While there will always be a place for the 1933 original, Peter Jackson’s take on the King Kong legend is pure Hollywood escapism at its finest. In all regards, it’s a more well-rounded, beefier, and spectacular experience than the original. Yes, it’s long, but with a purpose.
While things have changed, this is as loving a tribute to classic Hollywood cinema as you’ll find. Characters that were forgotten to a rapidly paced script have some form of personality in this update. It adds an additional layer of emotion to the action, the former the original had little of.
It’s true audiences are here to see the giant ape, and taking well over an hour to reach that point is an overlong chore. Still, for fans, the number of nods to the original and brilliance of recreating the time period make for wonderful viewing. Jackson is a known fanatic of the 1933 version, and with his one shot at remaking it, he obviously wanted to do as much as he could.
If there is any gripe, it’s the casting of Jack Black. While his performance eventually takes a turn for the better as he slowly descends into madness, his early moments are painful. Inserting a few of Robert Armstrong’s lines into the script and playing them up is fine, but Black is near parody at times.
All of that is quickly forgotten as the spectacular action kicks off. The extended cut adds in two scenes, effectively completing this as a full-on remake of the original. A centrosaur replaces the stegosaurus as the first encounter, and a giant fish replaces a brontosaurus raft assault (the brontos have their own moment in the spotlight), but every scene is masterfully recreated with modern technology. The iconic T-Rex battle now includes three of the beasts clashing with Kong, finishing with a jaw-clapping shot made for fans.
The New York assault is even more impressive considering the amount of work put into the sets. The combination of CG and live-action sets are indistinguishable. Jackson also crafts a grueling, emotional finish that easily makes it a worthy re-imagining on its own.
What is different is the relationship between Ann and Kong. Through the years and incarnations of Kong, the female lead changed from scared, to understanding, and now to loving. Creating a Kong that is gentle, only lapsing when provoked, is what makes his fall from the Empire State Building so sympathetic, and why the ’76 version fails to generate the same emotion.
King Kong is pure spectacle, and the reason why people watch movies in the first place. In a world filled with cynicism towards special effects and big-budget epics, Kong proves their worth. It’s long, but it’s a film worth the time commitment.
The HD DVD edition of Kong is still held in high regard as one of the best transfers on the market. Now on a BD-50 with a VC-1 encode this disc doesn’t change much. This is still a top-tier disc a few years later, even with the additional footage of the extended cut. Razor sharp with a simply jaw-dropping contrast, the image pops off the screen immediately. Loaded with detail, the video rarely misses a mark.
The intentionally blooming contrast was part of the original theatrical film, and carried over to every home edition to follow. Color quickly returns to its beautiful saturated state when the contrast returns to a normal brightness. There is some very minor artifacting from time to time, although not enough to drop this disc down from its placement near the top of all live-action discs.
The significant improvement for owners of the HD DVD version is the audio. This DTS-HD Master is phenomenal in every sense of the word. Yes, even the dialogue-heavy first hour is loaded with impressive moments, from the city streets of New York to an impressive soundtrack bleed filling the sound field.
Once the action starts, Kong gives new meaning to “thunderous roar.” The subwoofer is rarely quiet, pounding out incredible bass without overstepping its bounds to drown out the immersive stereo and surround audio. The jungle is alive with vibrant ambiance that never stops. Bullets fly around the viewer, and the biplanes that drop Kong make for some of the best demo material available. Their engines light up the low end, and their gunfire comes in from every direction. It’s stunning.
Sadly, Universal keeps this from being a perfect disc thanks to the meager selection of extras. A commentary from Jackson and producer Phillipa Boyens is extensive and detailed, carried over from the three-disc DVD edition. BD-Live capability offers no exclusive content to Kong as of this writing.
Finally, Universal’s irritating U-Control offers up various sketches and featurettes along with the movie. You can watch them separately, although you’ll need to return to the menu’s scene selection to do so. All content has been culled from prior Kong releases. There’s nothing new to see here.