King Kong (2005)
By: Devon B. on December 7, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Universal (Australia). Region 2 & 4 PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1, German DD 5.1 Subtitles. English, French, German, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish. 192 minutes
The Movie
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Kyle Chandler
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Music: James Newton Howard
Tagline: The eighth wonder of the world
Country: USA
Peter Jackson's King Kong was perhaps the most anticipated film of my lifetime. Half the reason I was so looking forward to this film can be found in my review for the original King Kong. The other reason is that Peter Jackson is my favourite filmmaker.

I may think Jackson is a brilliant filmmaker, but even I can tell he tends to make his films overlong. I first noticed this trend with Dead Alive, which was very fun, yet wore out it's welcome by the end. I shuddered at the idea of the fully intact Braindead, which ran even longer. When Heavenly Creatures was first released in the US, Jackson removed about 10 minutes, then admitted the less sluggish US release was the better cut. And I'll just gloss right over the bloated Return of the King with its 15 fucking endings and crap special effects within them. When I heard that Jackson's Kong was going to run nearly three hours, I wondered if he hadn't gotten confused about his film's name and set about to make King Long.

As feared, the theatrical cut of King Kong ran at least 30 minutes too long. When the specs were announced for the DVD, my first response was an incredulous, "There's no commentary. He's going to do an EXTENDED edition!" I knew I'd have to get it, but I figured it would be something to have just for the special features. But then I finally got to see Braindead uncut, and realised that the full version played better (except for one flubbed joke) than the US unrated release. Hope sprang eternal that maybe Jackson had to cut some really good footage for time for his theatrical release of Kong, and maybe the extended version would flow better. Like how all the Lord of the Ringers kept saying the extended versions were better, except with Kong it might be true! Is the extended version of Kong better? Technically, yeah…

Jackson's film stays pretty close to the plot of the original. A rouge director named Carl Denham (Jack Black) is having trouble with his new motion picture. He wants to document an uncharted place, Skull Island, but his financial backers aren't interested. Rather that give up his already shot footage, Denham hoofs it. Having lost his lead actress, Denham pulls Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) off the street. Normally I don't like to discuss plot points after the 30-minute mark in a movie, but if I did that here, I'd be telling you about a movie where a guy puts an actress on a boat with some other guys and they all go for a sail. So, I'll break my own rule and reveal that on the island they run into angry natives, dinosaurs, and a 25-foot tall silverback gorilla (that last one's Kong, by the way).

Jackson got a lot of crap for the very long boat ride to Skull Island, but in his defence, Jackson's film takes 67 minutes to get to Kong, which is only 35% into the 192-minute extended version, whereas in the original, it takes 45 minutes to get to Kong, which is almost halfway through the original's 100 minute run time! Jackson has actually sped up the narrative flow, but the movie is still far too long, and I can tell you EXACTLY what needs to go: The character of Jimmy. This is not a criticism of actor Jamie Bell; he does fine. The Jimmy character just goes NO WHERE and has a huge amount of screen time devoted to him. I understand Jackson and company wanted to work in some Hearts of Darkness comparisons, but the Jimmy character didn't need to be there to do this. Jimmy does spur on a few important plot elements, but most of these things could be accomplished without developing his character so much. He's not even a bad character, but his inclusion makes far too much of this movie about him and his mentor, which is not what I want to see in King Kong. I want rampaging apes, not literary discussions during tense crisis moments. A few other little cuts, like bits in the restaurant at the beginning and a trimming of the pond playing, and the movie would be much tighter. My problem with Kong is not its length; it's the superfluous elements that make up its run time.

I do have a few other quibbles with the film. A running gag is lifted from Man Bites Dog. Despite being a fan of Jack Black, even I can tell he is miscast here, with something about his very nature seeming anachronistic in a 30s setting. And I like that Andy Serkis got to play the ship's cook as well as Kong, but did he have to do that ludicrous thing with his eye? Just because Popeye was a sailor man doesn't mean all seamen have to be squinty!

Jackson did get several things right, though, and improved on many aspects from the original. The time setting, amidst the Great Depression, is captured well, something that the escapist original didn't pay much heed to at all. The tragedy of Kong's situation, even just on Skull Island, is very well done, making this almost as sad as Son of Kong. Darrow displays affection for Kong, which helps strengthen his motivations for fighting for her. While some reviews have said this element is taken from the 70s remake, so much of the film is spent developing Kong and Darrow's relationship, I think she would've had to have SOME sort of bond with him. There're also some very nice little touches, like the implication that Kong is the last of his kind, and why Ann stands out from his previous "brides."

There is some dodgy CG, with the raptors looking particularly bad, but Kong looks fantastic! The CG suffers on a smaller screen, but Kong still holds up well. Some reviews also criticised the T-Rex…er, V-Rex fight as ridiculously over the top, but those reviewers are idiots. This is a great example of a giant monster fight, beefing up, yet paying homage to, the original's battle. Even if the rest of the movie were crap, which it isn't, it would be worthwhile just for this scene.

As for this extended edition, yes there is a bit more namby pamby stuff, but quite a lot of the new stuff is worthwhile footage. A ceratops attack sequence is now the first introduction of thunder lizards on Skull Island, taking the place of the stegosaurus scene in the original. More importantly, the swamp scene is back! There is a little bit in this scene that is reiterative, but for the most part I'm really glad it's back in. Kong even gets an extra second of screen time in the New York setting. As for Jimmy, is he still completely pointless? No! He gets a hat now! That totally makes the huge portion of screen time dedicated to his character worthwhile, doesn't it?

What's actually happened here is Jackson cut things people would've wanted to see in theatres, and left in all the character blah blah blah. The self-indulgent sequences unfortunately made their way into the theatrical cut, when they should've been making their debut here. The extended version has more action and is therefore better, but is still just as flawed as the theatrical release.

Ultimately, Kong might not be everything a fan could want, but it is still a very good movie and the ape does run amuck.
King Kong is presented at 2.35:1. It's a new, big budget release of a big budget film, so it's looks superb. It's as close to perfection as technology currently allows.
The audio is available in English, French or German 5.1 mixes. Again, a great deal of care was put into the sound mix, creating a rich soundscape with animals rumbling past, bullets whizzing and deep ape roars.
Extra Features
As with Jackson's previous special extended editions, King Kong has a wealth of extras.

Disc one has a series of outtakes that runs nearly 19 minutes. Unfortunately, the outtakes are censored, so be prepared for beeps whenever someone swears. There's also a featurette on vaudeville, presenting full versions of the routines seen at the beginning of Kong. An homage featurette points out the many little touches that reference the original film, including some that even the most die hard fans wouldn't catch without being told. Perhaps most shocking of all is the inclusion of deleted scenes that runs 44 minutes (if you include Jackson's intros in the run time). Surprisingly, the additional scenes play fine here, which really highlights that my problems with all this character stuff was its bogging down the film, not that the individual scenes are badly done. The scenes also offer a chance to see some of the rougher Kong design, the beach scene from the trailer, and an extended (rough) New York chase. My favourite deleted bit was actually the full dance routine, ironically heavily revolving around the Jimmy character. The scene has Lobo Chan (who gets my vote for coolest name ever) singing "Mhairi's Wedding," which is just so intrinsically funny I wish it had made it into the film. Also beginning on this disc is the commentary, featuring Jackson and co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens. They try to avoid stuff from the docos and diaries, but naturally some info does repeat. They discuss their very valid reasons for modifying the Jack Driscoll character; give greater depth to the reason Darrow is offered to Kong; and shed light on some things that the viewer wouldn't pick up on without help, like the Skull Island natives' culture. Oddly, Jackson actually says it was in everyone's best interest to get to Skull Island as quickly as possible.

Disc one also has an Easter egg, but it's one that would be virtually impossible to miss. Press down on "The Eighth Blunder of the World" in the extras section to highlight "The Missing Production Diary." Press enter to see Production Day #59, which was left unused because it was "inappropriate" for the Internet community at that time. Not sure what that's about, but the diary is funny.

Disc two has fewer extras, but naturally the commentary continues on it. There're also animatics for four of the action scenes; the teaser, full, and Cinemedia trailers; an ad for Weta collectibles, some of which look fuckin' sweet; a short film by the cast called The Present; and two DVD ROM scripts. The first script is for the 1996 unmade version, which has crocodiles, more modern dialogue, less Jimmy, a different set up, altered characters, and is slightly shorter. Some of the changes, like turning Kong's big battle into a fight with allosaurs, would be minor, but overall the film would've been quite different. I can't say if it would've been better, but it did have less Jimmy. The 2005 script shows that Jimmy wasn't just a last minute add in; he was actually written in and nobody caught how pointless he was.

Disc three has some conceptual design galleries, and a doco. I was surprised that after the Production Diaries there'd be anything left, but this was a THREE-HOUR feature! However, the first hour is more like a pre-production diary, and even covers Jackson's attempted Kong remake when he was 12 years old. I also found the later two-thirds interesting, but admittedly, I've never got around to watching the post production diaries, so I'm not sure how new some of this stuff would be to those who have. Given Jackson's dedication to providing quality new content with each release, I'm guessing most of it's unexplored territory.

After watching all the special features only real question I have left is if Denham doesn't have an interpreter of the native language, how does he know the ape is called Kong?
The Verdict
The build up to Skull Island may be self indulgent, but at least disc two starts up early in the chase on the island, so you can just start there if you don't want to watch the boat ride. The disc is loaded with goodies and has a top of the line presentation, so even though the movie isn't perfect, I don't think you could ask for much more. Except maybe a "Jimmy Free Version," similar to the "Cruelty Free" option on the Cannibal Holocaust disc. Oh, well, I guess there's always the fast-forward button.
Movie Score
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