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08 December, 2007

DVD Review: KING KONG (1933)




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Title: KING KONG (Collector’s Edition Tin-Boxed Set)

Year of Release—Film: 1933

Year of Release—DVD: 2005

DVD Label: Warner Home Video




THE MOVIE

How much do I need to say about this, perhaps the greatest Monster movie of all time? This movie was the progenitor of every Giant Animal film that followed, from GOJIRA to EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS; it continues to thrill generations of monster fans; and it has inspired dozens of future filmmakers, from Ray Harryhausen to Peter Jackson.

The brainchild of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, (whose real lives are worthy of an adventure film or three…) KING KONG is the story of Carl Denham, a filmmaker who specializes in wildlife pictures, who’s been told by the executives that he needs some romance in his films, some beauty… in short, a woman. Desperate to find someone, anyone willing to undertake a long sea voyage for the chance at fame and fortune, he begins searching out the skid row flophouses and soup kitchens.

About to give up, he intercedes in an altercation between a fruit vendor and a young woman. Denham comes to the girl’s assistance, and realizes that he has found his star. Her name is Ann Darrow, and she is soon convinced that this is her ticket out of the poverty of Depression-era New York. She quickly finds herself aboard the Venture, bound for Indonesia, and for terror.

Kong was brought marvelously to life by the genius of Willis O’Brien. Obie, as he was known, began his career in the art of Stop-Motion Animation with the 1918 film THE GHOST OF SLUMBER MOUNTAIN, and became recognized as the leading animator in Hollywood with 1925’s THE LOST WORLD. With KING KONG, Obie hit his professional zenith, designing creatures and effects that still fascinate and amaze audiences, most notably Kong himself.

But the big ape wasn’t the only star of the movie, and this film elevated his leading lady to legendary status. Fay Wray was one of the rising stars in the Hollywood of the early ‘30’s, and had been since appearing in Erich von Stroheim’s 1928 film THE WEDDING MARCH. Beginning in 1932, she appeared in several Horror Films, most notably THE MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM, earning her the title of the Screen’s first “Scream Queen.” If those films had been her entire contribution to the genre, she would still be fondly remembered by Horror fans, but her starring role in KING KONG forever cemented her place in film history.

Taken as a whole, this film must rate as one of the greatest achievements in cinematic history. Everything about it is superlative, as demonstrated by the effect it still has on audiences today, 73 years after it premiered.

As soon as I got my set, I sat down to watch it. My mother, three years Kong’s elder, had never seen the film and, much to my surprise, decided to join me. To my continued surprise, she loved the movie. The fact that KING KONG can still connect with viewers so long after it was released simply proves its greatness.



THE DISC

In my year-end 2005 in review column over in CreatureScape’s The Unimonster’s Crypt, I called this the DVD release of the year, and two years worth of subsequent releases haven’t changed my opinion at all. In fact, if I’m still doing this in January 2011, it just might win Release of the Decade.

First, the film itself is the best looking print I’ve ever seen of KONG, with all the footage that was edited out in 1938 restored from an intact print found in Great Britain. Though this footage was found and restored in the ‘70’s, the movie has received a thorough cleaning and restoration for this release, and it really benefits from the process.

Add in the multiple subtitle and audio tracks and you have one of the best two-disc sets you likely to see.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

To say that this collection has some special features is like saying Bill Gates has a little cash. This baby is packed; it seems that WHV really wanted to please the fans of the film with this offering, and they succeeded. The list of extras contained in the KING KONG Collector's Edition Tin-Box set includes (courtesy of www.imdb.com):

2-Disc Special Edition DVD

Collectible tin packaging
20-page reproduction of original 1933 souvenir program
King Kong memorable scenes postcards
Vintage King Kong poster mail-in offer

Disc 1: The Movie

Original 1933 Film classic in Glorious Black and White, Newly Restored and Digitally Mastered
Commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, with Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray
Merian C. Cooper Movies Trailer Gallery

Disc 2: King-Sized Special Features

I'm King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper -- 2005 documentary
RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World - 7 Part Documentary including...
The Origins of "King Kong"
Willis O'Brien and "Creation"
Cameras Roll on Kong, The Eighth Wonder
A Milestone in Visual Effects
Passion, Sound and Fury
The Mystery of the Lost "Spider Pit" Sequence
King Kong’s Legacy
Creation Test Footage with Commentary by Ray Harryhausen

I’m not sure where to begin with this… it’s simply overwhelming, in both quantity and quality. For example, the 1933 souvenir program is a reproduction of one that was given out at the premiere… and that had been bound with a sheet copper cover. While WHV didn’t go to quite that extent in reproducing it, the cover of the reproduction has been given a coppery metallic sheen, neatly replicating the look, if not the heft, of the original.

But the jewel of the special features, at least for me, is the 7-part documentary RKO 601: THE MAKING OF ‘KONG, THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD’. At over two-and-a-half hours in length, it’s one of the most informative and entertaining “making-of” documentaries I’ve had the pleasure to watch. And while the documentary as a whole is excellent, the highlight has to be the look at how Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop ‘recreated’ the lost Spider-Pit sequence, using hand-made duplicates of the original animation models and 1932 equipment in an attempt to faithfully reproduce the original look and feel of the film. Only someone with a true love of the original movie would go to such trouble and expense, and Jackson’s reverence for the film is clearly displayed.

I could go for another 10 pages on the bonus features included with this disc, but suffice it to say that if you’re a Kongophile, you’ll be happy.




IN CONCLUSION

I remember when I first looked my Universal Monster Legacy Set over, thinking that no one was going to top this Collection. I was actually surprised to be proven wrong, and in such a short time frame. I doubt it will happen again, at least so quickly. With a $40 list price this set’s not cheap, but how can I not recommend it? You can find it cheaper, Deep Discount DVD currently shows it for less than $30, but this isn’t the set to pinch pennies over. If you’re a Kong fan, and since you’ve come to the Crypt I’ll wager you are, then you have to have this set in your collection. Yes, you could buy a bare-bones stripped clean disc with just the movie… and you’ll save twenty bucks. I say splurge… you won’t regret it.


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