Judge Dennis Prince has seen history in the making, and you should, too.
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
Facts of the Case
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:
• Introduction by Peter Jackson
• Production Hiatus: New Year's Message from Peter 19 Jan 05
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Other Reviews You Might Enjoy
Scales of Justice
• DVD Introduction by Peter Jackson
Review content copyright © 2005 Dennis Prince; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.