatrical version, Peter Jackson is back with this “Deluxe Extended Edition” which adds 13-minutes back in, giving the runtime on this a whopping 3 hours and 20 minutes! Yowsas. As I said, though, it’s been a while since I last saw the theatrical cut, but from what I could tell, the footage added were more jungle chase sequences as our exploration team tumble with more dinos and other strange creatures. All of that would’ve been fine if, and only if, Jackson had cut down the voyage and the needless “subplot” (if you can call it that) involving Hayes (Evan Parke) and Jimmy (Jamie Bell), as Hayes acts as a father figure; yet this has zero to do with anything and adds nothing to the plot overall.

Unfortunately, Jackson doesn’t hit a homerun like he did with the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of which actually positively expand on the story and in some ways, make it better than the theatrical version (and those were already good). This extended cut is more along the lines of the vast number of unrated editions that every other movie receives where a few minutes added back in to call it “unrated” but adds little, if any, value. On the other hand, I will say that this set is still worth purchasing, more on that later...

As for my thoughts on what was my second viewing, I remember almost falling in love with this but within only a couple of days, I felt it was certainly over bloated and could’ve used some major editing. I’ve already suggested where these cuts could’ve taken place, so I’ll leave it at that. Peter Jackson has great vision and after filming three epics at the same time, it’s obvious he has the managerial skills to pull off anything, but I think his passion for this project got in the way of putting forth what could’ve been a true classic. It could’ve been a classic that surpassed the original.

Here’s my original review:

Peter Jackson's follow-up to the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, has finally come to the big screen after lingering around for several years in Jackson's own mind. This remake was made possible due to the success (both in monetary and in accolades) of the Rings films and based on the final result, it was worth the wait with the advancements in visual and special effects. But, as for the film itself, I found it to be surprisingly emotional despite a title character whom is entirely CGI.

The King Kong adventure begins as filmmaker and producer Carl Denham (Black) is on his last ropes with the financiers of his latest project and are about to pull the plug. That's not his only trouble, though. His leading lady has dropped out and must quickly find her replacement... He finds her after running into the lovely and sorrowful Ann Darrow (Watts; The Ring) who is, like most during the era, unemployed and desperate enough for one. Her initial misgivings of working on a movie on such short notice is quashed after finding out the screenplay was (or, in reality, will be) written by the dashing Jack Driscoll (Brody) whom she is a fan of.

With police in hot pursuit, Denham and company make the voyage, unbeknownst to most, to the uncharted and mysterious Skull Island. On board are the usual suspects: a sultry cook (Serkis), the ominously strange captain (Kretschmann), a snoopy deck hand (Bell) as well as members of the film crew like Denham's assistant (Hanks) and the film's leading man, Bruce Baxter (Chandler).

Once on Skull Island, after a treacherous voyage, they encounter various unique people and creatures, all of which don't have well meaning for the crew. If you don't know the original 1933 Kong story, basically what happens next is boiled down to Ann, in a sacrificial move by the natives, is offered up to Kong, but something in Ann mesmerizes the great ape and later, she too is infatuated as well. Anyhow, despite these obstacles, and loss of life (this large of a cast, you know people are dino food...), Denham is determined to make his movie. For those who don't know what happens next, I'll stop as the rest of the story is in fact straight-forward and I'd like to keep some mystery to it for some.

I'll start with some of the "bad" aspects of the film. First, I believe director Peter Jackson, who did an amazing job translating Tolkien's classic books, needed this time to exercise some constraint. The voyage part goes for about an hour and features background on characters that didn't need it. For instance, there's a character played by Bell who was picked up by the ship's crew who uses Parke as a father figure, adding to the drama later on. Now, I can appreciate what Jackson was trying to do, trying to show the emotion involved with their quest to rescue Ann and the toll it takes, but in the end, it might not have been worth it.

Secondly, I thought the casting of Adrien Brody and, in particular, Jack Black, weren't on the ball as Naomi Watts. While both are very good in their own right, Brody and Black needed either deeper characters or someone else was needed entirely to play the parts. Now, I don't have as much of a problem with Brody since it could be argued his character was malnourished from the beginning, but Jack Black and his odd expressions did not mesh. The Denham character is supposed to be smarmy but I didn't see that with him. Instead, I saw a comic actor trying to act more serious than he is. Perhaps -- since I like to point out someone whom I believe might've been better -- someone more along with the lines of a Phillip Seymour Hoffman instead.

Now to what worked: For the most part, the visual and special effects are magnificent. From Kong and Ann's sunset, Kong himself to the final assault on King Kong, each effect works effectively together and is not used as a crutch with the story. Much like Gollum, Kong indeed looks alive and is portrayed like a real character, thanks in good part to Andy Serkis.

But the best part, in my humble opinion, is Naomi Watts' performance, one that perhaps is worthy of an Academy Award nomination (though, to be fair, I believe it's a weak year so...). Award potential aside, Watts alongside Kong, portrays well the sadness and drama even though in it's essence, King Kong is a summer action blockbuster, NOT an Oscar drama.

As much as I liked and enjoyed King Kong, I can't help but think about the flaws and not the good stuff days after seeing it (I saw it 3 days ago now). But, despite these flaws, King Kong is still a fine achievement in filmmaking, maybe not on the same level as Lord of the Rings, but still enjoyable and worthwhile none-the-less. No, it isn't perfect, but what's there is still great.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

The 3-disc set has the feature film spread across two discs (not unlike the Lord of the Rings releases) with a third disc carrying the bulk of the features. I do find it both strange and disappointing that Universal didn’t provide a DTS mix and just add a fourth disc to carry over the features on discs 1 and 2. What follows is a rundown of the features in the order they appear on the set.



Director/Co-Writer/Producer & Co-Writer/Co-Producer Commentary - Director Peter Jackson and Co-writer Philippa Boyens are the only participants for the three-hour voyage and although it could’ve been a bit livelier, the two still manage to provide some insight, albeit obvious (what scenes were animatronic, green screen, etc). Jackson tries to stay away from material already covered and for the most part, he does. I do find it strange that with a film with this much CGI work, the people at WETA were not included (not to mention the cast, especially Andy Serkis). Also missing was co-writer Fran Walsh, though I don’t know how much she would’ve added to the conversation.

DISC 1:
Deleted Scenes (37:24) - There are 16 scenes all told and can be viewed all at once, individually, with introductions from Peter Jackson or all at once with the intros. There’s also an overview intro where Jackson explains why certain scenes were not included in this extended cut. Out of these 16 deleted scenes, many seem to take place on the voyage and being of the mind that was the weak link in the picture, it was a good thing these were chopped. But, the one that stands out is the scene shown in the teaser trailers where Anne (Watts) screams and Kong’s roar is heard. Another one that was interesting is a hostile dynamic between Denham (Black) and Preston (Hanks). Some of the scenes or sequences were unfinished so it was cool seeing them without the visual effects, to see them raw.

The Eighth Blunder of the World (18:49) - This extra long blooper reel showcases flubbed lines or prop malfunctions and even some shenanigans behind the scenes with the crew. Not the funniest reel I’ve seen, but still quite fun (with Jack Black leading the way).

A Night at the Vaudeville (12:02) - A behind the scenes look at the Vaudeville performers who are briefly featured in the film. Some include an apple juggler, boxing ballerinas and the Fabulous Dennis Brothers. More throw away material than anything, but shows they wanted to get every aspect of the production for this DVD.

King Kong Homage (9:52) - Probably the more interesting of this set has various members of the crew, including Jackson, talking and comparing the different elements between this 2005 version versus the 1933 one. They specifically included various lines or shots as a way to honor the original while still making this different.

DISC 2:
Pre-Visualization Animatics (30:06) - Four pre-vis shots that can be played either with or without music. “Arrival to Skull Island”, “Bronto Stampede”, “T-Rex Fight” and “Empire State Building Battle” are the focus with the latter getting the pre-vis to screen comparison shots. This will only interest the completist out there who is fascinated about the process.

“The Present” (9:25) - During production, Peter Jackson celebrated his birthday and as a present members of the cast shot a short film as each try to take a nicely wrapped gift using dirty tactics. Fun little piece, although Jackson in the intro wouldn’t reveal what was in the box...

Rounding out this disc are teaser, theatrical and Cinemedia Trailers. The latter one looks like was shown in theaters, one of those glimpse behind-the-scenes featurettes made to played before a movie.

Also, for those with a DVD-ROM, you can read both the 1996 and 2005 scripts by Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh. The two are so far a part in tone that it’s quite an amazing read.

DISC 3:
Introduction by Peter Jackson (2:30) - The director gives a short opening going through where to find the various features and that these are far more in-depth than what has been previously released (i.e. production diaries). There’s a bit of redundancy as he covers the same material in another intro on the first disc.

Recreating the Eighth Wonder: The Making of King Kong (3:05:25)
+ The Origins of “King Kong” (16:35) - Takes us from the start in 1996 after Peter Jackson had filmed The Frighteners for Universal, they offered him the choice of remaking two films: The Creature from the Blue Lagoon or King Kong. Being a fan of the original, he jumped at the chance. Throughout this, he shows us the models he made of Kong at the age of 12 and even made a model of the top of the Empire State Building. He abandoned the project since he realized it never would be what he wanted, but the original King Kong made him want to be a director. So, for several months, the still new members of WETA went to work on making models for this Kong until Universal shut production down because they feared this would become the #3 movie behind Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young.

They also talk a little more about the old script, that it had more of a Mummy tone to it. Wrapping it up, it was because of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy that was the reason this version was made, so hindsight being 20/20, Jackson and the rest are glad it was scrapped. It allowed the once yound WETA team the opportunity to grow and master the art of visual effects they are now so famous for.



+ Pre-Production Parts 1 & 2 (42:19) - Even though the menu has these split up, part one actual contains both parts. Part one is about 26-minutes, part two around 16-minutes. The real meat of this set I would say is contained here beginning with a tour of the Empire State Building with various crew members, as well as Naomi Watts, who travel to the very top (where not many have gone before) where the radio tower stands (and the energy effects Jackson’s camera).

There’s also a segment covering Jackson and Watts meeting Fay Wray, the actress who originally played Ann Darrow. Wray later died before they could film her planned cameo where she would utter the famous last lines. It’s obvious that the meeting with Wray was important to Jackson as she was, by his account, his first crush.

The rest cover various aspects from design meetings with establishing looks of the dinosaurs amongst many other creatures and sets: 700+ different designs and over 5,000 conceptual art paintings! It’s also revealed pre-visualization was done before a script had been finished since Jackson and others were still at work on The Return of the King. For filming, they had to build a new sound stage large enough to do what they needed, so within a short amount of time, the sound stage named “Kong Stage”, was built.

The second parts begins with the arrival of the cast to New Zealand where they undergo make-up and costume tests or, in the case of Watts, dancing lessons (in which the scene was never used in either version). Following that are many training sessions from working on a boat (steering, knots, balancing, etc), “cookery” lessons for Serkis and guns (using the Tommy Gun). Plus there are script read-through, production schedule meetings and the start of the production diaries.

+ The Venture Journey (22:02) - Takes the viewer from buying the actual boat, which contained a shipload of frozen tuna, to modifying it to make it bigger and more in style with the early 20th century rather than mid 50s and then cleaning it up and make it sailable. This large vessel would be used for sea shots while miniatures were created for the stunts and the deck was built on a back lot for other scenes. Large dump tanks filled with water serve as waves splashing onboard and in one instance, Serkis actually fell overboard into a net (there to catch the items the cast threw overboard). Lastly, they use what is called a Fluid Simulation to get the look of the waves as they react to the boat.

+ Return to Skull Island (30:02) - This half-hour featurette focuses solely on the shooting on “Skull Island” from conceptual drawings to the creation of sets, using real insects in this façade jungle and creating the Skull Island natives (make-up tests, costume design; assembling a variety of players). Then we move onto the monsters, taking real dinosaurs but changing them a bit or actually making up a new species through different stages (like the Pit Slug that was described as a “penis with teeth”). They also utilized designs made for the ’96 project and put them in this version.

Finally they end with the cast going through various green screen actions such as running on a treadmill (simulating being chased by the dinos) and getting scanned for the computer (aka Digital Double Scan). The last part shows the crew monitoring what happens with each character, if and how each dies or how long they live for.

+ New York, New Zealand (25:53) - Since Kong takes place in 1930s New York, they couldn’t film in today’s NYC so Jackson and company decided to create this in Wellington where they do massive amounts of research into everything from the colors and lighting of the era to the popular cars. But the hard part, and one I rarely realize, is the amount of effort they go through to get the New York landscape right. They do this by getting statistical information about when each building was built, through a computer colorize the one’s made before 1933, and erase the ones after. Then, using a custom program to save time, it would fill in the spaces using set variables about what kind of architecture and other elements. All told, there were 100,000 plus 3D buildings rendered.

It doesn’t end there, however. They then use blueprints to recreate famous buildings, including the Empire State Building, which took more time to render than the actual construction. It all wraps up with a look at cameos with Jackson and Frank Darabont as gunner pilots during the climatic ending.

+ Bringing Kong to Life Parts 1 & 2 (47:45) - Here you will learn just about everything you wanted to concerning the actual creation of King Kong. The first stage is research of real guerillas and their social habits and starting there, they mold Kong’s personality of being lonely and the last of his kind. Next is the look which Peter Jackson had a something more specific in mind that took time for the sculptors to come up with something that met his approval. Jackson wanted Kong to be ugly, a brute and scary. He wanted Kong’s history to be laid out on his face. Ultimately the basis of Kong came from a pet pug that was an inbred and had odd features. From there, the clay sculpture moved to animation and tests to find if the way he was created was possible to move and through time, his features changed. Interestingly, there was a difference in Kong in the trailer versus the final film as they didn’t have much time to change it.

After these steps were taken, then it came time for the man who would be Kong, Andy Serkis to step in. After taking on Gollum for Lord of the Rings, he found playing Kong to be much harder. Before any filming, Serkis studied the guerillas in the zoo and actually made a trip to Rwanda, to see them in the wild. Returning, he worked on the movements and worked alongside Watts to help the performances and after practical shooting, it was time for motion capture.

The featurette finishes up with WETA working on the computer animation using Serkis’ motion capture stuff and when that wasn’t working for them, animating from scratch. It was fascinating to watch this one, getting to see how much work it took to bring Kong to life.

The third disc also includes 40-minutes of Conceptual Design Video Galleries on the 1996 King Kong, the Venture, Skull Island, New York and Kong.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

King Kong is presented in beautiful anamorphic widescreen, 2.35 aspect ratio. It looks great all around with Jackson’s use of lush visuals and the texture from Kong to the massive sets. No surprise, of course, but still a great transfer.

If there’s one disappointment on this set, it is the audio. Why didn’t Universal provide a DTS track, or was this Jackson’s decision? The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is perfectly suitable, but I have to crank up the volume for the dialogue and some of the major action sequences. DTS would’ve presented much more depth and with a film of this scope, it would’ve been nice. As it stands, Dolby Digital is fine, but I wanted more.



.::OVERALL::.

If you’re thinking of getting this because of how great the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and of the single DVDs) releases were, think again. I have no problem saying the features here are great, because they are certainly better than most releases, but compared to the LOTR, it didn’t seem to have nearly the same depth. The presentation wasn’t as great either, however, if you’re like me and enjoy the nuances of the making of a movie, then you won’t go wrong plucking down $25-30 for this set.