A lot of Big Picture Big Sound readers are probably owners--proud, unwitting or otherwise--of the King Kong HD DVD, as it was bundled free inside Microsoft's add-on drive for the Xbox 360 game console. That offer was yet another chance for audiences to discover filmmaker Peter Jackson's lavish, loving redux of the 1933 spectacle, an action-packed, heartbreaking tale of an impossibly gargantuan ape still subject to the allure of beauty, and possibly love. A radiant Naomi Watts is the object of Kong's hairy-backed affections, a struggling actress put in harm's way by single-minded movie mogul Jack Black in one of the meatiest roles of his career, and enamored of Adrien Brody, the world's toughest playwright in the worst place on Earth, Skull Island.
Would that we arrived at Kong's Kingdom sooner: The first act contains some brilliant writing, but the pace is a bit plodding for an adventure. While the story is set in the same era as the original production, audiences' ability to process information has accelerated over the last 70-odd years, and yet the movie seems to belabor many a point, to the extent that I almost caught myself in the theater in December 2005 shouting "We get it already!" at the screen. Act two, rumbling in the jungle, is wondrous and thrilling nonetheless, and the period New York City action in the final sequence has not been equaled since, although it too strains patience, and credibility at times.
Both the PG-13 cut and a later Extended Edition are included on this new Blu-ray via seamless branching. While the 13 additional minutes bring more of Skull Island, and The Big Ape in The Big Apple, go Theatrical for the more streamlined experience. And click through for Joe Lozito's vintage review of King Kong.
As he did with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Jackson gives us layers of incredibly nuanced CG backgrounds, all with ideal lighting and focus that reproduce beautifully on Blu-ray. There are a few inconsistencies as live-action and effects are composited, but those could be detected on the big screen as well. The restored scenes appear to have been completed to near-theatrical standards, although the dry-for-wet underwater sequence is a tad hokey.
Compression artifacts are extremely limited, occasionally in soft-focus backgrounds, or a misty/smoky shot here or there. Grain pops up in varying intensity, although it seems to level off as the movie progresses and we movie outside. There's even an audacious layer of digital, perfectly believable pollen added to certain shots! Blacks are stupendously natural within the 2.35:1 frame, while the colors--particularly greens, and blue levels overall--seem deliberately boosted, as they have been in previous releases.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a marvel of subtlety and power. Every locale, from the city to the wild and back again, is aggressively realized. The jungle where the hefty second act takes places is a living entity, one of the most active environments I've ever visited via my home theater, be it in the throes of one of the many elaborate setpieces (Kong versus a trio of T-Rexes is a stunner) or a few birds and insects phasing between speakers to add a touch of atmosphere, the rustle of leaves to keep us on edge or the thoughtful echo of gunshots across a valley. And a half-dozen biplanes swooping past my head and around the Empire State Building, guns blazing, is the stuff of multichannel demos.
Jackson's Kong remains one of the most expensive movies ever made, and as such countless hours of behind-the-scenes materials exist, vast quantities of which were neatly packaged into multiple featurettes for the two different DVD releases. They're not here on Blu-ray, at least not in the same form: Much has been repurposed into the intermittent Picture-In-Picture video commentary, one of two scene-specific "U-Control" streams available during the Extended cut presentation, along with a selectable production art gallery. Still missing are the more-than-a-half-hour of additional deleted scenes, readable/printable drafts of the screenplay, etc. Carried over however is the Blu-ray's only other real bonus of note, the audio commentary by Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens, again exclusive to the long version of the movie. The disc is BD-Live-enabled, but I couldn't find any Kong-centric content at Universal's online BD-Live Center.
A curious mix of old-fashioned storytelling, newfangled technique, and a blending of genres into something epic, King Kong hits a few slow patches on an otherwise stirring journey. The disc looks and sounds terrific, and while the seamless branching between two versions is inspired, I do wish that Universal had brought more of the extensive DVD bonus material into the age of Blu-ray.
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