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King Kong - Special Edition DVD Review

By Joe Lozito
Expectations & Reactions:
I've made no secret of how I feel about "King Kong" - whether it's the original 1933 Merian C. Cooper classic (already given a reverent DVD treatment) or Peter Jackson's stupendous remake. Heck, I'll even pause for the cheesy 1976 debacle if I see it on TV. I just have a soft spot in my heart for the big ape.

It was with that frame of mind that I approached the 2-Disc Widescreen Special Edition release of Mr. Jackson's "Kong". You know I had it on pre-order, screened it as soon as it arrived and pored over the extras.

So why do I feel so let down?

It could be that I'm a little Kong'd out. Honestly, at three hours, the film is pretty long. Plus it takes over an hour of build up before we even see our favorite titular simian. And now that I've had the chance for multiple viewings, some of the short-comings of the film are beginning to show. There's that melodramatic Hayes/Jimmy subplot which could be completely excised without missing a beat. Then there's the Jack Black issue. Mr. Black is a funny man, but he's no Carl Denham. It's just poor casting. Similarly Adrian Brody is convincing as a struggling writer, but he's no action hero. Oh and let's not forget the wildly over-the-top "meat weasel" sequence in the gorge (as though we could possibly forget it).

Then again, it could be the complete lack of director's commentary and deleted scenes. How is it possible that the man who brought us those unparalleled "Lord of the Rings" box sets possibly released a "Kong" DVD with such a paucity of extras? Ah yes, let's not forget the multiple editions of each "Lord of the Rings" film, or the fact that Mr. Jackson has already released his "Kong" production diaries on DVD - complete with extras that are not available on this disc.

Look & Listen:
The lack of DTS track is curious but, this being a Peter Jackson DVD, the picture and sound are top notch. Kong's roar shakes the room (as well it should) and the Venture-running-aground sequence is likely to be used on future Audio test discs. Best of all is the Kong/T. Rex fight scene which garnered the highest possible honor: a noise complaint from my beleaguered, otherwise forgiving neighbor.

Extras & Highlights:
Sadly, amazingly, tellingly, no director's commentary or deleted scenes. Instead, there's an insulting "The Volkswagen Toureg & King Kong" doc about the making of the Toureg/Kong ad campaign. And this is actually accessible from the main menu, right under the language selection!

Disc 2 is not without its charms though. The Kong Production Diaries are fun, particularly the ability to watch them grouped by topic (Effects, Sound, Pick-ups) or date. "Kong's New York 1933", which details the extensive research the production team did to give the film an authentic sense of place, could serve as an intro to Manhattan history circa-1930.

The real gem is "Skull Island: A Natural History", a mockumentary which traces the origins of that fateful island with as much detail as the New York doc. Mr. Jackson and his incredibly talented team obviously have a blast making this stuff up, and it comes through most vividly here.

Menus & Interface:
Very little to the movie disc - pretty much "Play" and the aforementioned Toureg ad.

On disc 2, the Production Diaries menu allows for sorting by date or topic, which proves very helpful.

Storyline & Syllabus:
Desperate filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) and his crew venture to the mysterious Skull Island where they happen upon the titular big ape. Mayhem ensues.

See our full King Kong review.

Conclusions & Afterthoughts:
Basically, I can't help feeling a little played. Sure, every time Naomi Watts and the big hairy lug are on screen, I forget about all these concerns and marvel in the wonder of it all. For those moments I'm transported back to that feeling I had in the theater the first (and, yes, the second) time I saw Mr. Jackson's vision on screen. For those moments I can forgive a great many failings.

All I can say, Mr. Jackson, is we're wise to your tricks. Get to work on that "ultimate edition" or "super deluxe edition" or "Empire State edition" or whatever you're going to call it. Perhaps this will be one of the titles on Blu-Ray Disc or HD-DVD that whets our appetite to hop on board the new format train. Whatever it's called, and however it's released, it had better be good.

DVD Features:
° Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
° Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)

DVD Extras:
° The Volkswagen Toureg & King Kong
° Wish You Were Here
° Special Introduction by Peter Jackson
° Post-Production Diaries
° Kong's New York, 1933
° Skull Island: A Natural History

What did you think?

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