Universal // 2005 // 200 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 23rd, 2009
The eighth wonder of the world.
Before King Kong was released, I had a lot of doubts about the film. From all the wild pre-production reports coming out at the time, it seemed that Peter Jackson had become as self-involved and egotistical as (fill in the blank with self-involved and egotistical director here), slowly turning from a filmmaker into a man with dollar signs blinding his eyes. I had a lot of concerns about all the last minute changes being made on the movie, and suspected that they spelled doom for the film (as many last minute changes do). All of these worries were erased when I actually saw King Kong, a film that is probably best described as, "Wow." This is the King Kong to end all King Kongs, and I defy any filmmaker to put on a spectacle of this size and scope with such success.
The story is quite familiar to many of us by now, but I'll recap nonetheless. In the 1930s, a struggling actress (Naomi Watts, Eastern Promises) catches the eye of an eager and ambitious movie director (Jack Black, School of Rock), who insists that he's going to take her to Singapore to film his new movie. He's going to make her a big star, he says. She accepts without discovering a crucial piece of information. Yes, she's going to film a movie, but not in Singapore. Rather, she will be venturing to a deadly place known as Skull Island, which, "hasn't officially been discovered yet." The director, the actress, and a talented writer (Adrian Brody, The Darjeeling Limited) all take off on a ship manned by a full crew of men who have expertise in either boats or movies.
The movie spends a good hour on build-up and character development before the crew finally reaches the Island, which is where all the good stuff begins. On Skull Island, they meet our famous beast...to call him a monkey or an ape almost seems inappropriate. They also encounter a wide variety of some of the nastiest and scariest creatures you can imagine, and a few you probably can't. Everything from dinosaurs to vampire bats to spiders to giant worms with giant teeth to spiders to fierce water beasts to massive insects attack them, not to mention the local natives on the island who make the cultists in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom seem like The Care Bears.
While on the island, the actress is captured by the beast, and forms a peculiar bond of friendship with him during one of the film's finer scenes. Of course, none of the rest of the crew knows this, and attempt to destroy the "monster." Kong will eventually be captured and taken to New York City, where the great beast will face his destiny and participate in one of the most spectacular showdowns in the history of cinema.
One of the surprising aspects of this film is that it's the first movie in which the actress genuinely cares about the poor beast. Kong has cared for her in every version made thus far, but here, the film is far more moving because she begins to care deeply for him. Additionally, the creepy bestial elements have been removed from their relationship, as it's subtly made clear that the bond here is a purely platonic one.
The film is a marvel to behold, as King Kong is blessed with some incredible special effects and action sequences. The battle between Kong and three vicious dinosaurs is just thrilling, and there are several moments that take on a kind of breathtaking beauty that is rarely captured. The effects on Kong himself are quite amazing, as Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films) did all the motion-capture work required to give Kong his own body language. Kong is a creature that is simultaneously grand, ferocious, and sympathetic. What an amazing creature he is, a glorious freak of nature. Thus, the humans fear him, and attempt to destroy him.
The performances are all solid. Naomi Watts does fabulous work as Ann Darrow, the actress who does a lot of screaming at the finale, but for different reasons than she did in the past. Adrian Brody plays a hero of sorts, but not the typical sort of hero. He's a writer, reluctantly stepping into the shoes of someone he has previously only been bold enough to write about. I was particularly fascinated by Jack Black as a movie director who seems to have been inspired by Orson Welles. This role is perfectly suited to Black, and allows him to give the finest performance of his career. He's got a slightly mad gleam in his eyes...watch the way that his character slowly makes the transformation from lovable rogue to half-mad zealot. This is a character who is quite driven and single-minded, and the circumstances he is thrown into cause him to drift off too far in the service of protecting his goals.
All technical aspects are top-drawer: the cinematography, the small supporting performances, the James Newton Howard score, the special effects, the pacing, the action sequences, the special effects, the script, and the direction. Not that the film completely is flawless, as Jackson is a bit self-indulgent at times, and on occasion things get a bit too pretentious. Consider this exchange of dialogue back by ominous music: (Referring to Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness) "It's not an adventure story, is it?" "No Jimmy...*dramatic pause*...it's not." But this movie is without a doubt a winner, one of the great screen epics of recent times. The film is a great piece of entertainment, but it also has a soul. It's a thoughtful essay on human nature, and our tendency to destroy anything that looks beautiful to us, because it ultimately frightens us. Peter Jackson has officially proven himself to be one of the great showmen of the 21st Century, and if his career continues to head in this direction, he will go down in history next the likes of Cecil B. Demille, David Lean, and Steven Spielberg. As great as The Lord of the Rings films were, I must confess that I find King Kong the most purely satisfying Jackson film to date.
The hi-def transfer is excellent, so impressive that King Kong probably deserves to be named as a showcase disc. The level of detail here is genuinely remarkable. You can see every line in an actor's face, every individual strand of hair. Background detail is just as superb. This is particularly evident during the scenes in the midsection, as the many little details of the jungle in the background are captured with great clarity. Blacks are deep and rich, and flesh tones are also accurate. The audio is equally impressive, again particularly during the midsection. The various battle sequences between Kong, the humans, and other creatures will shake your living room. The audio finds a very satisfying balance between the score and the sound design, which is refreshing considering how often the latter swallows the former in modern action/adventure films. This disc looks and sounds great all around.
The primary failure of this King Kong Blu-ray disc is in the supplemental department. As you may remember, the film was given a lavish three-disc DVD release a couple of year ago. That release was loaded with interesting special features, and I was hoping that most of them would be surprised here. Sadly, that is not the case. The audio commentary with Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens has been retained, but all of the featurettes, video diaries, and documentaries are gone. Well, sort of. You can see some behind-the-scenes footage by accessing the Blu-ray exclusive "U-Control" feature, which is honestly a little more trouble than it's worth. Also exclusive to the Blu-ray disc are some art galleries. Hooray. Finally, the increasingly common My Scenes and BD Live features are included. A disappointing batch, but at least the disc includes both the theatrical and extended versions of the film (the latter offers some extra creature attacks, but the former benefits from better pacing).
If you care about special features like I do, wait for the inevitable double-dip. Otherwise, this Blu-ray version of King Kong looks and sounds fantastic enough to merit a recommendation.
The film is not guilty, but Universal is guilty of shamelessly setting up King Kong for a hi-def double-dip.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* My Scenes
* Art Galleries
* BD Live