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Twas Beauty killed the Beast…

Billed as the eighth wonder of the world, the giant ape is certainly the star and the center attraction of KING KONG ($35)- a film that is certainly regarded as one of the greatest and most beloved monster movies of all time. 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 it’s 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 a literally starving "actress" named 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 production’s 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 ship’s 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. Ann’s 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 far 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 Blu-ray Disc in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p black and white presentation is wonderfully filmic and a virtually perfect presentation of a motion picture that is three years shy of its eightieth anniversary. Right up front let, me say that KING KONG has a noticeable grain structure throughout, and sometimes the grain does appear quite heavy. Not only is the level of grain perfectly acceptable for a film of this vintage, being able to see it and appreciate it is quite welcome. Kudos to Warner for keeping the presentation of KING KONG pure, and not adulterating it with excessive noise reduction and grain removal. In high definition, KING KONG appears crisper and better defined than I have ever seen it look, but there is soothing of a diffuse quality to the cinematography that is more noticeable in HD. Of course, the numerous optical effects employed in the production do tend to soften the image a bit more, but that was the nature of special effects work in the early 1930s. Black appear fairly pure, as do the whites. Contrast and grayscale are both very good for a film of this vintage. Noticeable blemishes are diminished over the previous DVD edition, without compromise to the grain structure. Again, let me say the presentation is wonderfully filmic and quite organic in appearance.

KING KONG is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. As whatever restorative work went in to the previous DVD release of KING KONG serves as the basis for this track, my comments are going to be decidedly similar. For a movie produced less than a decade after the advent of sound, KING KONG doesn’t take full advantage of the lossless encoding, but sounds a bit more robust here than it did on DVD. On the plus side, most instances of background hiss and surface noise have been cleaned up, thereby leaving the track with a fairly smooth sonic quality. As expected, fidelity is limited by the primitive nature of sound recordings of the time, not to mention motion picture sound production technique available in 1933, but nothing ever comes across as harsh or shrill sounding on this Blu-ray. Despite the limitations in fidelity, Max Steiner’s fine musical score still manages to sound reasonably good, and maintains an effective quality throughout. Dialogue is crisply rendered and generally easy to understand. A Spanish Dolby Digital monaural track is also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as, the supplemental materials, which have been ported from the DVD release. Starting things off is 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. Next up is I'm King Kong!: The Exploits Of Merian C. Cooper is fifty-six-minute biography of Kong’s co-writer/co-director. In addition, we have 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 film’s 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 and is available in HD. One will also find Original Creation Test Footage With Ray Harryhausen Commentary, which looks at several minute of footage from the abandoned Willis O’Brien production; this too is available in HD. A Theatrical Trailer closes out the standard supplements. KING KONG features book styled packaging that contains thirty-six pages of photos and production notes.

For film buffs and monster movie fans 1933’s KING KONG represents one of the most important Blu-ray releases of 2010. Warner has done an outstanding job with the Blu-ray, offering a pure, unadulterated presentation of this important classic film, while including all of the outstanding supplemental materials that were part of their Collector’s Edition DVD release. In terms of quality, the Blu-ray release of KING KONG represents a significant and necessary upgrade for fans. Absolutely, positively recommended.


King Kong (Blu-ray Book) (1933)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2010 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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