Twas Beauty killed the BeastÖ
Billed as the eighth wonder of the world, the giant ape is certainly the star and the center attraction of KING KONG- a film that is certainly regarded as one of the greatest and most beloved monster movies of all time. With the immanent arrival of Peter Jacksonís remake, Warner Home Video has chosen the ideal time to issue this highly sought 1933 cinematic event on DVD. What made this film special in 1933 is the same thing that makes it a classic today- KING KONG features a terrific story by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace, plus itís title character was brought to life by the technical wizardry of Willis O'Brien, who imbued his stop motion star with a range of emotions that not only made him sympathetic to audiences, but turned him a true cinematic icon whose legendary status remains undiminished amongst movie buffs to this day.
The plot of KING KONG finds moviemaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) heading off to an uncharted island to make his latest unscripted action film. Needing a bit of romantic appeal to boost box office receipts, Denham adds literally starving "actress" Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to his movie company, after Denham learns that no legitimate actress will accompany him on one of his mad cinematic excursions. With a course set for the middle of nowhere, Denham and company set sail, and land upon Skull Island, which has previously only been rumored to exist. The movie company finds the island inhabited by primitive natives, who take an immediate interest in Ann, much to the dismay of first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), who has already taken his own romantic interest in the productionís leading lady.
Shortly after retuning to the ship, Ann is kidnapped by the natives, who use her in a ritual sacrifice to Kong, the giant ape that they worship. After Ann is spirited away into the jungle by the mighty Kong, Denham, Driscoll and the shipís crew mount a rescue into the jungle, where the face off against ferocious dinosaurs, as well as other strange creature, in addition to the giant ape. Annís ultimate rescue also results in the capture of Kong, whom Denham takes back to New York, where he intends to turn the giant ape into an attraction greater than any of his movies. Not surprisingly, Kong breaks free and goes on a rampage in New York, which climaxes in an iconic moment at the top of the Empire State Building.
Warner Home Video has made KING KONG available on DVD in a truly fine looking black and white transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. Considering that this movie is now more than seventy years old, I didnít expect the DVD to be flawless, but I am happy to report that the presentation is exceedingly pleasing for a film of this vintage that wasnít always maintained under optimum conditions. Levels of sharpness and detail are generally good to very good, although mild softness creeps in here and there, especially in shots involving opticals. Black are pretty much on the money, as are the whites. Contrast and grayscale are both good. The film elements displayed few blemishes, although grain was almost always noticeable in varying degrees- sometime very mild and sometimes just a bit heavy. Digital compression artifacts were generally well contained, except during the foggiest moments.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is good quality for a movie produced less than a decade after the advent of sound. Most instances of background hiss and surface noise have been cleaned up in the mastering process, leaving the track with a fairly smooth quality. Fidelity is decidedly limited, but nothing ever comes across as harsh or shrill sounding. Despite the limitations Max Steinerís fine musical score still manages to sound reasonably good, and maintains an effective quality throughout. Dialogue is crisply rendered and remains totally understandable. No other language tracks have been included on the DVD, but English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Disc one features a running audio commentary with visual effects veterans Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, interspersed with archival interview excerpts from Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray. Also included on disc one is a Merian C. Cooper Trailer Gallery that features KING KONG (1933), SON OF KONG (1933), FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933), FORT APACHE (1948), 3 GODFATHERS (1948), MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) and THE SEARCHERS (1956).
Moving on to disc two, one will fine the remainder of the terrific supplemental programming. I'm King Kong!: The Exploits Of Merian C. Cooper is fifty-six-minute biography of Kongís co-writer/co-director. Next up is RKO Production 601: The Making Of Kong, The Eighth Wonder Of The World, this outstanding program is broken into seven parts 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, and King Kong's Legacy. As you might expect, from a program that runs two hours and thirty-eight minutes, it looks at the production in enormous detail. One of the highlights of the program is the recreation of the filmís lost Spider Pit Sequence, which was undertaken by Peter Jackson and crew while working the 2005 version of KING KONG. The recreation of The Lost Spider Pit Sequence is also offered as its own stand-alone supplement. Lastly, one will find Original Creation Test Footage With Ray Harryhausen Commentary, which looks at several minute of footage from the abandoned Willis OíBrien production.
For film buffs and monster movie fans 1933ís KING KONG represents one of the most important DVD releases of 2005. Warner has done an outstanding job with the DVD, offering a high quality presentation of the film and outstanding supplemental materials. Absolutely, positively recommended.
Note: 1933ís KING KONG is offered three separate ways- a Two-Disc Special Edition for $26.99, a Collector's Edition, which comes in a collectible tin that features program & artwork reproductions for $39.99 and The King Kong Collection, which also includes SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG for $39.99.
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