Universal // 2005 // 216 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // December 12th, 2005
It was once regarded a fable, a fantastical conjuring in the mind of a man so gripped by a fanatical pursuit -- an irrepressible drive -- to see what only a handful of men on this Earth have ever seen before. He would gather one of the finest crews and voyage to an island where events of mythical proportion would unfold. He would take along a girl, an eager yet unprepared beauty, to help attract and tame the object of his own obsession. His eight-month journey would pit him and his crew up against the most extreme, often unimaginable, situations, all for the sole purpose of capturing on film the most amazing sight ever beheld by modern man.
It's an adventure of a filmmaker, his crew, a beauty, and the most incredible creation to have ever been captured by the camera's eye.
This was their quest and this is their story...
Get ready for an adventure of colossal size and scope, one that follows perhaps the most highly anticipated motion picture event of this year. In a rarest of rare opportunities, renowned director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) goes far beyond the paltry or pithy behind-the-scenes featurettes to approve and inspire this very special journey through the most talked-about production of 2005, King Kong. Here is the special limited edition DVD release that will become available to fans and enthusiasts the day prior to the theatrical unveiling of the Mighty Kong. While it's certain to be a film that will be heavily heralded and proudly promoted, here is the first major artifact of this important film event -- King Kong -- Peter Jackson's Production Diaries. Here you'll embark upon an adventure that takes you on board the Venture, delivers you to Skull Island, and ultimately puts you atop the Empire State Building. In the end, you'll feel as if you've been lucky enough to see what so few have seen before -- the most reverent re-making of a film legend.
"Welcome on board, and I hope you're going to be following our progress over the next few months. Thank you." -- Peter Jackson
The experience begins with a new DVD introduction by Peter Jackson during which he explains the production's original desire to establish an Internet presence during the shooting phase of King Kong. Pleased over his previous interactions with the folks behind TheOneRing.net, Jackson gave his personal blessing to KongIsKing.net, a portal where his team could post viewable (or downloadable) movie files through which fans could take a peek at the activities of the cast and crew. In Spring 2003, www.kongisking.net roared into life. Fans of Peter Jackson and his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's timeless trilogy eagerly "clicked over" to begin following the developments of Jackson's long-awaited remake of the 1933 classic feature. Pleased to have an active connection to the fans, Jackson allowed videographer Michael Pellerin to literally film the events of the production, day in and day out.
During the first couple of "diary entries," Jackson's comments are brief and a bit self-conscious. Upon viewing them himself, he realized the significant interest these video logs could generate among the fans and throughout the film industry. By the third log, Jackson had clearly embraced the idea of sharing information and insight with his Internet audience and the result has been nothing short of captivating. The initial diary entry was posted at KongIsKing.net on September 7, 2004. Following about every two days or so, Pellerin would edit previous days' material into additional mini-documentaries, each running about five minutes in length. He'd forward these onto the KongIsKing web team and they'd upload and post the subsequent accounts of the production.
In this King Kong -- Peter Jackson's Production Diaries limited edition set, you'll find a complete collection of fifty-four entries chronicling the shooting portion of the production. What's unique about this collection is that Pellerin and his crew capture virtually all aspects of the production, well beyond merely fawning over the actors or giddily doting over the effects work. Here you'll truly learn how a big-budget production is carried out. You'll discover what a plane spotter does, how the location manager transforms empty land into a fully-functioning shooting set, and the many important uses of the well-recognized but largely misunderstood clapper board. Then, you'll see set construction in full swing as the art department builds the full-scale wall and gate that keeps Kong contained on Skull Island. Beyond this, you'll marvel at how the massive swamp set was fabricated, from the largest twisted tree down to the prevalent pond scum. There's plenty of fun on set, too, as the cast and crew quickly take to mugging for Pellerin's camera crew. Whether in character or out, the actors have some fun and ham it up for their Internet viewers. Jackson himself turns out a fun performance when he and Jack Black scramble to avoid a mysterious and unauthorized photographer known only by his web moniker, Gandalf. Then, Black takes exception and takes matters in his own hands after KongIsKing.net reports the actor's height as a diminutive 5' 4." As further evidence that he's monitoring the activity at KongIsKing.net, Jackson indulges the wishes of website visitors by responding to their message board posts and providing subject details as requested by the fans. Jackson definitely embodies a passion for his work here and his generosity in bringing the public along for the ride helps him stand high above his industry peers.
Beyond the diary entries, you'll also be treated to a special featurette, "The Making of a Shot: The T-Rex Fight." Over the course of fifteen-minutes, Jackson reveals the design behind the classic confrontation between Kong and the Tyrannosaurus, long regarded a key sequence from the 1933 original. And while he's a purist at heart, Jackson also ups the ante on this mammoth standoff and offers a look at how the new sequence was created, from early sketches created in 1996 through the fashioning of three-dimensional maquettes, digital animatics, and, ultimately, to the finished CG sequence. As a treat (yet potentially as a bit of spoiler), Jackson includes about three-and-a-half minutes of the actual final footage. If you weren't sure whether there'd be something new about this rendition to lure you into the theaters, this tantalizing "teaser" will certainly do the trick.
The production diary content is truly the king of this excellent new release but the packaging itself is likewise enticing. The excitement begins when you first run your fingers over the embossed surface of the oversized outer container, fashioned after Carl Denham's camera case. The POP wrap-around (providing information and images of the contents inside) is attached by three points of light rubber adhesive, one on the front and two more on the backside. Naturally, fans and collectors will want to carefully preserve this colorful addition and you'll be happy to know that, by detaching only the front point of adhesion, the box top can be easily opened. The front adhesion can again be reattached afterward.
The box top slides off easily to reveal a mysterious black box-within-the-box. Upon extracting this inner box, you'll find the numbered Certificate of Authenticity, created to signify that the four art prints contained within the poly bag you hold were commissioned by the film's conceptual artist specifically for this DVD release. The prints each feature a high-gloss, full color 5" x 7" image on a de-bossed 8" x 10" card stock sheet, complete with the film's title. Each is horizontally oriented and definitely suitable for framing (under protective UV glass, of course).
Back to the box-within-a-box, this dark corrugated container features disc title artwork and opens at a side tab to reveal the actual diary inside. The diary resembles the sort of well-worn notebook carried by a well-traveled adventurer. The flip top lifts to reveal an aged clipboard that secures the 52-page illustrated scrapbook within. In the scrapbook you'll find plenty of behind-the-scenes photographs, a collection of excellent pre-production artwork, and brief synopses of each of the video diary entries. Lift the entire clipboard section and you'll find the two DVDs underneath, each held fast in a digipak insert.
The two discs comprise over three-and-a-half hours of material. Here's what you'll find:
(Running Time: 1:53:59)
* Introduction by Peter Jackson
* Day 01: Peter's Welcome 06 Sep 04
* Day 04: The Diner Set 09 Sep 04
* Day 06: Rough Seas on Land 13 Sep 04
* Day 07: Filming Inside the Venture 14 Sep 04
* Day 08: Denham's Camera 15 Sep 04
* Day 10: Plane Spotting 17 Sep 04
* Day 12: Storms on the Venture 21 Sep 04
* Day 14: Animal Droppings 23 Sep 04
* Day 16: Dump Tanks 27 Sep 04
* Day 18: Dump Tanks Part 2 29 Sep 04
* Day 20: Skull Island Preview 01 Oct 04
* Day 22: Lumpy's Galley Tour 05 Oct 04
* Day 25: Clapper Boards 08 Oct 04
* Day 27: Previsualization 12 Oct 04
* Day 31: Skull Island Rocks 18 Oct 04
* Day 33: Skull Island Shoot 20 Oct 04
* Day 36: Gandalf the Spy 26 Oct 04
* Day 40: The Swamp Set 01 Nov 04
* Day 42: Peter's Kong Collection 03 Nov 04
* Day 46: Is Jack Black 5'4"? 09 Nov 04
* Day 48: Creating Skull Island 11 Nov 04
* Day 51: Location Logistics 16 Nov 04
* Day 53: International Press Junket 18 Nov 04
* Day 58: The On-Set Art Department 26 Nov 04
* Day 62: Cameras 02 Dec 04
* Day 66: Journey of a Roll of Film 07 Dec 04
* Day 68: Creating New York in New Zealand 09 Dec 04
* Day 70: Shooting at the Civic Theater 14 Dec 04
* Day 73: Concept Art 17 Dec 04
* Day 76: Happy Holidays! 22 Dec 04
(Running Time: 1:47:29)
* Production Hiatus: New Year's Message from Peter 19 Jan 05
* Day 77: Shooting Begins in New York 24 Jan 05
* Day 82: New York Extras 31 Jan 05
* Day 85: Vintage Vehicles 03 Feb 05
* Day 87: New York Set Dressing 07 Feb 05
* Day 90: Sewers and Steam 10 Feb 05
* Day 92: Lighting Continuity 14 Feb 05
* Day 95: Times Square becomes Herald Square 17 Feb 05
* Day 97: Adrien the Stunt Driver 21 Feb 05
* Day 100: A Day in the Life of Peter 24 Feb 05
* Day 103: Skull Island Miniatures 01 Mar 05
* Day 105: Naomi in Kong's Hand 03 Mar 05
* Day 108: Hair and Makeup 07 Mar 05
* Day 110: Global Partner Summit 09 Mar 05
* Day 113: Second Unit 14 Mar 05
* Day 115: Sound Recording 16 Mar 05
* Day 118: Helldiver Airplanes 21 Mar 05
* Day 120: Filming Winds Down 23 Mar 05
* Day 123: The Kong Sequels 01 Apr 05
* Day 125: Costume Design 03 Apr 05
* Day 127: Unit Photography 05 Apr 05
* Day 129: Andy's Revenge on the DVD Team 06 Apr 05
* Day 130: Peter Calls in Help 07 Apr 05
* Day 131: The Last Day 08 Apr 05
* Featurette -- The Making of a Shot: The T-Rex Fight
From a technical standpoint, the presentation here is a definite improvement over the online QuickTime features that you may have been viewing on your computer (or perhaps you missed some of them). The video logs have been transferred to an anamorphic widescreen image framed at 1.78:1. The picture quality outshines whatever you may have seen online yet it can't faithfully be touted as representative of the digital medium's full capability. The overall quality is a bit soft and there are several instances of compression artifacting. It's of no terrific consequence, though, as the just-less-than-polished appearance is definitely viewable and offers an added level of detail that could not be seen in the online presentations. The audio is presented in a well-mixed Dolby Digital 2.0 track where you'll be able to hear all the various chatter and background noise that you likely missed on the Internet. Again, for content of this sort, it would be unreasonable to expect a pristine presentation.
All told, exploring this package might be very much like finding an ancient canister that's been lost in time, one that contains the thoughts, experiences, and emotions of an adventurer who determined his fantastic story would be chronicled for the ages. King Kong -- Peter Jackson's Production Diaries has perhaps one of the most imaginative and exciting DVD package designs, made all the more alluring as it becomes available the day before the feature film is released in theaters.
Ah, but is this all merely a showman's charade, a grab at the pocketbooks of decent citizens who would be coaxed and cajoled into surrendering their precious earnings? After all, this was material that could be viewed gratis on the Internet. Well, up until now, anyway.
On October 14, 2005, the KongIsKing.net news page reported the following (excerpted):
"Sadly, we have been asked to remove the first 54 diaries from our site. Our arrangement with Universal has been that they own all rights to these diaries. We obviously have mixed feelings about the DVD set being released. On one hand we're sad that much of the great content that has brought such a great group of fans together is no longer in our archives, and on the other [hand] it will be really cool to see the first 54 [production diaries] in their full digital glory. The box set and DVD menus are very cool."
A search of the message boards reveals there has been much conversation about this DVD release the Universal's stipulation that the material be permanently removed from KongIsKing.net yet, interestingly, the dialogue has not been vicious or vindictive. The overriding sentiment seems to be one of anticipation for an improved presentation of this material. The fact that the diary entries were available online for a limited time seems to have instilled a sense of experience and bonding among those fans who frequented the web site, one that further engenders their feeling that they have been actively included in a unique motion picture event. They've taken the high road and they're to be commended for this.
In the meantime, the site still hosts an additional 33 entries -- the Post Production Diaries -- that should be considered requisite viewing following these first 54 logs. Most notable is the historic event captured on November 2, 2005 when film historian and "Prop-father" Bob Burns visits Peter Jackson with the original Kong armature in tow. Jackson, along with his crew, is completely enchanted and mesmerized by the skeletal substructure. While Burns and his wife, Cathy, are filmed for a cameo appearance in the film's final act, the Kong armature is animated for the first time in over seven decades and the results are downright amazing.
The buzz over King Kong has been building for some time now and, with this flagship release of Peter Jackson's production diaries, it looks as if it's going to be the event of 2005 and on through 2006. This release of King Kong -- Peter Jackson's Production Diaries is an excellent edition and is surely a harbinger of many good things to come.
Not guilty. Everyone with opposable thumbs should go out and grab this set right away.
Review content copyright © 2005 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2005 Nominee
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 216 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Introduction by Peter Jackson
* Featurette: The Making a Shot: The T-Rex Fight
* Embossed Camera Box Container
* Souvenir Clipboard Diary Keepcase
* 52-page Illustrated Scrapbook
* Four Exclusive Production Art Prints
* Numbered Certificate of Authenticity
* Kong Is King (Official Production Diaries Site)
* Official Movie Site