DVD Review: King Kong Two-Disc Special Edition
‘It was Beauty, killed the Beast’. With that memorable line, so ended one of the film industry’s most classic films, 1933’s, King Kong. The 1933 version of, King Kong, is without a doubt, one of the most famous of film land’s ‘horror’ films. The brain-child of Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, this classic film has now been lovingly restored and packed with more bonus features than any fan could hope for and thanks to Warner Brothers, King Kong is now available for your viewing pleasure in three packages of your choice. As a two-disc stand alone film, as a three film collection of; King Kong (2-disc), Son of Kong (Review) and Mighty Joe Young (Review) or in a special ‘tin’, also a two-disc set, but with a few more goodies for you collector’s out there.
I’m sure everyone that has access to a TV or VCR has seen this classic film at one time or another, but just in case you have absolutely no idea what this film is about, I’ll offer you a short synopsis…..
Carl Denhan (Robert Armstrong) and Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) lead a filmmaking expedition to a remote island with Denham’s leading lady, Ann Driscoll (Fay Wray) in tow. Once on the island the crew is shocked to see that the island is home to several large beasts, both prehistoric and some never known to exist. The most amazing resident of the island is a huge ape…..18-24 feet high, King Kong takes an instant liking to Ann and proceeds to cart her off, deep into the prehistoric jungle with Driscoll and much of the ship’s crew giving chase. During the hunt to rescue Ann, Driscoll and his team encounter several prehistoric beasts, as does Kong and Ann. Driscoll finally rescues Ann and Denham is thrilled when Kong is also captured. With dollar signs in his eyes, Denham brings Kong back to New York City and tries to introduce the huge simian to a packed theatre of curious customers. Kong escapes and it’s Ann he’s searching for. One loose in the city, Kong stops at nothing to locate Ann. He tears apart an elevated train, tears a terrified woman from her apartment and drops her from several stories up, when he realizes, it isn’t Ann! Kong finally gets his hands back on Ann and takes her to the top of the Empire State Building. There, several bi-planes begin their assault on Kong and once again, Kong saves the life of ‘Beauty’.
I must say that I’ve always loved this film and seeing this DVD has definitely made me appreciate the film even more. I recently watched my old VHS, but this disc is the best I’ve ever seen the film. Now, you have to take into account, this is a 72 year old film and it’s not going to look like a film made, yesterday. There’s some grain that appears a little more intense during some of the effects scenes and some very minor print damage, but all in all, you can’t complain about the overall look of this disc. I was surprised to learn that this print was actually found in the U.K. and offers the most complete print still in existence. It’s said in the bonus features that in 1938, when King Kong was re-released to the theatres, U.S. censors snipped 29 scenes from the original version or about 4 minutes or so of film, so in the 1960s when the edited bits of film were re-discovered, it was 16mm prints being combined with 35mm prints and so the transition from edited to unedited scenes weren’t very smooth. This film offers a complete and unedited 35mm print, thanks to the U.K.!
King Kong is presented in a two-disc set and if you’re a casual fan of the film, the bonus features may turn you into a hard-core fan of the film and if you’re already crazy for the film, this two-disc set is your dream come true! Disc one houses the film as well as a commentary track with special effects master, Ray Harryhausen and effects veteran Ken Ralston with archival interview excerpts from Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray. Disc two is even more bonus features including the documentary; I’m King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper as well as the seven-part documentary: RKO Production 601:The Making of King Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World and original creation test footage with commentary from Ray Harryhausen.
Now, the commentary track with Harryhausen and Ralston is good, nothing really earth-shattering, but interesting and enjoyable. My favorite aspect of the bonus features is the seven-part documentary on the making of King Kong. There’s more information regarding the attempt to make the film, the people involved and the creative process it took to bring Kong to life than I could ever have imagined. I learned more about the film in that documentary than I’d ever heard or read about before viewing the disc. It’s just an incredible amount of information and it is offered by film directors, special effects creators and film historians.
If you think CGI effects are the be-all-end-all, then you really need to see this film and watch the bonus features, as you’ll definitely find a new respect for Willis O’Brien and his stop-motion animation effects. It was because of this film that effects/stop-motion-mater, Ray Harryhausen went into this line of work. The amazing thing is, 72 years later, stop-motion animation hasn’t changed since O’Brien’s groundwork! O’Brien gave us something ‘real’ in his version of, Kong, you see facial expressions, feelings and a ‘soul’ and where King Kong might have been nothing but a rampaging ‘monster’, Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Willis O’Brien saw to it that the audience felt more than blind hatred or fear in Kong, they could feel a sense of sadness, as well.
Probably the most exciting bonus feature on the disc is the history of the ‘Spider Pit’ sequence. In the original film, there’s a scene where some of the sailors helping Driscoll search for Ann, fall into a pit and unfortunately for them, the pit was home to several variations of prehistoric beasts and insects. Test audiences were shown the gruesome sequence and to Cooper’s dismay, audience members were either so upset by what they saw, they left the theatre or those audience members who remained, wanted nothing more to do than discuss what they saw, thus upsetting the continued viewing of the film. The following day, Cooper burned the footage and it’s never been seen since that initial viewing. A few stills showing the spider and various other beasts/insects remained and it was always hoped that the footage might be located.
Peter Jackson, who was in the director’s chair for the 2005 version of, King Kong, is a huge fan of the original film and put his special effects people to the test of possibly re-creating the sequence and adding it as a bonus feature for this DVD. Taking the original script and using stills of the scenes that were filmed, Jackson and his crew re-created the beasts and using stop-motion animation and some of the creators of these effects as actors, they filmed the infamous ‘Spider Pit’ sequence! Once filmed, they actually digitally degraded the film and sound effects were inserted. The final effects are absolutely amazing! In watching the original version being spliced with the new footage, you’d be hard-pressed to really pick the scene out.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which of the three King Kong packages you pick up, as all three offer the two-disc special edition version of the film, the important thing is, pick this up and discover what an amazing film this really is.
Buy the King Kong (2-Disc Special Edition) DVD at Amazon.com
Buy the King Kong Collection on DVD at Amazon.com
Visit the official website for Peter Jackson’s King Kong