Release Date(s)2005 (July 11, 2017)
Studio(s)Wingnut Films (Universal)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
(The film portion of this review is by Tim Salmons. The 4K A/V portion is by Bill Hunt.)
Soon after The Lord of the Rings trilogy garnered Peter Jackson a reputation as one of today’s biggest and most successful directors, with a string of award wins, he set out to remake his all-time favorite film: the incomparable King Kong (1933). Almost 72 years after that legendary stop-motion fantasy film touched audiences all over the world, Jackson’s 2005 remake stormed the box office and brought in a sizable profit, making double its budget back in the U.S. alone. However, the film wasn’t without its criticisms and it left a minority of audience members feeling unfulfilled. Now, some 12 years after its initial release (and following multiple home video editions, including a recent Ultimate Edition Blu-ray upgrade – reviewed here), the Ultimate Edition of the film arrives on 4K Ultra HD.
The 2005 remake of Kong has an interesting history. After he made The Frighteners for Universal in 1996, the studio was interested in doing another movie with Jackson and offered him the chance to remake Creature from the Black Lagoon. He turned this down, but was interested in remaking King Kong, which Universal also felt was worth pursuing. Soon thereafter, a script was written and pre-production was underway. Around that same time, Universal was attempting to remake many of its other monster movie properties too, most notably The Mummy with director Stephen Sommers. But with other big budget monster remakes (like Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young) in the works from other studios, Universal suddenly got cold feet about Kong and pulled the plug on it. With the success of Lord of the Rings, however, the studio resurrected the project and put Jackson back in the driver’s seat.
Jackson’s Kong is not a perfect film, but it’s solid nonetheless, with much to like. Kong himself is a very well-realized special effect, but some of the other CGI (not to mention the amount of screen time given to the movie’s lesser characters) is problematical. Scenes sometimes go on far longer than necessary, hammering the point home and then driving it in with extra nails. Regardless of its unevenness, however, King Kong is still well-crafted and offers some wonderful performances, as well as fun action sequences. It doesn’t quite reach the level of popcorn entertainment that one might be hoping for, at least not the kind that Kong: Skull Island delivers (see our review here), but it does offer plenty of moments that make the ride worth taking. At the same time, it pays respect to the original film in a way that makes you forgive most of its shortcomings.
King Kong (2005) was shot on Super 35 film and finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate. That source has been upsampled and given a new HDR10 color grade. Both the theatrical and extended versions of the film are presented here on Ultra HD in their original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio; you’re asked to choose which version you wish to watch when the disc begins playing. Give its 2K source, fine detail and texturing aren’t up to the level of other titles in native 4K on this format, but there is a noticeable improvement in both areas over the Blu-ray edition. Grain levels are nicely even, though the nature and vintage of its visual effects means that the film often lacks the natural immersion you get in other 4K titles, leaving the image instead with a slightly digital appearance. But this is the nature of the beast – the film has always looked this way. The High Dynamic Range improvements are, however, spectacular. Not only does HDR lend itself to added subtlety in the Depression-era New York City sequences, once the film reaches its island setting the colors are incredibly lush and vibrant, with a level of accuracy and saturation that’s both vivid and far more nuanced than the Blu-ray. Blacks are much deeper and the highlights gleam in a way that isn’t exactly natural but is perfectly fitting for such fantastical material.
In terms of audio, the Blu-ray’s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix was already terrific but it’s been upgraded on the 4K disc to object-based DTS:X. It’s an amazing presentation, with strong dynamics, aggressive panning activity, extremely deep low end, fully-enveloping ambience, powerful score reproduction, and crystal-clear dialogue. The DTS:X also opens up the soundstage a bit, making the mix a bit more spacious and natural sounding – it’s a slightly more immersive experience. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include English DTS Headphone:X (which simulates theater-like surround sound over a regular pair of headphones), as well as standard 5.1 DTS mixes in French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese. Available subtitles include English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese.
In terms of special features, the actual 4K disc includes just one, which is the extended version audio commentary with Jackson and producer Philippa Boyens. But the real coup here is that the 4K package also contains the 2-disc Blu-ray Ultimate Edition, which incorporates almost everything from every previous release of the film on both DVD and Blu-ray, including the web Production Diaries that were released in a deluxe DVD set prior to the film’s theatrical release. It should be noted though that the Diary featuring original composer Howard Shore, which was pulled from the Kong is King website, has still not been included (it can be found by other means if you’re so inclined). There is also no new material on this set. But since there’s so much of it, let’s go over it with a fine-toothed comb...
The first Blu-ray offers the option to watch either the theatrical or extended version of the film in 1080p HD. Special features include the same audio commentary, a Picture-in-Picture mode (which features condensed versions of many of the interviews and behind-the-scenes footage found on the second Blu-ray), The Art Galleries (which also play along with the main feature), and a set of standard Universal BD options: My Scenes, U-Control, BD-Live, and a User Guide.
The second Blu-ray is a Bonus Features disc featuring extensive material in mostly SD quality. It should be noted that there are subtitle options in English SDH, French, and German in case you need them. There’s the original 2006 disc introductions by Peter Jackson from both the Special Edition and Extended Edition DVD releases, as well as the long-form Recreating the Eighth Wonder: The Making of King Kong eight-part documentary (The Origins of King Kong, Pre-Production Part 1: The Return of Kong, Pre-Production Part 2: Countdown to Filming, The Venture Journey, Return to Skull Island, New York, New Zealand, Bringing Kong to Life Part 1: Design and Research, and Bringing Kong to Life Part 2: Performance and Animation).
Also included on this disc are the aforementioned Production Diaries, viewable by date or location with the original 2006 introduction by Peter Jackson. They include Peter’s Welcome, The Diner Set, Rough Seas on Land, Filming Inside the Venture, Denham’s Camera, Plane Spotting, Storms on the Venture, Animal Droppings, Dump Tanks, Dump Tanks Part 2, Skull Island Preview, Lumpy’s Galley Tour, Clapper Boards, Previsualization, Skull Island Rocks, Skull Island Shoot, Gandalf the Spy, The Swamp Set, Peter’s Kong Collection, Is Jack Black 5’4”?, Creating Skull Island, Location Logistics, International Press Junket, The On-Set Art Department, The Missing Production Diary (previously an Easter egg), Cameras, Journey of a Roll of Film, Creating New York in New Zealand, A Day at the Zoo (also previously an Easter egg), Shooting at the Civic Theatre, Concept Art, Happy Holidays!, New Year’s Message from Peter, Shooting Begins in New York, New York Extras, Vintage Vehicles, New York Set Dressing, Sewers and Steam, Lighting Continuity, Times Square Becomes Herald Square, Adrien the Stunt Driver, A Day in the Life of Peter, Skull Island Miniatures, Naomi in Kong’s Hand, Hair and Makeup, Global Partner Summit, Second Unit, Sound Recording, Helldiver Airplanes, Filming Winds Down, The Kong Sequels, Costume Design, Unit Photography, Andy’s Revenge on the DVD Team, Peter Calls in Help, and The Last Day.
Next on this disc are the Post-Production Diaries, also viewable by date or location. They include Welcome to Post Production, The Miniature Venture, Kong Performance Capture, Creating Sound Effects, A Visit to the Editorial Department, Peter Answers Your Questions Part 1, The Miniatures Second Unit, Building a Miniature, WETA Digital Overview, Creating the Teaser Trailer, Sound Design, Shooting Additional Elements, Preparing for Pick-Up Shooting, Pick-Ups: The Cast Returns, Pick-Ups: The Venture Extras, Pick-Ups: Continuity, Pick-Ups: The Wrap, Alternative Dialogue Recording, Detailing the Miniatures, The Unsung Heroes of Rotoscoping, Foley Recording, Digital Doubles, Digital Color Grading, Bringing Kong to Life: Motion Editing, Bringing Kong to Life: Animation, Filming the Miniatures, Kong Visits New Zealand, Mixing Dialogue, Music, and Effects, The Mixing Board, The Music of Kong Part 1, The Music of Kong Part 2, Delivering the Film, Peter Answers Your Questions Part 2, The World Premiere, and The New Zealand Premiere.
Following up all of that material are 16 Deleted and Extended Scenes with optional introductions by Peter Jackson (Preston Shows Ann Her Cabin, How a Man Dies, Jack Has Doubts About Ann, Ann Chooses an Outfit, Hayes Confronts Englehorn, Preston Finds the Map, Dancing a Jig, The Rest of the Venture Voyage, Lumpy and His Cabbage, “Scream for Your Life, Ann”, The Venture Escapes (Original Version), Hayes’ Story, A Sailor’s Bad Luck, Original Insect Pit Opening, Kong Chases Jack’s Cab, and Kong Versus the Army); The Eighth Blunder of the World gag reel; The Making of a Shot: The T-Rex Fight featurette; the Skull Island: A Natural History mockumentary; the Kong’s New York, 1933 featurette; A Night in Vaudeville footage; the King Kong Homage featurette; a set of Pre-Visualization Animatics with optional music cues (Arrival at Skull Island, Bronto Stampede, T-Rex Fight, Empire State Building “Pre-Viz” Only, and Empire State Building Battle “Pre-Viz” with Final Film Comparison); Conceptual Design Video Galleries (The 1996 King Kong, The Venture, Skull Island, New York, Kong); The Present short film; the WETA Collectibles featurette; and a set of trailers (teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, and Cinemedia trailer). Finally, there’s a paper insert with a Digital HD copy code. The only extras missing from all of the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases are the 1996 and 2005 scripts for the film in PDF form, which were accessible via DVD-ROM.
Calling this the Ultimate Edition of Peter Jackson’s King Kong is an accurate statement. Chances are high that many 4K fans will retire their previous Blu-ray and DVD versions, as this new edition delivers the film in the highest possible quality and consolidates everything that’s come before very well. While some may wish to hang onto the Production Diaries DVD box set for its excellent swag and packaging, if you’re looking for a single version of this movie to own on disc… this is it. It should be obvious by now, but the King Kong: Ultimate Edition comes highly recommended. Now, if only we could get this kind of treatment for some of Jackson’s other big budget films, for which the extras are spread out over multiple releases. We’re looking at you Warner Bros.
- Tim Salmons (with Bill Hunt)