Warner Bros. // 1933 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 28th, 2010
The eighth wonder of the world in hi-def for the first time.
A classic in all sense of the word, King Kong has arrived on Blu-ray. What can this slick, sexy new format do for the greatest badass in cinema history?
Ambitious filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) thinks he has finally found his golden ticket. Having secured a map to a mysterious island, he brings along fresh-faced blonde bombshell Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to shoot the motion picture event of the year.
Little do they know that the island natives see in Ann a prize offering for the fearsome King Kong, a giant ape that can rip apart the jaws of a T-Rex and has a thing for scantily clad, screaming women. It will fall to stud sailor John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) to retrieve Ann, escape from the island, and retrieve Ann one more time after Kong starts tearing New York City apart.
I love King Kong. I've loved King Kong since I saw it for the first time in a public library and my adoration has only increased with time. Even now, watching it for the who-knows-what-number time, I am still in awe over what was accomplished over three-quarters of a century ago.
It's not edgy to complain about Peter Jackson's attempt to bring the big guy back to the big screen, but even with a limitless budget and the most cutting-edge visual effects at his disposal, he fell far short of capturing the magic of the original. Even if you liked the new Kong, you have to admit that it doesn't come close to generating the awe of the first time you saw the sailors shoot that charging Stegosaurus, the terror of the Brontosaurus devouring dudes from the water, or the heartbreak of that rag-doll Kong tumbling from the Empire State Building.
I don't bring that up to give Peter Jackson crap. He had noble intentions. He was also moved and inspired by the original Kong and just wanted to try and re-introduce the ape's majesty to a new generation. But the film's underperformance only illustrates what a supreme lighting-in-a-bottle pop culture masterpiece the 1933 version was. Sometimes, things just come together perfectly, and no matter how talented a filmmaker you hire, how much money you have to play with, and how many supercomputers you have to fire off incredible effects, there's no chance to measure up to that standard.
So now we have King Kong (the unedited version, natch), the greatest fantasy movie ever made, given the high-definition treatment. The first thing you'll notice is the beautiful casing. The disc is housed in a hardcover book, which features a lengthy essay on the history of the film by Rudy Behlmer, sporting full-color stills and artwork. It's a first-class piece of packaging.
Now, onto the most important question: How does the film look? The honest answer: Not terribly different from the DVD. After watching the Blu-ray, I immediately popped in the DVD special edition for a comparison, and while there is improvement in the visual fidelity, the bump in picture quality is almost insignificant. Kong is such a complex film that utilized all manners of camera tricks to pull off its dazzling sights, there's not a whole that can be done in the HD transfer. You'll get some close-ups of the actors that look enhanced, but whenever the action kicks in, the clarity boost is negligible. For sound, you get a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, which is clean and loud enough to give your center channel a workout.
Bonus material is disappointing. The actual extras are nifty: commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston with interview excerpt of Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray; a hefty seven-part making-of documentary; a Merian Cooper featurette called "I'm King Kong!"; test footage from Creation with Ray Harryhausen commentary; and, finally, the lost spider pit sequence recreation from Peter Jackson -- but they're recycled straight from the DVD special edition. It's a shame Blu-ray specific extras weren't created for this release.
The technical jump is mild and the extras are the same, but King Kong is so awesome, it's almost like you have to own every single incarnation. If, however, you're trying to rein in spending and you already own the DVD collector's edition, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you're not missing out on a world-beater.
Review content copyright © 2010 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1933
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Sequence
* Test Footage