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It wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.

Director Peter Jacksonís KING KONG ($30) is a magnificent re-imagining of the Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack original- one that takes the very familiar story to dizzying heights thanks to state of the art digital effects, yet the new film never loses the heart and soul of the tale, as a result of a screenplay that pays as much attention to the characterizations, as it does to the spectacle. In effect, Jackson marries the action and astonishing visuals to a heartbreaking fairy tale for adults. Like his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Peter Jacksonís KING KONG is another cinematic triumph, albeit in a completely different way. Instead of creating a world we have never known, KING KONG meticulously recreates a depression era New York City and brings it to life in a way actual cinema of the era never could. Additionally, every aspect of Skull Island and the fantastic creatures that inhabit it are taken to the nth degree, yet they are so convincingly rendered that oneís suspension of disbelief is never shattered.

Other than some modest changes, 2005ís KING KONG follows the plot of the 1933 original quite closely, but everything contained this version is such an expansion of the original that it recreates and reinvents the whole thing on a more massive scale. The story of KING KONG follows desperate filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black), new leading lady Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to literally the middle of nowhere- in search of Skull Island, a place that has previously only been rumored to exist in the wild stories of mad seamen. As one might expect, Skull Island does indeed exist and what the film company and shipís crew find there is beyond anything in their wildest imaginations.

Although savage natives are the first thing our company encounters on Skull Island, they are by far the least lethal. Unfortunately, for all concerned, the natives kidnap Ann, with the intention of using her in a ritual sacrifice to Kong- the gigantic ape that they worship. After Kong carries Ann off into the jungle, Driscoll, Denham and the shipís crew mount a rescue into the jungle, where they face off against, not only the mighty ape, but also dinosaurs and other creatures too horrifying to be named. Annís ultimate rescue from the jungle also results in the capture of Kong, whom Denham takes back to New York, where he intends to exhibit this eighth wonder of the world as an attraction on Broadway. As expected, Kong breaks free and goes on a rampage throughout Manhattan, which climaxes atop the Empire State Building. The cast of KING KONG also features Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall and Kyle Chandler.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has made KING KONG available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Both the Theatrical Cut and Extended Version of KING KONG are available on the disc and selectable from the main menu. Prior to the Blu-ray, my only home viewing experience with KING KONG was the SD DVD. In comparison, I can honestly say that the 1080p presentations look truly wondrous, which gives Peter Jacksonís visual splendor all its due in high definition. Image sharpness and detail is generally excellent, although there are some instances when a mild softness can appear during an integration of live action and digital elements. Still, the picture is so good that I had a hard time taking my eyes off the screen. Fine detail, texturing of real and CGI objects, as well as individual hairs are rendered with very impressive clarity. Additionally, the picture almost always appears highly dimensional, even when it is comprised of layers of digital trickery. Colors render at different levels of saturation; depression era New York at the beginning of the film has the most subdued hues, while the Skull Island sequence appear much more vibrant and true to life, and finally, the return to New York demonstrates the most vivid hues. Blacks are pretty much perfect and the whites appear pure. Contrast and shadow detail are excellent. The elements from which KING KONG has been mastered are virtually pristine. There is usually a very mild veneer of grain within the image, although it is sometime almost unnoticeable.

KING KONG is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Taking home Oscars for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, it should come as no surprise that KING KONG sounds astonishingly good on Blu-ray. The dazzling sound design is not only aggressively mixed for the action sequences, but there is also amazing clarity, subtlety and nuance during the quieter passages of the film. Sounds emanate from everywhere and fluidly pan around the soundstage without effort. Sonically, there is always so much going on, yet none of it ever sounds muddy or indistinct. Fidelity is truly superb; James Newton Howardís understated score sounds marvelous, while the sound effects are totally convincing. The bottom end of the track is weighty during the quieter sequences, but provides explosive impact and ample ground shaking rumble at all the appropriate moments. Voices have a warm, natural quality, plus the filmís dialogue is always completely understandable. French and Spanish DTS 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplements. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with director Peter Jackson and writer Phillippa Boyens, which accompanies the Extended Version of KING KONG. Universal's U-Control interface is utilized for an interactive version of the movie that provides in context picture-in-picture, pop-up supplements (requires a Profile 1.1 player). Conceptual Art Galleries and Cast & Crew Interviews are featured through U-Control interface and accompany the Extended Version of the film.

As I stated above, Peter Jacksonís KING KONG is a magnificent re-imagining of the classic film. Universalís Blu-ray release is equal to Jacksonís cinematic achievement- offering both magnificent visual and sonic quality. Sure, itís a bit light on the supplements, but this is something I am willing to overlook, since the release offers both versions of the film. Very highly recommended.



King Kong [Blu-ray] (2005)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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