DVD REVIEW: KING KONG DELUXE EXTENDED EDITION
KING KONG DELUXE EXTENDED EDITION
Running Time: 201 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Release Date: November 14, 2006
Few movies have had the impact of the original KING KONG. Merian C. Cooper— working with co-director Ernest B. Shoedsack, special effects wizard Willis O’Brien, and a talented cast headlined by Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong— had crafted a “Beauty and the Beast” fable full of adventure, romance, and dinosaurs; a perfect (if temporary) escape for audiences reeling from the Great Depression. The RKO Radio Picture was a box office sensation upon its initial release in March of 1933, and audiences and critics alike praised the story and state-of-the-art fx. Seven decades later, KING KONG is ranked #43 among the American Film Institute’s “Best Films of the 20th Century”.
KING KONG would also influence the movie industry and inspire generations of filmmakers. Perhaps the first and most notable example would be Ray Harryhausen, who saw KONG at the age of twelve and decided to follow in the footsteps of Willis O’Brien. Harryhausen eventually worked with O’Brien on the original MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), and then went on to create the visual effects for such films as THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), and THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973). KING KONG was reissued in 1952 and, combined with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, launched a wave of “giant monster on the loose” movies the spread around the world. In early 1954, Toho Studios producer Tomoyuki Tanaka approached his boss Iwao Mori with the idea to do a film about “a monster that invades Tokyo the way King Kong attacked New York.” Tanaka’s idea became GODZILLA (Gojira, 1954), a film that itself spawned dozens of sequels and imitations.
In 1969, a young New Zealander named Peter Jackson saw KING KONG for the first time on television. As with Ray Harryhausen three and a half decades before, seeing KING KONG set the course of Jackson’s life. “No film has captivated my imagination more than KING KONG,” he said. “I’m making movies today because I saw this film when I was 9 years old. It has been my sustained dream to reinterpret this classic for a new age.”
Jackson was not as impressed with Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 remake: “I was 15 when that film came out. I took the day off school, went into Wellington and was first in line to see it. It was a disappointment because I wanted it to have stop-motion animation, dinosaurs, and the Empire state Building. I didn’t like the updating of it, and it has dated very badly. I thought Jeff Bridges was excellent, John Barry’s score was very good, and Rick Baker did a sterling job in that heavy monkey suit he was wearing. But it was kind of kitsch and it wasn’t the KONG that I saw when I was nine.”
Peter Jackson started his film career with low budget, entertaining splatter movies like BAD TASTE (1987) and BRAINDEAD (US title DEAD ALIVE, 1992). The director moved into (somewhat) more mainstream fare with the Oscar nominated HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994), a true-crime story starring Kate Winslet (TITANIC) and Melanie Lynskey (TWO AND A HALF MEN). While working on the Michael J. Fox horror-comedy THE FRIGHTENERS (1996), Jackson was approached by Universal with an offer to remake either THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) or KING KONG. Jackson leapt at the chance to realize his life’s dream, and immediately put his production team to work on the story and concept designs for a new KING KONG.
Universal had a change of heart when Walt Disney Pictures announced that they were remaking MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and Sony Pictures finally began moving forward with their long-delayed GODZILLA remake. Realizing that their KING KONG would be the third giant monster (and second giant ape) movie to hit theaters, Universal pulled the plug on the film. Jackson was tremendously disappointed, but turned his attention to making THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. THE LORD OF THE RINGS series (2001-2003) was a worldwide smash, earning nearly $3 billion and winning multiple Oscars (including Best Director and Best Picture for THE RETURN OF THE KING). With MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1998) and GODZILLA (1998) over and already fading from memory, Universal again offered KING KONG to Peter Jackson.
For dozens of photos and a detailed look at the making of the film, please see the KING KONG PRODUCTION NOTES from Universal Studios.
Jackson’s KING KONG premiered on December 14, 2005. The film did well (if not overwhelmingly so) at the US box office, bringing in just over $218 million during its theatrical run. International sales increased KONG’s box office take to $550 million… a strong return on the $207 million production budget. The 2-Disc DVD went on sale on March 28, 2006. In the initial week of release more than 7 million copies of the KING KONG DVD were sold, breaking a Universal record and earning $100 million for the studio. DVD rentals over the first three months also brought in an additional $38 mil. By the summer of 2006, KING KONG had made nearly $700 million.
The incredible DVDs sales of the 2-Disc KING KONG convinced Universal Studios Home Entertainment to allow Peter Jackson to create a director’s cut for DVD. The end result is the 3-Disc KING KONG DELUXE EXTENDED EDITION, which was released earlier this month. The new DVD is the definitive version of the film, marred only by poor packaging (a clamshell case that requires Disc 2 to be removed in order to access Disc 3). The discs deliver the goods, presenting KING KONG in top quality with a wealth of informative and entertaining extra features.
To preserve optimal picture and sound quality, the extended edition of KING KONG is split over two DVDs (a common practice for longer films such as GONE WITH THE WIND, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE GODFATHER PART 2, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS Extended Editions). Universal’s decision to break the film in two parts was a wise one, because KING KONG looks and sounds fantastic. Disc 1 features the first 80 minutes of KING KONG, which ends with “intermission music” in the tradition of classic theatrical screenings. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and features English, French, and Spanish audio tracks in both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital. There are 29 chapters, with new and extended scenes marked with an asterix.
As was the case with THE LORD OF THE RINGS Extended Editions, the longer version of KING KONG plays better than the theatrical cut. Most of the additional footage takes place on Skull Island and creates a sense of energy and improved pacing that many feel was lost during the long sea voyage at the beginning of the film. Chapter 24, “Ceratops Attack” (running time: 2:45) is the first major addition to the film. As the crew of the SS Venture sets out to rescue Ann, they are attacked by a large ceratopsian dinosaur (similar to Triceratops) called Ferrucutus. The sequence is fast paced and relatively brief, working as a much better introduction to the dinosaurs of Skull Island than the long Brontosaur stampede (which follows on Disc 2). The Ceratops attack is the equivalent to the Stegosaur charge in the 1933 film… even ending with the dinosaur’s tail twitching in its death throes.
The film comes with a Feature Commentary by Peter Jackson and co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens. The pair has a lot of experience with commentaries so they discuss KING KONG in a relaxed, conversational style that still conveys a great deal of information about the film.
Disc 1 also includes THE KING KONG ARCHIVES; the first selection of supplemental features.
DELETED SCENES: Peter Jackson introduces 16 deleted scenes. Highlights include “Jack Has Doubts About Ann”, a more serious take on the characters’ first meeting; “Dancing A Jig”, the complete Ann/Jimmy dance that is only shown briefly in the finished film… this bit includes a nice song by Choy; “Scream For Your Life, Ann!”, the initial version of the crew’s landing on Skull Island, this scene was featured in the trailer; “The Venture Escapes”, a fist fight between Denham and Englehorn; “Original Insect Pit Opening”; “Kong Chases Jack’s Cab”, which has an extra bit where Kong and Driscoll face off; and “Kong Versus The Army”, where Kong tears into some soldiers when they try to take Ann from him. Many of the deleted scenes were cut early in production and remain unfinished with incomplete fx. Including introductions, this feature runs 46 minutes.
THE EIGHTH BLUNDER OF THE WORLD: An 18:52 blooper reel of mistakes, flubbed lines, and footage of the cast and crew goofing around and having fun. All the main players— including Kong— have their moments, but Jack Black is the main focus with a myriad of blown lines, adlibs, and a good imitation of STAR WARS’ Darth Maul. Some of the material is very funny, particularly a bit where an off-screen Black explains Ann’s motivation to Naomi Watts.
THE MISSING PRODUCTION DIARY: An “Easter Egg” about the male actors becoming addicted to watching themselves on the Monitor Playback. It’s a fun idea, but goes on a little too long. Running time: 8 minutes
A NIGHT IN VAUDEVILLE: A 12 minute featurette on the vaudeville acts that are seen at the beginning of the film. The performances of the Fabulous Dennis Brothers and the other acts are shown in their entirety.
KING KONG HOMAGE: An excellent, detailed look at the references, shots, lines of dialogue, props, and music from the original KING KONG that appear in the new version. The featurette exemplifies the filmmakers’ love for the 1933 classic, and includes some funny moments like a discussion about a stain on an original native drum (Adrien Brody suspects it came from a Pinks hotdog, a reference most Angelinos will recognize). Running time: 10 minutes
The second half (or so) of KING KONG begins shortly before the Brontosaur stampede and runs 119:37 minutes. There are 53 chapters, and the continuation of the Feature Commentary by Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens.
The remainder of the film features a number of extended scenes, including more of Kong rampaging through the native village, Kong battling the military in Manhattan, and a capper to the spider pit sequence that provides a better resolution the much maligned Hayes/Jimmy storyline. Perhaps the best extended scene comes when a general tells his men (all of whom are played by KING KONG’s computer animation crew) how much he hates apes… the performance is so over-the-top it draws comparisons to Samuel Jackson’s big moment in the shark movie DEEP BLUE SEA (1999).
The two completely new scenes are Chapter 36 “Encountering The Moa Bird” (running time: 1:34), in which the crew fears they may have accidentally killed Ann, and Chapter 35 “The Swamp Journey” (5:48). While rafting across a swamp, the crew is attacked by 2 foot-long water scorpions and a large eel-like beast called a Piranhadon. The creature moves like lightning, picking off and devouring several men. An updating of the river crossing from the 1933 KING KONG, “The Swamp Journey” is a thrilling and welcome addition to the film, and provides some rare (if self-serving) heroics from Carl Denham.
THE KING KONG ARCHIVES
PRE-VISUALIZATION ANIMATICS: Rough computer animation, created to work out complicated or fx-heavy scenes before filming, is shown for four sequences: “Arrival At Skull Island” (4:17); “Bronto Stampede” (6:32); “T-Rex Fight” (9:52), and “Empire State Building Battle” (9:27). As the first pass at these scenes, the animatics include shots that did not make it into the final film. “Empire State Building Battle” can also be watched as a split screen comparison with the completed sequence as seen in the film.
THE PRESENT (9:25) is a funny short film done by the cast as part of a birthday gift for Peter Jackson. Much like the blooper reel, this extra shows that the cast and crew enjoyed their time on KING KONG.
TRAILERS includes the Teaser with early fx that were redone for the film (2:32), the Theatrical Trailer (2:56), and the Cinemedia Trailer that promotes both the new film and Warner Bros. DVD release of the original KING KONG (2:42).
WETA COLLECTIBLES is a look at all the KING KONG products designed and sculpted by the fx crew of the movie. Running time: 5:17
1996 AND 2005 SCRIPTS: The scripts for the 2005 KING KONG and the unfilmed 1996 version can be viewed or printed out on a PC.
The third disc completely focuses on THE KING KONG ARCHIVES. The main feature is RECREATING THE EIGHTH WONDER, a 186 minute-long documentary on the making of KING KONG. Nearly every aspect of the production is detailed through interviews and behind-the-scenes footage… a partial list of contents includes Jackson’s aborted 1996 version; a tour of the Empire State Building; Jackson and Watts’ meeting with Fay Wray; the work involved with designing the creatures and world of Kong; the casting; training the cast at sea; making the various SS Ventures; revising the script; creating the miniatures and building the sets; the natives of Skull Island; the spider pit; building and recreating 1933 New York City; designing and creating the new Kong; Andy Serkis’ trip to Rwanda to research gorilla behavior in the wild; Kong’s vocalizations; Naomi Watts and Andy Serkis working together to create the connection between Ann and Kong; the motion capture of Kong; and the final computer animation. For the end credits a completed version of “Kong”, the song Jack Black sang at the 2005 San Diego Comic Con, is performed by Jack Black and Lobo Chan. RECREATING THE EIGHTH WONDER is an excellent “making of” feature, and is worth the price of the DVD alone.
Rounding out the set is the CONCEPTUAL DESIGN VIDEOS GALLERIES, slide shows of production art for the 2005 and 1996 KING KONGs. The combined running time for “The Venture”, “Skull Island”, “New York”, and “Kong” is 41 minutes.
The KING KONG DELUXE EXTENDED EDITION is highly recommended for fans of the movie or anyone interested in learning about the efforts behind a large-scale fx picture.
KING KONG ON DVD
King Kong has been the subject of numerous remakes, sequels, spin-offs, and knock-offs. Check out the following DVD titles for official and authorized Kong productions…
KING KONG: PETER JACKSON’S PRODUCTION DIARIES (2005)
A 2-disc set collecting the first 54 video diaries detailing the making of the new KING KONG for the great fan website Kong Is King. The DVDs come packaged with a 52 page book of drawings, photographs, images and notes from Peter Jackson, plus 4 production art prints. Running Time: 216 Minutes, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, SRP: $39.98
KING KONG 2-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (2005)
2-disc set with the 188 minute theatrical cut of KING KONG. The main feature is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The supplements include an introduction by Peter Jackson, the Volkswagen Toureg commercial featuring King Kong, POST-PRODUCTION DIARIES: two and a half hours of behind the scenes footage covering virtually every aspect of post-production, KONG’S NEW YORK, 1933: a look at vaudeville, the skyscraper boom, the construction of the Empire State building and more (28 min), and SKULL ISLAND- A NATURAL HISTORY: a faux documentary about the natives, dinosaurs, and creatures that inhabit Kong’s island (17 min). Universal Studios Home Entertainment, SRP: $30.98
Also available in Fullscreen and Widescreen Single-Disc Editions for $29.98 ea. The only extra on the one-disc version is the Volkswagen Toureg commercial.
KING KONG Collector’s Edition (1933)
The 1933 masterpiece was the most-requested title in the history of Warner Home Video, so the company decided to pull out all the stops for the DVD. KING KONG has been newly restored, digitally remastered, and includes a commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston with archival interviews with Kong’s creator Merian C. Cooper, co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack, and actors Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. The DVD is available in a variety of formats; a 2-Disc Special Edition with the 2005 documentary I’M KING KONG!: THE EXPLOITS OF MERIAN C. COOPER, theatrical trailers for eight of Cooper’s movies, the 2 and half hour long/7-part documentary RKO PRODUCTION 601: THE MAKING OF KING KONG, and test footage for Willis O’Brien’s unmade CREATION. The Collector’s Tin [pictured] comes with the 2-Disc Special Edition, a reproduction of the original 1933 souvenir program, and postcard reproductions of KING KONG posters for $35.99. THE KING KONG COLLECTION contains the 2-Disc SE packaged with Cooper and Schoedsack’s SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. There is also a Single-Disc Edition for $14.98
SON OF KONG (1933)
Fast-talking promoter Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is blamed for King Kong’s swath of death and destruction. Hounded out of New York City, he decides to put together a cargo business in the East Indies with Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). The pair is sidetracked in Dakang by a stranded singer (Helen Mack) and the villainous Hellstrom (John Marston), the man who originally sold the map of Skull Island to Denham. Trying to avoid the authorities, Hellstrom convinces Denham and Englehorn that there is a treasure hidden on King Kong’s old home… and soon the group is face to face with angry natives, dinosaurs, prehistoric beasts, and the lovable, lonely Son of Kong.
Quickly made to cash in on the tremendous success of KING KONG, SON OF KONG lacks the pulse-pounding cliffhanger thrills of its predecessor but has some genuine charms of its own. Much of the original crew and cast (including director Schoedsack, executive producer Merian C. Cooper, writer Ruth Rose, and composer Max Steiner) returned for this sweet-natured, whimsical adventure-fantasy, and KING KONG stop-motion wizard Willis O’Brien once again supervised the visual effects and animated Little Kong and the other creatures. SON OF KONG runs 69 minutes, is presented in the original Academy aspect ratio (1.33:1) and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, and comes with the theatrical trailer. Warner Home Video, SRP: $19.98
KING KONG VS GODZILLA/KING KONG ESCAPES 2-Pack (1962/1967)
In 1960, legendary stop-motion artist Willis O’Brien approached producer John Beck about doing a sequel to the original KING KONG entitled “King Kong vs Frankenstein”. Beck promptly removed O’Brien from the project and pitched the idea to studios in the US and Italy before approaching Toho Studios in Japan. Recognizing that a battle with the Eighth Wonder of the World would be the perfect comeback vehicle for Godzilla, Toho replaced Kong’s opponent with their own King of the Monsters. Released as part of Toho’s 30th Anniversary Celebration, KING KONG VS GODZILLA was a massive hit, selling more than 11 million tickets in Japan and establishing Godzilla as a franchise character. The cast includes an eclectic mix of genre stars, comedy actors and Toho starlets — including actress Mie Hama, who holds the unique honor of playing love interests for both King Kong and James Bond (she costarred with Sean Connery in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE).
Before selling US rights to Universal-International, Beck jettisoned most of the comedy, characterization, and Akira Ifukube’s incredible score in favor of newly-shot scenes featuring Michael Keith, James Yagi, and Harry Halcombe explaining the onscreen events to music lifted from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Despite constant rumors to the contrary, one thing not changed for the US release was the film’s ending — it is the same as in the Japanese version.
Toho’s second Kong feature began when producers Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass approached Toho Studios about making a live-action film based on their American animated series THE KING KONG SHOW. When the first script idea, “King Kong vs Ebirah: Operation Robinson Crusoe” was rejected by Rankin, Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had it reworked into GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER. The second attempt was approved and filmed as KING KONG ESCAPES.
The two Japanese Kong films are packaged together in a reasonably priced set. Since Universal originally acquired KING KONG VS GODZILLA and KING KONG ESCAPES from their American co-producers, not Toho, they never owned the Japanese versions of either film. The DVDs include the American edits/dubs, presented in the widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced, and in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Both films look great; the print quality of KING KONG VS GODZILLA is far superior to the $50.00 Region 2 DVD from Japan. The combined running time is 187 minutes. Universal Studios Home Entertainment, SRP: $19.98
KING KONG: THE ANIMATED SERIES Volumes 1 and 2 (1966)
THE KING KONG SHOW premiered on the ABC television network on September 10, 1966. Based on the 1933 film, the cartoon series was created by Rankin/Bass Productions, the studio behind such classic holiday specials as SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN and RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. The show followed the adventures of Professor Bond and his children Susan and Bobby, who meet and befriend the legendary giant ape on tropical Mondo Island. Over the course of 26 episodes, King Kong and the Bond family encountered a variety of threats– dinosaurs, aliens, monsters, and men– including the recurring villains Dr Who and his robot creation Mechani-Kong.
The first ten half hour episodes of THE KING KONG SHOW are collected on two DVDs (sold separately). The running time for each DVD is 108 minutes. Each episode is in the original fullscreen (1.33:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0. SRP is $12.98 per volume.
KING KONG (1976)
Producer Dino De Laurentiis and director John Guillermin’s $24 million remake of KING KONG has some strong moments, a good cast headlined by Jeff Bridges (THE BIG LEWBOWSKI), Charles Grodin (MIDNIGHT RUN), and future Oscar winner Jessica Lange, plus a great score by John Barry (the James Bond series), but ultimately misses the mark due to campy dialogue (from BATMAN television series writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr.), hit-and-miss visual effects, and a disappointing lack of dinosaurs. De Laurentiis rejected the idea of using stop-motion animation, instead opting for an expensive 40 foot tall robot Kong that was so unrealistic it was used for less than a minute onscreen. The filmmakers tried to hide that fact by claiming that the majority of Kong’s scenes (performed by fx artist Rick Baker in a good ape suit) were done with the robot. When KING KONG won an Oscar for its visuals, stop-motion legend Jim Danforth (WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, CLASH OF THE TITANS) quit the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in protest.
The KING KONG DVD presents the 134 minute theatrical cut in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. The cover art for the first issue of this DVD featured the original poster of Kong astride the World Trade Center. Paramount Pictures, SRP: $12.99.
KING KONG LIVES (1986)
Ten years later Dino De Laurentiis and John Guillermin return for the sequel; one of the most hilariously inept monster movies ever made. Kong managed to survive his fall from the World Trade Center, but needs a blood transfusion from Lady Kong in order to live thru an artificial heart operation. When King Kong recovers from the procedure, he escapes with Lady Kong and battles hunters, rednecks, and the army in Georgia. Linda Hamilton (THE TERMINATOR) has the thankless role of Kong’s heart surgeon. KING KONG LIVES tanked at the worldwide box office, earning less than $5 million in the United States.
The no-frills DVD presents the 105 minute film in 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, SRP: $9.98