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KING KONG
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis
Director:  Peter Jackson
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  188 Minutes (Theatrical), 200 Minutes (Extended)
Release Date:  January 20, 2009

“…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.

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 ****

When I first got my Blu-ray player, I thought of a mental list of titles I'd most like to see in the format.  King Kong was one of the top ten.  Now that it's here, I can say the experience was even better than I had hoped for.  1080p presentation makes the spectacular even better.  The approach to Skull Island, which is mostly dark, rings out with incredible clarity and no grain or compression anywhere.  The Island itself is a colorful, breathtaking revelation of detail that this format was invented for.  I was noticing more than ever, from birds in the background to the textures of the rocks and trees...wow. 

But maybe best of all is the New York finale, which looks like a nostalgic picture postcard from a bygone era.  You can read every marquee, every colored light is distinct and well-contained...it's as though every shot were opening up to delight you with more and more surprises.  And the big guy himself has never looked better...every wrinkle, every hair, every minute detail stands out with a ringing clarity.  Absolutely marvelous!

Audio ****

The Oscar-winning soundtrack sounds more deserving than ever in lossless DTS HD audio.  The action, music and beds of effects are relentless, and your receiver will get a workout from the constant surround and subwoofer signals.  This track is both dynamic and ambient, as subtle sounds during quiet stretches might have you looking over your shoulder a time or two.

Features ***

This single Blu-ray disc contains both the theatrical and extended cuts of the movie.  The longer cut has a couple of spectacular new scenes, such as an adventure crossing a swamp and an initial meeting with a Triceratops.  Other scenes are extended, sometimes unnecessarily...there's one of the most ridiculous military speeches ever heard in a movie, for example.

If you choose the extended version, you get access to a terrific commentary track from Peter Jackson and co-writer co-producer Philippa Boyens, which is a treat to listen to.  You can also access Universal's 'U-Control' for extra goodies while you watch, such as art galleries or picture-in-picture presentations of related interviews or behind-the-scenes footage.  You don't get Jackson's extended diary documentary, but much of the material is covered in 'U-Control', so you're not missing much.  You can also access BD Live for more exclusive goodies.

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.  Blu-ray makes this the best way to experience his vision apart from the big screen.  Forget awards, critics’ lists and Hollywood musings.  This was 2005’s true best film…all of the others combined weren’t enough to fill this big guy’s footprint.

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