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Kong’ DVD roars new life into colossal film

Rama Gottumukkala | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The seminal moment of Peter Jackson’s childhood imagination came on a Friday evening in 1970. Huddled in front of his parents’ black and white TV, the 9-year-old Peter saw the 1933 classic “King Kong” for the first time. It was love at first sight.

It “was one of those defining moments in [my] life where everything changed after I saw ‘Kong,'” Jackson admits in a documentary about his version’s genesis.

In his years following that 1970 evening, young Peter busied himself with making his own version of “Kong.” Using his mother’s fur coat for the hair, he built a wire and rubber Kong figure. He spent hours delicately manipulating the simian, remaking his favorite film using his parents’ Super-8 movie camera. Eventually, Jackson had to face the cold hard facts.

“I got so far and just realized it was never going to be what I was imagining it to be in my mind,” he says.

Cut to Dec. 14, 2005 and the release date for Universal Studios’ remake of “King Kong.” The results speak for themselves. Jackson’s “Kong” is a staggering achievement, a modern marvel of filmmaking ingenuity. Working on a number of levels, it excels as a period piece, an action adventure and a love story. It is a work of surprising warmth and tenderness thanks to its star, a captivating, digitally-rendered ape who feels more real and humane than dozens of more atypical and mediocre human protagonists.

Late last year, Universal debuted the three-disc “King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition” DVD, which clocks in at a hefty 201 minutes – 14 more than the theatrical release. Most of this footage comes down to action set pieces on Skull Island, including an awe-inspiring triceratops stampede. Jackson and his crew have poured a great deal of effort into this fascinating archival project, and it shows.

Split over the first two discs, the image and audio quality are both pristine. Supported by a thundering soundtrack, the film’s breathtaking cinematography and crisp digital backdrops are flawlessly sharp and vibrant. Much of “King Kong” takes place at night, a typical problem area for most DVDs, which tend to lose detail in these scenes. That is not the case here – and it is in these deep, inky blacks that “Kong” shows its dexterity.

A seemingly boundless array of special features await within the confines of this DVD, including deleted scenes, a blooper reel, trailers and a featurette that compares this “Kong” to the 1933 version. Chief among them is “Recreating the Eighth Wonder: Making King Kong,” a three-hour documentary that rivals the film itself in its scope, depth and running time. None of it is fluff, which may be its greatest strength.

In the first 10 minutes of the “Eighth Wonder” feature, Jackson expresses his obvious love for behind-the-scenes looks at movie making. As a kid, he would seek out the magazines that had set photographs showing stop-motion artists at work. That enthusiasm has carried over to his DVDs, which feature heavy contributions from the New Zealander director.

Between this “Kong” extended edition and the superlative, four-disc “Lord of the Rings” extended editions, Jackson has established himself as the DVD medium’s biggest supporter. He enthusiastically offers up explanations and lessons on every aspect of filmmaking on this release, and the two most notable contributions are his warm, insightful commentary with co-writer Philippa Boyens and the mammoth “Eighth Wonder” feature. Simply put, “King Kong: Deluxe Extended Edition” is the best DVD of the last year and one of the finest DVDs ever released.

In 2005, using every ounce of a lifetime’s worth of filmmaking acumen, Jackson finally unveiled the epic, 25-foot-tall Kong that he’d conjured in his mind hundreds of times since his childhood. The result is a hero and an adventure that would surely impress the little boy who made his first Kong out of wire, rubber and a worn fur coat all those years ago.