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The King Kong Deluxe Extended Edition is an all-new, action-packed DVD experience! Director Peter Jackson has added more than 13 minutes of never-before-seen footage, including the heart-stopping excitement of a charging Ceratops, the adrenaline rush of a Skull Island underwater creature's attack and so much more. Plus, this Deluxe Extended Edition is loaded with hours of brand-new special features, including a riveting commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, an outtake and gag reel, along with over 38 minutes of thrilling deleted scenes!
The extended version of Peter Jackson's King Kong adds 13 minutes to the running time--fortunately those 13 minutes include two dynamic action scenes and no material has been added to the movie's belabored set-up, which tries to give depth to these quintessentially b-movie characters with a clumsy patchwork of melodrama and in-jokes. But once movie-maker Carl Denham (Jack Black, School of Rock) and his crew finally arrive at Skull Island, the movie kicks into gear with spectacular action, technical wizardry, and genuine feeling. Though Kong seems crafted to dazzle the eye on the giant screen, the overlong structure improves when you can take an intermission at will. At home, each scene can be approached on its own terms, be it the insanely choreographed battle between Kong and three T. Rexes or the subtle and multi-layered interplay between Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive) and Kong (played, through motion-capture technology, by Andy Serkis, who previously played the similarly animated Gollum in Jackson's Lord of the Rings). The addition of a rampaging ceratops and an underwater race with what the movie's crew dubbed a "piranhadon" not only add more eye candy, but provide some valuable moments of character development. But in the end, that's frosting on the cake; when the movie's weaknesses and strengths are weighed, the emotional power of the fantastical relationship between a woman and a giant ape is a real cinematic achievement.
Much like the movie itself, the abundance of extra features on the Deluxe Extended Version of Peter Jackson's King Kong mix dazzling skill (the very in-depth "making of" documentary reveals the staggering amount of work that went into animating Kong) and woeful bloat (do we need to know this much about the friends who made cameos as biplane pilots?). As usual, there are mildly interesting but expendable deleted scenes, goof-ups and hijinks (some charming, some cloying), trailers, and outright advertisements (a plug for fans to buy collectible models--annoying until you learn from the doc how much obsessive labor the designers put into these things). But the most intriguing material provides a good long look into the filmmakers' creative processes, both technical (among other things, "pre-viz" animation shows how in some cases the action sequences were conceived before the script) and human (endearing glimpses of Jackson's stop-motion attempt to recreate Kong when he was 12 years old). Jackson and his engaging design team (who are much more interesting to listen to than the actors) clearly revere the original film, and frequent excerpts from it reveal why--but also demonstrate this movie's greatest weakness: "More realistic" doesn't equal "more evocative." --Bret Fetzer
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To start with, Peter Jackson's KING KONG did nothing new for movies so it won't be remembered as anything extraordinary 75 years from now. In order for that to happen, a film needs to stand out as different from others of its time and thus be worth talking about long after it came out. The original KONG accomplished this by setting new filmmaking standards in special effects, music scoring and sound recording. Everything comes together so seamlessly in the film that its merits can easily be taken for granted, and often are. KING KONG had huge relevance when it came out in 1933; Aside from revolutionizing the film industry, it depicted the Great Depression, something audiences identified with so strongly at the time, and it immortalized the Empire State Building, which was just erected in 1931 and hailed as the epitome of modern engineering and construction. In short, the film was made exactly when it would best have an impact in the world. Peter Jackson's remake will never achieve that kind of cultural significance because it's irrelevant from the outset. It doesn't speak for its time the way the original did and still does.
Greatness is largely measured by originality, and on that note Jackson's film is nothing more than a plagiarism of Merian C. Cooper's original concept. At least in the '76 Dino DeLaurentiis version there were no cheap rip-offs of dialogue and musical cues lifted from the original. This kind of borrowing/referring is lost on younger audiences unfamiliar with the original film, and only comes off as gushy overindulgence on Jackson's part.
I also got jaded very fast with all the repetitious CGI glitz I was bombarded with - Kong flies and bounces around with the speed and weightlesness of a Loony Tunes cartoon character. On the other hand, I never fail to marvel at the grittier, hands on visual effects of 1933 which combined stop-motion, glass paintings, full-scale and miniature rear projection, in-camera mattes, and optical printing. The overall results seem even more remarkable today, especially since that brand of genuine artistry has been replaced by generic, computer simulated effects. Jackson's Kong stretches his mouth too wide when he roars (a lousy roar by the way), and his face and body contort in that watery, exaggerated fashion that is characteristic of CGI in so many current films. It reminded me of the "rubber hose" style animation of old cartoons which I don't mind, and even like - in a cartoon that is. Here, instead of looking realistic it only comes off elastic. To say that the CGI is overdone in this digital blitz is putting it mildly; it goes beyond credibility because it's used to depict action that defies physical laws. Despite the way she's being swung and hurled around, Ann Darrow seems to possess the invulnerability of a superhero in a video game.
The other neat thing about the first film is that its story, clocking in at 100 minutes, is fool-proof at that running time; extend it to over three hours as Jackson did and it just doesn't work. It's the kind of story that should move briskly along without resorting to scene overkill, and Jackson just crosses that line way too often. Witness the excessive dinosaur fights, the senseless bug scenes, that ridiculous ice skating bit (a real eye roller - Kong turns into Bambi!), and the ponderous, outrageously over the top Empire State Building finale. For all its pretentions toward 'character development' and other contrivances, this remake manages to omit two of the original's key exciting sequences: Kong's rampage in the native village (what happened to Jackson's demonic looking natives anyway?) and his wrecking of the elevated train. The compromised result doesn't improve on the original, but emerges instead as a tedious, gluttonous opus with a juvenile reliance on sheer banality that tries to pass for 'emotional depth'.
Additionally, though it's set in the '30's, the remake is too self conscious and tries too hard to be politically correct, all of which is out of historical context with that era. If Jackson has issues with the way people behaved in the '30's then why did he set his film in that time when he's unwilling to portray it truthfully? His remake dilutes everything that gave the real 1933 KONG its honest, timeless charm.
As for the actors, they're no match for the original players who brought a classic quintessence (not the often misused term stereotype) to their roles. Naomi Watts doesn't look, act, nor scream (yes, the screaming's important too folks) as good as the innocent/sexy Fay Wray. Unlike Wray's iconic, stylized performance, Watts brings none of that larger than life quality, and her face is frozen in a stunned expression for most of the film. She's also a full ten years older than Wray was in her portrayal as Ann Darrow, who's supposed to be an ingenue. This part immortalized the original actress, whereas Watts, like Jessica Lange before her, is probably trying to live it down. The miscast Jack Black totally lacks the conviction and gusto with which Robert Armstrong imbued Carl Denham. Forget the forced Orson Welles allusions; Black's Denham doesn't even measure up to Ed Wood. The actor's throw-away dialogue delivery and smug, immature attitude dispels any credibility to his performance which can best be summed up as amateurish. In his ill-advisedly re-written role as Jack Driscoll, Adrien Brody looks bored and quite unsure of what's expected of him, walking through it all as though he'd rather be doing another movie. Jeff Bridges at least tried to be convincing in the '76 version. In the original, Bruce Cabot played the part as it was called for - a tough, true to the era seaman who, like his rival Kong, is gradually softened by falling for Fay Wray. Kong himself isn't the hybrid, monster-ape as originally conceived in '33, but simply an actual, ho-hum gorilla. He also comes off as an unlikable grouch who isn't as gentle with Ann Darrow as the original Kong is.
The one 'performer' that's really showing off in this movie is Jackson's hyper-active camera, which is constantly gliding, swooping, and circling around like it's mounted on a carousel. It's all supposed to heighten drama and generate excitement - it doesn't. Like the relentless CGI, the camera acrobatics are so overwrought that they ultimately become meaningless, failing to achieve whatever effect the filmmakers intended.
Whereas the original KONG tells its story with vivid, no-nonsense clarity, Jackson's is convoluted with trivial subplots and secondary characters whom we don't need nor care to know about. All of that irrelevant elaboration only gets in the way of the narrative's main thrust.
A major climax is also mishandled: In the original theater sequence, Kong believes the photographers' flashes are hurting Ann, and this provides excellent motivation for him to break loose - the beast protecting his beauty. It sets up Kong's re-capture of Ann since he follows her out of the theater and sees her run into a hotel. In Jackson's version Ann Darrow isn't even at the theater (though her name appears on the marquee - go figure); instead she's substituted onstage by a stand-in who's participating in a mock native ceremony! Kong's motivation to escape is therefore not brought on by any feeling for Ann - he's just fed up in general. The sequence is further marred by cutting away from the theater and diverting our attention to some corny dribble about Ann's and Jack's personal problems. It interrupts the tension that should be mounting at this point in the film.
Most importantly, Jackson made a crucial narrative error: He changed the story of KING KONG into a more conventional version of "Beauty and the Beast". To understand why this was a mistake, we need to look at Merian C. Cooper's made up "Old Arabian Proverb" which opens the original film:
"And the prophet said:
'And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty.
And it stayed its hand from killing.
And from that day, it was as one dead.'"
In Jackson's remake, Carl Denham recites this proverb onstage at Kong's debut. However, it's not quite the same:
"And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty.
And beauty stayed his hand.
And from that day forward, he was as one dead."
Note that in Cooper's original text it's beauty's face that stays the beast's hand. In other words, it's her physical beauty alone that touches his primitive heart, not anything she herself does. There's nothing in the proverb to suggest that she warms up to him, and the '33 film adheres to that premise. Jackson altered the proverb and hence the whole point of the story by having beauty play an active role in taming and nurturing the beast, just as in the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast". He confused Cooper's film with something else entirely, and spawned the "it needed improvement" myth about the original. There's nothing to improve. The '33 KING KONG is a downbeat tale not just because Kong dies, but because Ann Darrow rejects him and thereby unwittingly contributes to the tragedy. It's a classic fable of unrequited love. If it's changed, the whole story falls apart. This is why the final line, "It was beauty killed the beast" works perfectly in the original but seems forced and out of place in Jackson's remake. He would have done better to leave it out as was done in the '76 version which also had the girl make friends with Kong.
A story as fantastic as KING KONG needs a streamlined, unpretentious treatment for it all to click, and ultimately Jackson's version fails by trying to be something more when nothing more is necessary. That's okay though, because in the end it just further emphasizes the singular glory of the original KING KONG, and it's now safe to assume we won't be seeing any more vain attempts at trying to recapture that glory anew. (See my Amazon review of the original KING KONG).
Running at a horrendously intimidating 187 minutes, I had my fears that there would be parts where cinematographic drags would consume my interest in the film, especially since there were several such moments in Fellowship of the Ring which Jackson also directed. However, I was pleased to find that dragging moments were limited and the whopping runtime was put to good use... so take care of your bladders prior to watching.
I have heard many complaints regarding the first third of the film which takes place in depression-era New York city. It is in this third where the titular beast is nowhere to be seen, but we are introduced to all the other main characters. I have argued many times that a film is not without it's characters and so far in his blockbuster career, Peter Jackson has not disappointed in characterization. It keeps the audience in the hearts and minds of everything that happens onscreen and therefore maintains an engaging atmosphere. All in all, you care about all the fuss and you watch and wait, with interest, for the next scene to unfold. Therefore, in spite of the gargantuan runtime, I was riveted to the screen.
Carl Denham (Jack Black... yes, Jack Black) is a struggling filmmaker whose career has been so far almost successful. When he learns his latest film is about to be scrapped, he escapes with his film and crew to continue production. He then learns his lead actress has quit and runs into an out-of-luck vaudeville entertainer, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who he manages to recruit. He convinces his cast and ship crew that they will be heading for Singapore to film. In reality, he is heading for the mysterious Skull Island whose location he had acquired just as mysteriously. However, his production woes continue as his script is unfinished. He then takes popular theater writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to continue the script while the ship sails for Skull Island. Upon reaching the island, they encounter murderous natives who wish to offer Ann to the gigantic beast they worship, Kong.
George Lucas once said that special effects are there to aid the telling of a story and should not be the emphasis of a film. Whether or not Lucas himself adheres to this philosophy is debatable, but it is clear that Jackson does. There is not one scene, real or digitally created, in this movie that does not have meaning. There is the scene of a shared sunset between Ann and Kong with volumes of depth. It is this scene, to this reviewer, that escalated the film from ordinary blockbuster to movie greatness.
Yes, there have been previous King Kong films. But where they fail is where Peter Jackson's take shines. There is an actual relationship between Kong and Ann, we actually understand why Ann cares so much for him. While Kong would try to impress her with roars and beating his chest, Ann would perform her vaudeville antics (to Kong's.. and ultimately the audience's delight). It is their shared moments of joy that solidify an unusual bond of friendship between Ann and Kong. Ann perhaps realizes that she is Kong's only friend, and hence his entire world.
It is the relationship between Ann and Kong that Jackson decided to concentrate his full filmmaking abilities and rightfully so. Yes, there is another sort-of love story between Ann and Jack Driscoll but not one that would outshine the focus of the film.
As for the other actors, they were top-notch. I have heard others say Jack Black was frightfully miscast but I think otherwise. His over-the-top acting fits perfectly for Carl, a filmmaker with so much passion for his film that he continually tries to sell it to everyone just so they "get it".
King Kong, I would have to say, is one of the best films of the year. Entirely engaging and a delightful and sometimes frightening adventure, it is one with definite heart. From vaudeville opening to heart-wrenching denoument, Jackson has made a film that beats on it's chest and roars.