King Kong – HD-DVD Review

ARCHIVE: Original Post Date – November 14th, 2006

The Film

Ever since making the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Director Peter Jackson has almost become a household name that seems to always guarantee success. Don’t get me wrong though, Jackson has not always been successful. Before making the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson had the film The Frighteners and a few smaller films where he only produced. The idea of giving this not so successful movie director hundreds of millions of dollars to remake the Lord of the Rings trilogy, made many turn their heads simply wondering why. After the gigantic success of the trilogy, Jackson targeted another remake, a remake to a film he says was the reason he wanted to become a film director. The film in question is the 1933 classic King Kong.

When news first arrived of this remake, many fans, including myself, were very excited to see what Jackson could come up with. However, I don’t need to spell out how many remakes, including the recent Pink Panther, are extremely horrid. With the news coming out that New Line wanted Jackson to trim the film down (from the final run time of 182 minutes to 140 for a quicker turn around audience) and that the film’s budget had sky-rocketed forcing Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh to fork over their money, a lot of fans started to worry if Peter Jackson’s King Kong was going to go down in history as simply another poorly made remake. Can a one-time nobody director, now an extremely famous director turn a black and white classic into a modern age epic? Read on to find out.

Naomi Watts (21 Grams) plays Ann Darrow, an actress from the world of burlesque type entertainment. She finds herself out of a job in the Depression-era New York City. Enter Carl Denham, portrayed by Jack Black (School of Rock), who is an entrepreneur, adventurer, and a filmmaker who is struggling to make a name for himself in the entertainment world. Denham finds out about an island simply dubbed Skull Island that no one has ever found or, more importantly, lived to tell that they have found it. Denham convinces both Darrow and a man named Jack Driscoll, played by Adrian Brody (The Pianist), a New York playwright, to come along for the ride of a lifetime and a chance to be a part of cinematic history. What they find upon arriving on Skull Island is a lot of grossly, huge insects and animals. But what they also find is, well, Kong himself.

King Kong, shortly put, is magnificent entertainment that is such a fabulous film. There is a scene in the film where Kong grabs Ann and brings her up to his lair, simply putting her down with no force whatsoever. Kong then roars and pounds his chest declaring himself the King of the Jungle. Ann, somehow knowing what to do, starts to juggle, backflip and basically do her New York stage routine for Kong. Kong proceeds to look on in pure curiosity, wonder and finally seems to laugh when he pushes her over. To Kong, Ann is a tiny little toy that has been given to him. He treats this toy with the utmost respect and soon Ann and King are watching the sun set together accompanied by a majestic, gorgeous background.

Computers created a majority of the scenery are eyes are able to feast on, including the mighty ape himself (Andy Serkis provided the motions for him via a green-screen suit). But the Computers don’t only create the special effects we see, they also help to create and add the style we view. They don’t just give us bland backgrounds for the sake of adding something in, but they more create backgrounds that seem to fit the story being presented. We are treated to overgrown prehistoric creatures, amazing fortresses, and incredibly vile insects.

Peter Jackson, just coming off his directorial masterpieces in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy decided to pull a Steven Spielberg Jaws move by not showing us the big gorilla until exactly 1 hour and 10 minutes in. This creates, just like in the film Jaws a sense of anticipation, of incredibly silent tones, little rumblings, and a lot of blabbing from the crew on the ship all until the ship literally arrives on Skull Island by crash landing, which is one of the first of many scary scenes we are given.

The end result is a film that should, if it is not already, be labeled a masterpiece. The film is surprisingly involving, and has enough to bring audiences in that would never think of ever seeing the film. The film had heart, comedy, suspense, action, an amazing score, good acting, and phenomenal directing. Upon seeing the very first teaser trailer for Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 classic King Kong, I knew I was in for an immediate treat come release time. Mr. Jackson didn’t let me down one bit as, even though it didn’t receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination (which in comparison to those nominated it didn’t deserve it), King Kong is still one of the best film’s of 2005.

Video Quality

Presented in a 1080p, VC-1 Encoded, 2:35:1 Widescreen Aspect Ratio, “King Kong” has a lot on his shoulders. If this HD-DVD doesn’t look anything short of magnificent, HD-DVD will take a huge blow. Luckily though, King Kong looks absolutely stunning in full 1080p glory.

Budgeted at $200 Million Dollars, the money spent truly shows in Kong as production design, locales, and CGI effects look stunning. Color usage is simply amazing as the jungles contain rich, lush blues, greens, and reds (mostly of the animals). Fleshtones as well are perfect. This gives the film an eye-popping 3-D realness. I could have sworn in some scenes, literally now, that the image quality was so perfect that it looked as if I was viewing the jungle directly in front of me, not on the TV, but almost in person.

The film’s locales, particularly the jungle setting, looked amazing. Andrew Lesnie, Director of Photography, brought these jungles to life creating numerous breathtaking moments as Kong fought for his life against the Rex protecting Ann. When he’s captured and brought to New York, the ice rink scene (one of my favorite video and audio wise), boasted such amazing whites and clarity. A truly great job here Andrew.

A big negative for critics of the film has been the extensive CGI effects Jackson and his WETA team used. Critics complained that the effects were overly soft and fuzzy given Kong a fakeness that could be easily seen through. Whether or not you’re for the effects, you can’t really argue that the effects don’t look immaculate here. Universal has delivered a true stunner. I can’t imagine Kong looking much better than he does right now. “King Kong” is certainly my new HD-DVD demo disc.

Audio QUality

Universal provides Kong with the standard Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Audio (encoded at 1.5mbps) available in either English, French or Spanish. While it was a disappointment to not find a Dolby TrueHD audio track here (it seems to me that only WB is including these anymore), the provided Plus 5.1 Track still sounds excellent. Honestly though, I don’t think anyone could possible even think that Kong wouldn’t sound anything close to excellent.

No matter what scene you decide to use to show this disc off (I can imagine though what many will pick), every scene screams to life with such rich, vibrant clarity. The film’s soundfield, surprise in the Kong vs. Rex fight, is immersive and surrounding as Kong punches, breaks and roars against these big beasts. Dynamic Range is also top notch creating such low, powerful bass that rumbles the room in a smooth, accompanying manner.

While many will instantly pick the Kong vs. Rex fight, I must inform you about the ending Empire State Building sequence. As the bi-planes whizzed by Kong, James Newton Howard’s score (a true shame he didn’t win an Oscar for this considering what he created in the short time he had after James Horner left) sounded perfect giving us the tense, seriousness of the moment. Shooting bullets at Kong, I found myself wanting to hear this sequence over and over again that it got to a point where my brothers were getting annoyed with the continuous rewinding. Truly a sequence that screams ‘demo me’.

Attention to sound detail, as it was in the Lord of the Rings films, is perfect. Jackson and his massive Sound Department have created, arguably, the soundtrack to beat all soundtracks. As Carl and his team approach Skull Island interacting with the inhabitants of the island, sound attacked me from all sides never relenting. Amazing stuff here. Also, dialogue, despite all the aural delights occurring around you, never becomes muddled or hard to hear.

Universal needs to go down in the record books right now. “King Kong” sounds absolutely enthralling on HD DVD and can easily go along aside Batman Begins as a true example and definition of the word ‘demo’. A top-notch, first rate effort.

Bonus Materials

A complete disappointment on the feature front. This only makes me fear that Universal is planning an HD double-dip in the near future.

  • U-Control:The two included HD exclusive features are being dubbed as U-Control which is a feature that Universal has included on three previous releases in Tokyo Drift, The Break-Up, and today’s Accepted. I must admit this is the only real downer found on this HD disc. Both features contain various excerpts that any real fan will instantly recognize from the Production Diaries released earlier this year. Universal provides new, exclusive features for The Break-Up but not for Kong? Would it honestly have been hard for Universal to include a few more features?

Closing Thoughts

King Kong is being billed as one of the most anticipated HD DVD titles since the format’s inception nearly 7 months ago. Does the title deliver? Well, yes and no. Yes, the film is amazing, the video is breathtaking, and the audio is fabulous. What really hurts this package is the extreme lack of features on Universal’s part. With an Extended Edition being released today on SD-DVD, why didn’t Universal throw in another disc or two with all these features? I’m sure fans wouldn’t have minded paying more to get more. Nonetheless, the film comes recommended for those looking for latest video/audio demo disc.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5.0
Film: 5.0 out of 5.0
Video: 4.5 out of 5.0
Audio: 5.0 out of 5.0
Features: 1.5 out of 5.0

Buy this HD-DVD on Amazon