2 Disc Special Edition
Review by Michael Jacobson
Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2005
going out to make the greatest picture in the world...they'll have to think up a
lot of new adjectives when I come back!"
above line was spoken in the movie King Kong by notorious director Carl
Denham (Armstrong), but they might just as well have been spoken by
director/producer/story writer Merian C. Cooper ABOUT King Kong.
His vision, first unleashed on audiences in 1933, did indeed give the
world a spectacle it had never seen before.
Even 70 years later, it continues to thrill and inspire.
put in perspective, King Kong was the Jurassic Park of its day:
a film that marked a quantum leap forward in special effects and how they
were incorporated into storytelling. Its
intricate use of stop-motion animation, matte paintings, reverse projection
photography and in-camera effects was unprecedented...at least no other movie
before had combined the techniques in such new and revolutionary ways.
Think about it: without Kong, there may have never been a Kane.
story begins with Carl Denham, and his latest motion picture expedition.
The cast and crew don't know where they're going; only that it's a long
voyage and that some very heavy armaments are involved.
The problem is that Denham needs a pretty girl as a love interest, and no
agent in town will bring him one because of his secrecy and daredevil
stumbles across Ann Darrow (the luminous Wray), and invites her for her chance
at stardom, against the better judgment of the gruff first mate Jack Driscoll
(Cabot, in his first screen role). He
doesn't approve of women on ships or in dangerous situations...a bit of a 1930s
attitude, maybe, but as we all know, he was right in this case.
sail to a spectacular uncharted island, where the natives all live on a tiny
peninsula behind a great wall. They
live in fear of something called Kong, and as it turns out, that's what Denham
is there to film. But the natives
have other ideas...spotting the pretty blonde Darrow, they stage a late night
raid of the crew's ship and take her.
is offered as a sacrifice to Kong, who finally makes his appearance at about the
45 minute mark (no doubt inspiring later monster movies like Jaws and Alien).
Kong, of course, is an unbelievably gigantic ape, leading Ms. Wray to
utter her now all-time classic line:
too subtle, perhaps, but beautifully succinct.
I imagine 1933 audiences reacted the same way. Hell, even in the new millennium, it's hard not to respond
with awe to the big fella. Before
he shows up, the film's pacing had been deliberate and marked. Once he appears, it's a non stop thrill ride to the very end.
of course, takes a liking to Ann, and carries her off.
In the meantime, Driscoll, Denham and the crew begin their attempt to
rescue her, which leads to an incredible adventure of action and fear on the
other side of the great wall. There
are beasts and prehistoric monsters galore; so many and so terrifying one can
only wonder why the natives picked Kong as the one to fear...they could have had
men deal with creatures of both land and sea, and of course, Kong himself, who,
in a spectacular sequence, shakes the men off a log-bridge like they were fleas.
Kong's drive to keep Ann for himself also leads to three incredible
battles with a T-Rex, an elasmosaur and a pterodactyl respectively.
Willis O'Brien cemented his legend for all time with his intricate and
impressive use of stop-motion animation that brought Kong and his nemeses to
life for Cooper and co-director/producer Ernest B. Shoedsack to put to film
using even more tricks to make it as real as possible.
course, this all leads to Kong's capture and presentation as "the eighth
wonder of the world" in New York, where all hell breaks loose when the big
guy goes after Ann again. Talk
about a monkey on your back.
finale atop the Empire State Building is as iconic as they come in motion
pictures. It's there where Kong
meets his match with a bevy of military planes...and it's also there where we
realize what a soft spot we've grown for him despite the chaos and mayhem he
unleashed. At that point, Kong is
more than a monster or a special effect...he's surprisingly sympathetic.
We don't want to see him die...yet what other end is there for a king who
finds himself in enemy lands?
in this age of computer generated effects that can create anything out of thin
air and make it seamless with reality, I think I appreciate the original King
Kong more than ever by comparison. CGI
is incredible, but the downside for me is that I no longer marvel at motion
pictures. I go to one expecting to
be wowed every time.
1933, there was no such technology to make anything imaginable instantly
possible. Stop-motion animation had
to be shot a frame at a time, and when combined with rear projection, the live
action had to be inserted a frame at a time as well. It took better than a hundred hours of work for one minute of
screen time. The overall result
isn't entirely realistic: without
natural looking motion blurs, the action takes on a bit of a jerky, dreamlike
quality that in my opinion actually heightens rather than detracts from the
overall effect. It's a fantasy
picture that really FEELS like fantasy.
in the throes of the Great Depression, people scraped together their pocket
change and went to see King Kong. For
a film to become a must-see event in a time where a quarter of the country was
out of work and bread was almost a luxury item, you know it had to be something
really special. And it still is, to
this day. Kong remains the all time
box office champion among monsters, and I have no doubt that no matter how far
our motion picture technology takes us, he will always be King.
TRIVIA I: Keep an eye out for
co-directors Cooper and Schoedsack as pilots who gun down Kong!
TRIVIA II: Merian C. Cooper was
born here in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.
dare say this is the best that this 70 plus year old film has ever looked.
There are problems here and there; noticeable grain, some flicker in the
margins, a scratch or spot on the print, but all of these can be forgiven as
unavoidable signs of aging. The
contrast and detail levels are better than ever, and more than a few scenes are
downright stunning when compared to how you remember them from previous video or
television incarnations. Kudos to
Warner Bros. for a solid transfer and restoration effort.
suppose Warner could have tried for a surround mix with this picture, but
to be honest, I didn't miss it. I
tend to think a big digital multi-channel offering would have been more
distracting than helpful. Kong is
a classic, and this presentation preserves it.
The mono offering has a few light pops and hisses here and there, which
are to be expected for a film from 1933. But
overall, the dialogue is clear, and the sound effects and Max Steiner's
legendary score add some dynamic punch. Fay Wray's screams never sounded so strong.
have waited a long time for Kong to terrorize us on DVD, and I have to
say, this two disc special edition was worth the wait.
One has, in addition to the film, a terrific commentary track by special effects
gurus Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, both of whom love the film and were
inspired by it. Their comments are
intercut with vintage clips of Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray.
Ms. Wray's participation is a bit of a bait-and-switch, though...she has
exactly TWO lines in the entire commentary.
Still, Harryhausen, Ralston and Cooper are all a joy to listen to.
There is also a gallery of trailers for this and some of Mr. Cooper's
other classic films.
Two has two gigantic documentaries. The
first, "I'm King Kong", chronicles the life and career of Cooper, and
contains many clips from his filmography, including a pair of his legendary
silents. The other is a 7 parter
titled "RKO Production 601", and it goes into great detail about the
movie, with retrospective thoughts by many of today's top directors, including
Peter Jackson, John Landis and more. It
includes a visual treatment of Willis O'Brien's concept for Creation, and
a bit of new stop motion animation created by Peter Jackson and company in an
intricate attempt to re-create the famously lost "Spider Pit"
can also watch their efforts separately from the documentary, as well as peruse
original Creation test footage with commentary by Ray Harryhausen.
The menu screens are also quite cool.