King Kong (2005)
6th April 2006
It's New York during the 'Great Depression' and a time of poverty, hunger and the beginning of the age of this new fangled thing called the skyscraper. Still, amongst all the despair, there's always somebody with plenty of money to burn. One such person is Carl Denham, a film producer who is very good at burning money - but usually somebody else's. With a pretty dire film only to show for his financiers latest investment, he's all set for financial ruin and under threat of being shutdown. And just when he thought his luck couldn't get any worse, it takes yet another downturn when his new adventure-themed picture suddenly lacks a leading lady.
But his luck changes when he happens upon Ann Darrow, a struggling and, after the unexpected closure of her theatre, an unemployed vaudeville actress. When she is faced with starvation or a sordid career in burlesque, her desperation leads her to theft. It is at this point that she meets Carl and their amazing journey begins. At first, Ann is rather hesitant to his film ideas, but as Carl struggles to convince her to join the cast of his planned film, it is only once she discovers that the highly regarded and socially established Jack Driscoll is writing the screenplay, does she agree to be the new leading lady. It's just a pity that Carl seems to overlook the fact that it's a film set on a mysterious and uncharted island to which he's just acquired a map, and not Singapore as he's claiming. Surely this mysterious island will give him the chance to save his career.
As cast and crew set off on the SS Venture, everyone is expecting a simple sailing across the sea to Singapore. However, that is until Carl gives Captain Englehorn his map and requests that they change their current heading and set sail for the mythical Skull Island. After a bit of bribery the captain finally agrees and they steam off into the unknown. However, after days of searching the captain receives a message to return to port where the authorities are waiting for for Carl. But before he can change course the ship is enveloped in dense fog and the seabed starts to rise. They've finally arrived at Skull Island. However, it soon becomes apparent that this is no ordinary island. They discover fearsome and grotesque tribe's people who attack the group and take Ann. As the team regroup, they observe a bizarre sacrificial ceremony in which Ann is given up to an unknown beast living on the island. There's nothing else for it, they need to mount a rescue mission into the island interior. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history...
The picture has a definite colour sheen to it so that it provides that authentic 1933 look. And it works well, with some rich and lush colour tones along with massive amounts of detail throughout the entire film. However, there is such a thing as overdoing it and at times the CGI graphics are taken a little bit too far. Perhaps its down to the crispness of the transfer, but when the crew are running from the CGI dinosaurs on Skull Island there's a definite hint of green screen action and/or CGI generated characters. Whilst the likes of Lord of the Rings and the new Star Wars film pushed the boundary's of CGI even further than before, there's still a little way to go yet before it all blends in seamlessly. Still, I'm sure it's a boundary which is rapidly being approached.
But there are still plenty of plus points in King Kong, and the CGI dinosaurs look particularly impressive whilst King Kong himself is a remarkable near pixel perfect achievement. It's helped along even further by the rather superb mimicry from Andy Serkis. Still, the best is saved until last as the films finale, set in the 1930's New York skyline, is absolutely break taking. Never the less, given the length of the film there needs to be a fairly high level of compression to fit it all onto one disc and, at times, compression artifacting and above average levels of grain do show themselves. Other than that, the transfer is first rate and the forthcoming Blu-ray HD discs will prove just how good a transfer it can be.
Given that the near three hour running time sucks up valuable disc capacity, there's only room for a rather compressed 384 Kbps 5.1 soundtrack. Still, that doesn't mean that's it's a poor one, after all the soundtrack did manage to win an Oscar for Best Sound and Best Sound Editing. Never the less, I would have to say that I was slightly disappointed with the overall sound quality. Mind you, I wasn't particularly impressed with the sound at the cinema either. Perhaps I've simply become accustomed to the continuous stream of overly loud Hollywood blockbusters.
The majority of the soundstage is taken up by the musical score, which remains impressive throughout, whilst the chaos on Skull Island is sufficient to give your surround system a work out with some good LFE and directional effects in the front channels. However, at times, it did sound a little too "loud" and noisy for the sake it. But, as with the picture quality, the best sound effects are saved for the finale and the melee at the top of the Empire State Building. Your surround system will be give a serious workout by the squadron of planes buzzing around the front and rear channels whilst the machine gun bullets ping around the entire soundstage. Given the superior separation of the DTS sound system, I just hope the fabled special edition will come suitable equipped.
The menu systems on both discs are nicely animated and scored and are in keeping with the subject matter. Extras wise, you've be kept busy for quite a while as you plough through the best part of three hours of extras on the second disc. However, shameless cash-ins abound with the only two extras on the first disc being a two minute featurette that goes behind the scenes of the making of the VW Touareg tie-in advertisement and a one minute Wish You Were Here - NYC trailer for the delights of New York in a film trailer style of advertisement. With more and more adverts for chocolate and heaven knows what else appearing on DVDs these days, I just hope that this isn't a terrible sign of things to come.
At nearly the same length of the main film, the various features on the supplemental are going to keep even the most ardent of film fan occupied for hours. There's far too many extras to go through in any detail here, but the main bulk of the extras are the Post-Production Diaries which complements the Production Diaries disc which is already available (and hence that tentative theory on the special edition release). This new set of diaries covers pretty much every angle of the film from completion of the principal photography right up to the premiere. There's even a short Introduction by Peter Jackson to help ease you into the next three hours worth of entertainment.
But given this amount of information, navigation could be a bit of a nightmare. Fortunately, the diaries can either be played by Date or by Department and it all hangs together surprisingly well. You can even be rather daring and play all the extras in one go too. Highlight of the extras for me was the sight of Andy Serkis in a motion-capture suit bringing Kong to life with a surprisingly amount of likeness to a real gorilla. The CGI effects were interesting too, especially the departments desperate attempts to get the trailer premier ready in just the nick of time.
And if that wasn't enough information for you, things are rounded off with the seven minute documentary Skull Island : A Natural History which, as a wildlife feature with tongue firmly lodged in cheek, looks at the remarkable life on the island and its eventual demise and return to the ocean depths. Including larges amounts of historical footage, the seven minute Kong's New York 1933 feature the looks at the history of New York during the depression and includes some of the remarkable CGI effects used to reproduce the city landscape and its people.
On the whole King Kong is a good film, but it's a film that is about thirty minutes too long, with the middle half and the exploration of Skull Island taking far too long to complete before they all return to New York. It's almost as if it was an excuse for large amounts of special effects, and sometimes they didn't pay off with some obvious green screen effects and too many creatures thrown in for the sake if it. Never the less, the computer generated New York looks absolutely stunning and the final battle on top of the Empire State Building is nothing short of amazing and worthy of the purchase alone.
So, if you missed King Kong at the cinema, or thought that your numb rear or strained bladder couldn't face up to another viewing session after the mammoth length of the Lord of the Rings films, you can do no worse that this two disc DVD set which is bursting with extras. Never the less, we all know what happened to with those two disc releases of Lord of the Rings with Peter Jackson releasing a four disc set with even more extras, including an audio commentary, and just in time for that ever so popular thing called Christmas.
The version of the film reviewed here was a preview set, with the usual copyright banner burnt into the image throughout the film, and after viewing I very nearly went ahead and purchased my very own copy. However, although nothing has been announced up to the writing of this review, you can't help to stop and wonder whether there's a special extended four disc edition with DTS sound and piles more extras on its way. After all, there's already a two disc Production Diaries DVD available separately and those special edition rumours simply won't go away.
It was the original 1933 classic version of King Kong that was Peter Jackson's inspiration to take up a career in film and it has influenced him throughout his remarkable career. So, it would only seem natural, that in 2005 he fulfilled a childhood dream of remaking this iconic classic. Where other filmmakers have failed with poor scripts and lack of imagination, with today's sophisticated film making techniques at his discretion, and the many lessons learnt during the production of the award winning The Lord of the Rings films, Jackson has managed to bring the beast of King Kong roaring in to the 21st century.
So, as with Lord of the Rings, this remarkable take on this classic tale is sure to sell by the bucket load. Never the less, if you want to save your pennies and hope for that special edition, you should still definitely consider this title for a rental. However, just make sure your friendly rental store will do it on a two day rental because you're going to need it in order to be able to plough through a three hour film and an equal length of extras!