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HD-DVD Review: King Kong (2005)

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King Kong is a masterpiece. That holds whether you're referring to the 1933 edition or Peter Jackson's fan service from 2005. Kong is a magnificent creation, filled with wonder, incredible sights, and enormous entertainment value.

While the idea of stretching a 90-minute piece into a three-hour epic sounds ridiculous, Jackson makes it work. Instead of being faceless actors, the characters that perish have meaning. Each has a reason for being and a purpose that directly affects the story in some manner, even if only for added dramatic effect. Jackson takes the time to do this properly, and yes, it could still be trimmed without significant damage. However, this is the director's call and his own vision of what Kong should be.

It only takes an hour to gain the first glimpse of the giant ape. From there, he dominates the screen much like he rules over his domain in the film. Naomi Watts delivers a stunning performance, made all the more impressive given that she can't see most of what appears in the finished work.

This update is about pure fantasy, delivering over-the-top action that is so wonderfully choreographed, you can't take your eyes off of it. Instead of one flesh eater trying to score a meal from Kong, there are three. Instead of one brontosaurus stampeding, there are dozens. It's not meant to be realistic, even if the nearly perfect effects from Weta say otherwise. This is escapism, showing the audience the impossible in a manner that has never been seen before.

Jackson's Kong interpretation will likely never be undone. Certainly if Kong creator Merian C. Cooper had the means, this is what the original film would have been. Sit back and enjoy yourself. It's what movies are made for, and they rarely come better than King Kong.

It's easy to be taken away by the picture on this new format. Compared to a standard DVD, the amount of detail is unimaginable. Background foliage that used to be mashed together into a green blob is now crisp and identifiable. Kong himself contains unseen detail, along with flowing fur that can be difficult to make out on the standard releases. You can probably count the grains of dirt on the actor's faces if you have too much time on your hands. This is up against one of the best looking standard DVDs of all time as well.

That's not to say this is perfect. Grain is evident on a regular basis, particularly noticeable in the scene where Carl Denham discusses the upcoming voyage with Ann in the restaurant. Compression can be seen during moments with deep reds. The curtain before the reveal of Kong in New York is bothersome. However, this is definitely the demonstration for the format. It's made to be seen in this manner, and it's hard to appreciate it properly otherwise.

On the other hand, there's the audio. This is truly home theater perfection. While mixed slightly lower than a standard DVD, this is a film that should always have the volume up a little higher than normal. The surround speakers carry an immense amount of audio, even during quieter scenes. The jungle never sounded like this before. Bass is powerful enough to ruin any friendly relationships with neighbors. Movement is easier to detect from side to side and front to back. There's an added bit of clarity as well.

Extras are tricky. This disc features U-Control, a way to watch special features and the film at the same time. By turning this on at any time during the movie, an icon appears in the lower right corner. Pressing OK brings up a small picture-in-picture piece that plays a relevant piece dependent on that section of the film.

The extras consist mostly of the production diaries, included on the standard DVD. These were shot as the movie was filming on a weekly basis. This is hardly a complete set of them, and they play out of order. Worse yet, they cannot be accessed any other way except through watching the film. It's a nice piece of technology, but it's covering a drastic decline in special features, and it's a miserable way to view them.

Looking deeper into the extras menu reveals one option. You have the ability to bookmark your favorite scenes for quick access. Given the ease of use with the always available menu (you never have to leave the movie), it's not hard to switch to a different scene at will. This is hardly an extra.

Viewing some of these early HD-DVDs is like a bad flashback to the early days of DVD: Lack of extras with plenty of technology to justify the price. Even if you already own the two different Kong DVDs, this is the only true way to watch the film itself. Hang on to those other sets for the superb extras.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.