Release Date(s)2017 (July 18, 2017)
Studio(s)Legendary/Tencent (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
It’s 1973. The Vietnam War has just ended, and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and the men of his helicopter squadron are getting ready to re-deploy Stateside, deeply discouraged by their recent combat experience, when they’re called up for one last mission. It seems that a U.S. Government agent and his assistant (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins), along with an ex-British SAS officer (Tom Hiddleston), a photojournalist (Brie Larson), and a team of Landsat scientists, are heading out to map the unexplored Skull Island, and they need air support. What most of them don’t know, is that the agent and his assistant work for Monarch, a secret scientific organization that investigates “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms”… and they’re about to chopper straight into prime MUTO habitat, ruled by the legendary Kong.
I’m just gonna say it right up front: I kind of like the hell out of this film. Too often B-movie blockbuster directors take an absolutely outlandish premise too seriously and turn out half-billion dollar pieces of soulless dreck (think pretty much any Transformers film). Not so here. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his team have made a smart and savvy giant monster film, that’s actually a pretty effective 70s period flick to boot. Here’s the deal: When I go see a movie called Kong: Skull Island, I want to have great Saturday afternoon matinee good time for a couple hours. That’s exactly what you get here. This is a story about a skyscraper-sized gorilla that lives on a mysterious uncharted island in the Pacific and fights giant lizards from deep within the Earth, who’s also quite happy to knock annoying Hueys out of the sky, thank you very much. It ain’t Shakespeare, baby. This film is campy and glossy and fun, and that’s precisely what it needs to be.
It’s also damn funny. John C. Reilly steals scene after scene, as an American pilot who’s been stranded on Skull Island since World War II, but every character in this ensemble, no matter how small, gets their moment to shine, their moment to serve up a great bit of dialogue or a reaction. Make no mistake, there’s a kind of brilliance at work here. The filmmakers smartly play on your genre knowledge and expectations and definitely deliver on them, but not always exactly how or when you expect. Case in point is Jackson’s character, a wound-up military commander who’s all too happy to take out his Nam-induced frustrations on a giant Goddamn monkey. Larson and Hiddleston are surprisingly good too, as Jack Driscoll/Ann Darrow surrogates; they’re atypical choices for a film like this, but I actually find that kind of refreshing. The film’s coloring, production design, and cinematography reminds me a lot of Ron Howard’s Rush, combining effectively to produce wonderful period atmospherics, and the editing never wastes your time. This is smart B-movie filmmaking.
Kong: Skull Island was shot digitally using ARRI Alexa XT Plus cameras in the ARRIRAW codec (3.4K). It was finished to a 2K Digital Intermediate in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, upsampled to 4K and given an HDR color grade for this release. Honestly, the resolution on Ultra HD is not that much greater than the Blu-ray edition, partly because its production resolution wasn’t that high, and partly because it’s upsampled, but mostly because the film’s cinematography is so dense with atmospherics. That’s not to say it’s bad in any way, it just doesn’t match up to other new release titles on this format (shot in native 4K or even higher). However, the High Dynamic Range does give the image a kick in the ass. Obviously, the film’s color palette is highly stylized, but in HDR all those warm tones are much richer and more nuanced. Blacks are deeper too, but a little restrained by design, and the brightest areas of the frame are just a little overcooked, also intentionally. This image isn’t a dazzler, but the film looks exactly as it should and the theatrical experience is well represented.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is English Dolby Atmos, though be aware that it defaults automatically to an English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that’s also included. The Atmos mix is thrilling, employing the height channels right from the very start with beefy aerial combat sounds. This is a wonderfully expansive and immersive soundstage. Directional effects and panning are playful, highly active, and smooth. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the LFE reinforcement is muscular as hell. Additional audio choices are available in English Descriptive Audio, as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Hungarian, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, and Turkish. I actually had to look Tamil and Telugu up; one is spoken in Sri Lanka and the other is native to India. You learn something new every day.
The Ultra HD disc includes a good audio commentary with the director (with optional subtitles if you need them). The package also adds a standard Blu-ray Disc with the film in 1080p HD. This, too, has the director’s commentary and offers the following video-based extras in HD:
- 2 Creating a King featurettes (Summoning a God – 11:39 and Realizing an Icon – 12:47)
- On Location: Vietnam (5:38)
- Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler (6:53)
- Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography (2:19)
- Monarch Files 2.0 (Companion Archive) (7:58)
- Deleted Scenes (4 scenes presented in a single reel – 3:45 in all)
It’s not bad; all of this is worth checking out at least once. The documentary material is actually kind of thoughtful in tone, a cut above the usual EPK filler. There’s just not enough of it. I can’t say that Warner impresses much with their generic disc menus, but whatever. Of course, you also get the usual Digital Copy code on a paper insert in the package.
Kong: Skull Island is a twenty-dollar hoot. It gives you exactly what you want from a film like this, often delightfully out of left field, while honoring its source material and respecting its audience too. While I can’t say that Warner’s thirty-dollar 4K Ultra HD release is reference quality, it’s definitely the best way to experience the film at home. So if you can justify the ten-dollar difference, don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt