Ape is great on the small screen too
A faithful reinterpretation of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack's 1933 classic, Jackson's "Kong" is an elongated beast, running three hours and seven minutes where the original barely broke an hour and a half. The length is simultaneously a strength and a weakness: Jackson gets to expand mere ideas into full-fledged subplots, but he also gets so caught up in the thrill of digitally re-creating super-sized versions of his favorite scenes that he lets them run on far too long.
As in the original, most of the time is spent on the mysterious Skull Island, where giant apes are just one of the primordial wonders -- the island also has what seems like half the cast of "Jurassic Park" running around, as well as super bats, gargantuan insects and a tribe of angry natives. It's all spectacular. Maybe half of it is necessary.
What is necessary, and absolutely essential, is this version's new focus on the relationship between Kong and his queen. The original gave Fay Wray little to do opposite the monster but scream and scream again; this time, Naomi Watts actually builds a relationship with her digital co-star, who gets to be at least as human as anyone else on the screen.
The recasting of Kong as a genuine tragic leading man might sound silly, but it works more powerfully and more movingly than anyone could have expected. Adrien Brody, Jack Black and their assorted support are just meat puppets next to the big guy, performed by the actor Andy Serkis through the same motion-capture magic that created his Gollum in the "Rings" films.
But Watts is no slouch, either. Jackson's mastery of digital effects may make the fabled climax atop the Empire State Building feel like a movie, but it's Watts' wrenching, open soul that makes it art.
Universal's enhanced-widescreen DVD is available as a movie-only edition, or in a double-disc set that feels very much like the initial DVD releases produced by Jackson and New Line Home Entertainment for each of his "Lord of the Rings" films, with a second disc of marketing material.
Of course, in the case of "Kong" that marketing material is pretty damn amazing, with the final run of Jackson's comprehensive production diaries amounting to a two-and-a-half hour exploration of the movie's post-production process. (Pre-production and principal photography were covered, with similar obsessive attention to detail, in the "King Kong Production Diaries" boxed set released just before the film's theatrical debut.)
The production diaries are magnificent geek archives, in which Jackson takes us deeper into every single aspect of his movie, dropping weight with every week until he's pretty much just a skull in a Hawaiian shirt. Only one installment has not made it to the collection -- and fans of composer Howard Shore will be dismayed, if not surprised, to learn that it's the one concerned with the recording of his orchestral score, which was scrapped at the last minute and replaced with new music by James Newton Howard.
Other extras include "Kong's New York: 1933," which spends half an hour marveling -- with good reason -- at the meticulous re-creation of the movie's Manhattan, which is a deliberate cross between the real New York City of the period and the idealized wonderland presented by the movies of the day, and the tongue-in-cheek "Skull Island: A Natural History."
And just like those initial "Rings" DVDs, "King Kong" arrives with no audio commentary, which suggests that Jackson and his colleagues will sit down for a more expansive special edition somewhere down the line. Here's hoping.
STUDIO: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: March 28, 2006
PRICE: $29.98 (standard)/$30.98 (Collector's Edition)
TIME: 188 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: English, French and Spanish subtitles; Collector's Edition includes production diaries and additional featurettes.
INTERNET SITE: kingkongmovie.com