Release Date(s)2005 (February 7, 2017)
Studio(s)Wingnut Films (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
After The Lord of the Rings trilogy garnered Peter Jackson as one of today’s biggest and most successful filmmakers with a string of awards behind him, he soon set out to remake his all-time favorite film: the incomparable King Kong from 1933. Almost 72 years after that legendary stop-motion fantasy film touched audiences all over the world, Jackson’s 2005 remake stormed the box office and brought in a sizable profit, making double its budget back in the U.S. alone. However, the film wasn’t without its criticisms and it left a minority of audience members feeling unfulfilled. Now, almost 12 years after its initial release (including a home video release of an extended version of the film), it returns in a new Ultimate Edition Blu-ray package.
The 2005 remake of King Kong has an interesting history behind its eventual production and release. After Jackson made The Frighteners for Universal in 1996, the studio was interested in doing another movie with him, offering him the chance to remake Creature from the Black Lagoon, which he turned down. He was, however, interested in remaking King Kong, which Universal also felt was worth pursuing. Soon thereafter, a script was written and pre-production was underway. Around that time, Universal was attempting to remake many of its other monster movie properties, most notably The Mummy with director Stephen Sommers. But when other big budget monster-type movies like Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young were coming down the pike from other studios, Universal suddenly got cold feet about Kong and pulled the plug on it. However, upon Jackson’s success with The Lord of the Rings, Universal soon resurrected Kong and put Peter Jackson back in the driver’s seat.
For my own experience, King Kong ‘05 is a movie that I like, but I don’t love. To be more accurate, I like a lot of things about it. Kong himself is a very well-realized special effect, but some of the uses of CGI and the amount of screen time given to the movie’s lesser characters is definitely problematical. Just as an editing exercise, I was curious to know how much could be taken out of the movie and still have it make sense with a decent pace. In the end, I cut over an hour out of the movie. Obviously, it was just an experiment on my part, but it was fascinating to me that Jackson, who had toiled away on The Lord of the Rings films, striving for editorial perfection, would suddenly go the other route on his follow-up and not give it the same kind of attention. It made for an experience that had lots of ups and downs, as well as dips in quality. Scenes would sometimes go on far longer than necessary, hammering the point home and then driving it in with extra nails.
Regardless of the unevenness and my feelings about the movie as a whole, King Kong is very well-made with some wonderful performances and fun action sequences. It doesn’t quite reach the level of popcorn entertainment that one might be hoping for, at least not the kind that Kong: Skull Island is likely to reach when it’s eventually released, but it offers up plenty of moments that make the ride worth taking. And at the same time, it pays respect to the original film in a way that makes you forgive most of its shortcomings.
The Blu-ray presentation of King Kong in both its theatrical and extended forms is superb. It’s exactly the same previous Blu-ray, now bundled up with other discs to make a complete package. That said, the presentation is soaking in fine detail, looking very natural with very even and subtle grain levels throughout, amazing color reproduction and skin tones, inky black levels with strong shadow detailing, perfect brightness and contrast levels, and no obvious signs of digital enhancement or manipulation. There’s also no visible print damage of any kind on display. The same praise goes for the audio presentation, which comes in three options: English 5.1 DTS-HD and Spanish & French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround. The 5.1 presentation is amazing, with strong dynamics, aggressive speaker-to-speaker activity, extremely deep low end activity, fully-enveloping ambience, powerful score reproduction, and crystal-clear dialogue. I can’t say enough nice things about the A/V presentation of King Kong. It’s a perfect presentation for the format that has left me with nothing to complain about whatsoever. Subtitles options are also available in English SDH, Spanish, and French for those who might need them.
This release also comes loaded for bear in the extras department, incorporating almost everything from every previous release of the film on both DVD and Blu-ray, including the web Production Diaries that were released in a deluxe DVD set prior to the film’s theatrical release. It should be worth noting right up front though that the production diary that was pulled from the original Kong is King website featuring original composer Howard Shore before he was later replaced has still not been included. However, it can be found by other means if you’re so inclined. There is also no new material on this set, but since there is so much of it, I’m going to go over it with a fine-toothed comb and be quite extensive, so strap in.
Disc One carries the main presentation with the option to watch either the theatrical or extended version of the film. Being that this disc is a duplicate of the original Blu-ray release, what little features that were included are still present. They include an audio commentary on the extended version only with Peter Jackson and co-writer/producer Philipa Boyens, a Picture-in-Picture mode which features condensed versions of many of the interviews and behind-the-scenes footage found on Disc Three, The Art Galleries which also play along with the main feature, and a set of standard Universal BD options: My Scenes, U-Control, BD-Live, and a User Guide. Disc Two is also a duplicate, but of the original DVD release of the film. On that disc, the movie features an English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. There’s also a Volkswagen Touareg commercial shot by the King Kong crew with a very brief making of attached to it, as well as a commercial for a movie/New York tourism tie-in Wish You Were Here.
Disc Three is where the major bulk of extras can be found, which is a Blu-ray disc featuring material mostly in SD quality. It should be noted that there are subtitle options in English SDH, French, and German in case you need them. There’s the original 2006 disc introductions by Peter Jackson from both the Special Edition and Extended Edition DVD releases, as well as the long-form Recreating the Eighth Wonder: The Making of King Kong eight-part documentary (The Origins of King Kong, Pre-Production Part 1: The Return of Kong, Pre-Production Part 2: Countdown to Filming, The Venture Journey, Return to Skull Island, New York, New Zealand, Bringing Kong to Life Part 1: Design and Research, and Bringing Kong to Life Part 2: Performance and Animation).
Also included on this disc is the aforementioned Production Diaries, viewable by date or location with the original 2006 introduction by Peter Jackson. They include Peter’s Welcome, The Diner Set, Rough Seas on Land, Filming Inside the Venture, Denham’s Camera, Plane Spotting, Storms on the Venture, Animal Droppings, Dump Tanks, Dump Tanks Part 2, Skull Island Preview, Lumpy’s Galley Tour, Clapper Boards, Previsualization, Skull Island Rocks, Skull Island Shoot, Gandalf the Spy, The Swamp Set, Peter’s Kong Collection, Is Jack Black 5’4”?, Creating Skull Island, Location Logistics, International Press Junket, The On-Set Art Department, The Missing Production Diary (previously an Easter egg), Cameras, Journey of a Roll of Film, Creating New York in New Zealand, A Day at the Zoo (also previously an Easter egg), Shooting at the Civic Theatre, Concept Art, Happy Holidays!, New Year’s Message from Peter, Shooting Begins in New York, New York Extras, Vintage Vehicles, New York Set Dressing, Sewers and Steam, Lighting Continuity, Times Square Becomes Herald Square, Adrien the Stunt Driver, A Day in the Life of Peter, Skull Island Miniatures, Naomi in Kong’s Hand, Hair and Makeup, Global Partner Summit, Second Unit, Sound Recording, Helldiver Airplanes, Filming Winds Down, The Kong Sequels, Costume Design, Unit Photography, Andy’s Revenge on the DVD Team, Peter Calls in Help, and The Last Day.
Next on this disc is the Post-Production Diaries, also viewable by date or location. They include Welcome to Post Production, The Miniature Venture, Kong Performance Capture, Creating Sound Effects, A Visit to the Editorial Department, Peter Answers Your Questions Part 1, The Miniatures Second Unit, Building a Miniature, WETA Digital Overview, Creating the Teaser Trailer, Sound Design, Shooting Additional Elements, Preparing for Pick-Up Shooting, Pick-Ups: The Cast Returns, Pick-Ups: The Venture Extras, Pick-Ups: Continuity, Pick-Ups: The Wrap, Alternative Dialogue Recording, Detailing the Miniatures, The Unsung Heroes of Rotoscoping, Foley Recording, Digital Doubles, Digital Color Grading, Bringing Kong to Life: Motion Editing, Bringing Kong to Life: Animation, Filming the Miniatures, Kong Visits New Zealand, Mixing Dialogue, Music, and Effects, The Mixing Board, The Music of Kong Part 1, The Music of Kong Part 2, Delivering the Film, Peter Answers Your Questions Part 2, The World Premiere, and The New Zealand Premiere.
Following up all of that material is 16 extended and deleted scenes with optional introductions by Peter Jackson (Preston Shows Ann Her Cabin, How a Man Dies, Jack Has Doubts About Ann, Ann Chooses an Outfit, Hayes Confronts Englehorn, Preston Finds the Map, Dancing a Jig, The Rest of the Venture Voyage, Lumpy and His Cabbage, “Scream for Your Life, Ann”, The Venture Escapes (Original Version), Hayes’ Story, A Sailor’s Bad Luck, Original Insect Pit Opening, Kong Chases Jack’s Cab, and Kong Versus the Army); The Eighth Blunder of the World gag reel; The Making of a Shot: The T-Rex Fight featurette; the Skull Island: A Natural History mockumentary; the Kong’s New York, 1933 featurette; A Night in Vaudeville footage; the King Kong Homage featurette; a set of Pre-Visualization Animatics with optional music cues (Arrival at Skull Island, Bronto Stampede, T-Rex Fight, Empire State Building “Pre-Viz” Only, and Empire State Building Battle “Pre-Viz” with Final Film Comparison); Conceptual Design Video Galleries (The 1996 King Kong, The Venture, Skull Island, New York, Kong); The Present short film; the WETA Collectibles featurette; a set of trailers (teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, and Cinemedia trailer); and finally a paper insert with a code and Digital HD/Ultraviolet options. The only extras missing from all of the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases are the 1996 and 2005 scripts for the film in PDF form, which were accessible via DVD-ROM.
Calling this the “Ultimate Edition” of 2005’s King Kong is a very accurate statement. Chances are very high that many folks are now going to retire their previous Blu-ray and DVD releases of this movie as it consolidates everything quite well. Fans of the Production Diaries set may feel the need to hang onto it due to all of the excellent swag and overall packaging, which I don’t blame them for doing. However, if you’re looking for a single version of this movie to own, this is it – bar none (that is until its 4K counterpart comes along). In essence, and it should be obvious by now, King Kong: Ultimate Edition comes highly recommended. Now, if only we could get this kind of treatment for some of Peter Jackson’s other big budget films of which the extras, old and new, are non-existent or spread out over multiple releases... I’m looking at you Warner Bros.
- Tim Salmons