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KING KONG
Deluxe Extended Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis
Director:  Peter Jackson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  401 Minutes
Release Date:  November 14, 2006

“…beautiful…”

Film ****

King Kong is mayhem and mirth, terror and tenderness, spellbinding spectacle and more.  It was also, in my humble opinion, the true best film of 2005.  In a year when muddled social messages and political pontifications resulted in sagging box office numbers, Kong towered over all of the competition, and reminded film fans why they go to the movies in the first place.

Peter Jackson’s lifelong ambition turned into his crowning achievement, surpassing even his mighty Lord of the Rings Trilogy for scope, power, emotional impact and sheer ‘wow’ factor.  It was his obsession with the original 1933 movie that set him on the path to becoming a filmmaker, and he’s given that picture the ultimate tribute by creating a film that went beyond anything Merian C. Cooper could have imagined, yet one that’s so reverent to the original fans won’t stop watching that version just because they have Mr. Jackson’s picture.

You can now officially forget the sorely-lacking 70s remake.  It never happened.  Just jump forward 70 years and settle in for the ride of your life.

Ann Darrow (the luminous Watts) is a down-on-her-luck Depression era stage performer.  Carl Denham (Black) is a director with big ideas but a hard time convincing others of their worth.  As fate would have it, they find each other and unite for one last shot at realizing both their dreams. 

Denham has designs on a new epic adventure picture, so he eludes his studio bosses, grabs Miss Darrow, and sets sail for a mysterious uncharted island, along with his reluctant writer Jack Driscoll (Brody).  No one, including Denham, is quite sure what they’ll find, but the ambitious director believes it will be big enough to save everyone’s necks.

He has no idea how big.  After a spectacular sequence of approach, the boat reaches Skull Island, a place that seems truly lost in time.  Frightening natives live behind a giant wall in fear of an even more frightening creature…a gargantuan ape they call Kong.

They live in uneasy peace with the creature, and in order to keep that peace, they steal aboard the ship and make off with the blonde, fair-skinned Darrow as an offering to Kong.  And when she and Kong finally meet…well, I was gonna say cue “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”, but it isn’t exactly love at first site for Ann.

From that point on, the picture is a non-stop thrill ride, with only an occasional pause for you to unclench your fists and let out your breath.  As Denham, Driscoll and crew make through the savage land of prehistoric beasts, gigantic bugs and more in an attempt to rescue Ann, Jackson delivers one topper after another until the viewer is almost delirious with exhilaration.

And of course, we haven’t even gotten to the eventual capture of Kong and his stage debut in New York.  Yes, many of these scenes you may remember fondly from the original, but trust me when I say Peter Jackson has found a way to channel what’s common knowledge and turn it into something extremely UNcommon. 

Plus, at long last, the strange…shall I say ‘love story’?…comes to fruition.  It’s stronger than you remember, but still tasteful.  Jackson’s films, despite their spectacle, are very character driven, and with the great Andy Serkis modeling for Kong as he once did with Gollum, we’ve never gotten closer to the big fella.  Expressive eyes and detailed renderings make Kong’s one of the year’s best performances.  You will really believe that a gigantic ape and a simple girl can share chemistry.  In fact, this movie brought more tears out of me than any other of the year’s offerings.

Yet despite the amazing achievement that is King Kong, it got ridiculously under-recognized at the Oscars.  True, it ended up winning as many statuettes as any other movie, but come on…no nods for Picture or for Jackson as Director?  Preposterous.  Maybe Jackson should have had Kong fall for a cowboy instead of Ann Darrow.  But I don’t think most of us are ready for THAT version of King Kong.

As I said, this is the kind of film that reminds us why we love the movies.  For me, a critic who’s gotten a little jaded by the never ending stream of CGI epics, I was thrilled to remember what it felt like to be a small child looking up at the big screen and thinking ANYTHING was possible at the movies.  King Kong is simply THE most spectacular motion picture I’ve ever seen.  EVER.

Video ****

A knockout all the way…Peter Jackson’s production looks absolutely glorious on DVD.  There’s more to the visuals than just the action and effects; his nostalgic looks at New York are breathtaking.  The final battle by sunrise is beyond description.  Images are sharp and detailed throughout, and this movie goes through every level of lighting imaginable.  It’s a big, expansive canvas, yet nothing gets lost in the shuffle. 

Audio ****

This movie won two Oscars for its sound, and you can rest assured, this 5.1 track delivers.  From the ferocious to the tender, from the soaring score to the most quiet suspenseful moments, the audio delivers dynamic range in droves.  Don’t feel bad if you duck and cover during the dinosaur stampede.  The rear stage is constantly occupied, and the action lends to many smooth crossovers in all directions.  This is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Features ****

In addition to being extended by 13 minutes, this three disc set is king when it comes to features.  I'm glad there's finally a commentary from Peter Jackson...he's enjoyable to listen to, and enthusiastic about discussing his dream projcet.

There are 38 minutes of deleted scenes, outtakes and gag reel, a "Re-Creating the Eighth Wonder" look at the making of the film, looks at the creation of Skull Island, a short film made by the cast of the movie, original computer animated storyboards, galleries of conceptual artwork, and for your DVD ROM, both the 1996 and 2005 scripts for the movie. 

Summary:

Kong may be King, but give the crown to Peter Jackson.  The right film met up with the right director, and his passionate, relentless and exhaustive take on the material is nothing short of a guaranteed three hour high for anyone who loves the movies.  Forget awards, critics’ lists and Hollywood musings.  This was last year’s true best film…all of the others combined weren’t enough to fill this big guy’s footprint.

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