The Good

Imaginatively packaged and packed with extras that film historians can use, this is one of the best DVD releases ever assembled.

The Bad

I don’t like the fact that when you remove the shrink wrap the back cover comes with it.

I went into King King not knowing something I probably should have known years ago. This movie is a sound picture. Here I am, graduate of college with a BA in Film Studies and I had no idea that this seminal piece of cinema was in fact not of the silent variety. There is a lot to be said about this film and with the remake soon to hit theaters (and I am pretty certain that it is going to be an enormous success), I was hesitant to watch this movie before I saw that one. Still, I did and let me just say this, even now, even with all of the advances we have made in cinema, the original King Kong is something amazing to watch. It might be hard for some younger people who just don’t have the perspective, but I have been watching movies long enough to remember when not every film was splattered with visual FX. This tale of an ape’s love for a beautiful woman is something that will live on, and if Peter Jackson has done what I think he has, hopefully both versions will be able to stand together side by side.

Also, my first memories of being a live and being at the movies center around King Kong. It wasn’t the 1933 version but the one from 1976 when I was 3 years old. There are a lot of people who have told me that that is actually a bad movie, but when I was a little boy, just looking at that picture of King Kong ding on the late Twin Towers, made me want to see that film so bad I couldn’t stop staring at the image. Looking at this new box set and gearing up to see Peter Jackson’s version, I can safely say that I am getting those old feelings back again.

Features

Disc 1

Commentary Track

This is a very well put together track (although technically flawed in some areas) that features visual effects people such as Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston. Their commentary track is broken up by Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray. Personally, I think that this 2 disc DVD set should be used in film schools because it is so comprehensive and interesting. Sure, there are moments when the people talking put down the films of today, but I simply chalk that up to the pioneers not getting the credit that they deserve. I loved when Merian C. Cooper came on, because while you could tell his voice had been captured on not the best sound equipment, we are hearing from a true Hollywood original who pushed himself at every advent of this production.

Disc 2{@@@[email protected]@@}{@@@[email protected]@@}”I Am King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper”; “The Making of Kong” and “Original Creation Test Footage

All three of these pieces are very well put together and they look at the making of this epic movie and of the epic person who made it. I Am King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper is a very in-depth look at the man and his life. I feel that we really get a true characterization of who this adventurous person was. How he kept pushing himself and his ideas, and wasn’t fazed by any of the challenges that he imposed on himself. He reminds me of what Francis Ford Coppola was like before he started enjoying his success. While Peter Jackson is no Merian C. Cooper, he is certainly cut from the same adventurous cloth.

RKO Productions 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World is something else that should be screened in every film class. It’s so funny listening to people who make lower budget movies bemoan their circumstances. Sure, Cooper had money behind him, but he was also taking a huge risk. What if they shot the movie and the creature FX didn’t work? What if they couldn’t blend the images so that the creatures and the humans were believable on screen together? When you think about it it is truly amazing what they were able to pull off. I also love that Merian C. Cooper related who he was as a person with King Kong, and it’s great getting the “talking head” perspectives on this film as well. On top of all this, this “Special Feature” is also very easy to watch.

The Original Creation Test Footage has a commentary by Ray Harryhausen over it and it’s really cool to see what’s on screen, and then hear him sort of describe not how it was done, but why it was being done. You’re not watching this footage because it’s awesome to look at (even though it is), we watch it because we get engaged by the emotions of the creatures. Like King Kong, we are seeing a beast with a heart, but that wouldn’t exist without the work that has been done by people like Willis H. O'Brien. In that regard, the stop motion puppet really becomes an extension of it’s creator/animator.

1933 Souvenir Program and King Kong Movie One-Sheet Postcards

This set comes with 5 very colorful one-sheet posters that show us King Kong in different poses. So far, based on what I have seen from the ad’s for Peter Jackson’s version, he is utilizing everything today to further enhance what an achievement the 1933 version was. While these one-sheets are clearly for the fans, they are the kind of things that small picture frames were made for. Lastly, the 1933 Souvenir Program is a reproduction of the program from when the movie originally premiered. Laid out with shots, quotes and descriptions from the film, this is another piece that caters to fan sensibilities, but is also neat for the newly initiated to get a sense of the time in which this movie was made.

Video

Standard version presented in a format preserving the aspect ratio of it’s original theatrical exhibition. Now before you start wondering why they didn’t artificially put this movie in widescreen, just settle down a little bit. This movie looks great. Sure, they have used a lot of color on the ad materials (as they did when this movie initially came out in the theater), but I don’t think that’s really meant to confuse people into thinking that this is a color picture. Anybody with half a brain can look on the back and see that this movie is from 1933 and that’s how they made them back then. The black and white has really held up and O'Brien’s creature FX demonstrate why they are the standard by which all others are judged.

Audio

Dolby Digital - English Mono. The soundtrack to this movie is big. Why don’t we have overtures in the movies anymore? Is it because it would take up too much screentime when the theater could make a buck showing more commercials? I am still amazed that King Kong is in fact a sound picture. When you realize that this movie is from 1933 and that it’s just now being released on DVD, one could certainly give this film a pass if the sound wasn’t up to par. I would have to admit that it’s exactly the opposite. This movie sounds really good. It’s look and tones capture the time in which it was made, and I honestly feel like I have learned something screening this 2 disc set.

Package

Everything is housed inside a metal case in that opens up like a book. There is a 3-D cover that is in full color, showing Kong storming New York with Fay Wray in his hand. Inside, the two discs come housed in packaging with a similar cover, and they unfold with detailed descriptions of where the movie and the “Special Features” are on each disc. There are various iconic images, mainly the one of King Kong battling the planes on the Empire State Building. There is also a description of what this movie is about, and on the back of each piece of packaging, Kong on top of the Empire State Building is rendered in all his ape-like fury. This DVD release with it’s intricate packaging, well put together layout and supplemental pieces of promotion is an instant collectors item.

Final Word

I am amazed that I always thought King Kong was a silent picture. I guess this is probably because all of the images I had ever seen from the movie were silent. I was in awe watching this film. I am fan of all cinema. I love old movies, new movies, movies from different countries... if it has been committed to film I want to see it. Sadly, I just don’t have the time to see all the movies that I want to see. Nor, do I have the time to see every movie that has ever been made. Yet, in watching King Kong and finally getting that out of the way, I feel like I have made a giant leap towards something. Like I have really ventured backwards and been able to see where everything began.

It is truly a no brainer. If you like DVDs than I think King Kong is a must own.