Though it feels like a test market product, Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries: King Kong is the first time the extra material has been released on DVD before the movie is even out in theaters. Actually, the material has been around since September of 2004 online. The question is then: why do we need this?
There are a lot of reasons, surprisingly. The 54 individual making-of features are the key. These premiered on kongisking.net, and they continued to run through production. What makes these so interesting is that they were filmed as the movie was being shot. It’s an entire video document on the making of a heavily hyped $207 million remake. There has obviously been more care taken with the later ones, and you can almost pick out the point where they realized these would be a finished product.
If you’ve seen them online, you’ll recognize all of them. If you haven’t you’ll be engrossed. Fans of the original film will be stunned to see the models used in a special diary (Day 42). The brontosaurus models may be in rough shape, but it’s still a sight to behold. There’s a classic April Fools joke that can’t be spoiled here. It had more than a few people falling for it at first. The menus are sorted in various ways to make the material as convenient as possible to flip through (date released, play all, filming locations).
There is one extra piece that was never available online, and that’s a nearly 20-minute look at a critical action sequence between Kong and the T-Rex family. The piece finishes with the entire segment in completed form. The first disc has an introduction from Peter Jackson to all of these mini-diaries and how they came about. Those are the only extras on the two discs themselves, with the rest being made up of items inside the oversized box.
Sadly, this isn’t complete. The final featurette is from early April 2005, and there have been several others on the website since then. Nearly all of the digital effects and sound diaries are missing. Arguably the best is one in which collector Bob Burns brings the only original surviving Kong model to the set — and it’s not here. They even “re-animated” (per se) the model in its wire frame form. You wouldn’t know this happened if you get this DVD.
It probably would have made more sense to wait until the full DVD release and just throw these on as extras, but at around four hours of content, they likely had to be separate if they were going to make it to the finished product somehow. As it stands now, these certainly feel like blatant marketing for die-hard fans no matter how good they are. If you haven’t watched them all though, their ability to avoid spoilers and engrossing documentary quality through the filmmaking process is worth the price of admission… assuming you want to keep them in physical form. They’re still available online. (**** out of *****)
Video quality is obviously all over the place. These weren’t high budgeted features, and the early ones were done on the fly. As such, the soft, over saturated video gives them a more homegrown feel. This is definitely an improvement over the QuickTime videos online though. (***)
Likewise, sound is unremarkable. It would have been nice to hear the T-Rex/Kong battle in full 5.1, but it may not have been completed yet. It’s 2.0 stereo all the way. (***)
This is the point where you begin to want this box set even if you’ve seen everything on the DVDs already. Coming in a huge box made to look like Carl Denham’s brief case, the top lifts off to reveal some great extras. The entire thing is a little tough to get back together (it’s pieced out quite a bit inside), but with work, it’s worth it for the quality.
Once the top is off, you can dive into wrapped prints exclusive to this set and individually numbered. These four pieces of conceptual art are beautiful and glossy. Pulling out the innards of the box will reveal another holding piece for the discs themselves. This part folds open horizontally to reveal the DVD casing.
The discs are held on two separate caddies, with a full color booklet lodged in above them (held on by a strong gold clip – much like a clipboard – appropriate for the design). The book briefly runs down each featurette while providing numerous stills, previsualization drawings, cast photos, and more. It’s well assembled for a mass produced product, certainly more than would be expected. (****)
Whether or not the slightly high price point (retail is just under $40) is worth it depends on your level of fandom. King Kong fans have a nearly perfect piece of documentation on the making of the film, though most likely they’ve seen all of this before, plus more. You’ll also need to think if you’ll ever watch any of these more than once. It’s an interesting idea, and the eye-catching box may be enough for many.