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Blu-ray Review: King Kong (1933)

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Even at nearly 80 years old, King Kong (1933) holds up amazingly well. The film delivers a thrilling adventure filled with special effects by legendary pioneer Willis O’Brien and his team that still stand the test of time, even in high definition.

After finding a leading lady, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), producer/director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads a boat out to Skull Island to shoot his next adventure picture. The island natives kidnap Ann and offer her up for sacrifice to the giant ape Kong. Denham and the ship’s crew go after them but find the jungles a very dangerous place as dinosaurs still roam the island. Although some men are lost, Ann is rescued. Kong pursues them but is knocked out by gas. Denham the showman sees a great opportunity and takes Kong to New York City. While on display at a theater, the beast breaks free of his chains and runs loose in the city.

Even with a story and characters that are rather simple, King Kong is an absolute classic. The special effects do a fantastic job bringing the creatures to life, and the brilliant interactions with humans created with Hollywood magic help foster their believability.

The video has been a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The gray scale is render fairly well and there are very good detail and textures. There are some issues though. The print shows signs of damage and wear. At 49 minutes, the image warps as if film shifted in printing process. Scenes exhibit softness, and there are a lot of out-of-focus backgrounds. Grain is heavy and it becomes problematic when the fog kicks in as the ship approaches Skull Island. Kong looks believable and shows great details on his face in close-ups, but the some of the composite effects reveal themselves in high def. 

The audio is a DTS-HD Master Mono track and sounds clean of defect. The effects and Max Steiner’s outstanding score muffle the dialogue at times. The Kong gong rung by the natives has a power.

The disc comes in a digibook and offers a few extras all of which appeared on the 2005 Collector’s Edition DVD. Ray Harryhausen, an effects legend in his own right and a protégé of O’Brien, and Ken Ralston, a talented visual effects supervisor, discuss the film and may be its two biggest fans. Augmenting their conversation are archival interview clips of actress Fay Wray and co-producer/co-director Merian C. Cooper.

RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, The Eighth Wonder of the World (SD, 159 minutes) is an outstanding seven-part documentary put together in association with Peter Jackson. It features contributors like Frank Darabont, John Landis, Joe Dante, Rick Baker, and Ben Burtt. It is so detailed it runs longer than King Kong.

“Lost Spider Pit Sequence” (HD 6 min) is a fun exercise that fills in some missing parts from the film like why the crew members were running towards Kong and what happens when they get dropped into the pit, although in the film it appears they die from the landing. Harryhausen offers commentary on “Creation Test Footage” (HD, 5 min), some pre-production stop-animation work on a picture that was cancelled. “I’m King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper” (SD, 57 min) is a TCM documentary narrated by Alec Baldwin about the filmmaker. There is also a theatrical trailer (SD).

King Kong is an all-time classic in the medium, and the Blu-ray gives as good a high definition presentation as can be expected without some major manipulation involved. It’s worth owning just for the film alone, and the thorough extras increase its value. It’s a must-own for your collection.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS