King Kong (1933)(Warner Home Video, 11.22.2005)
If you grew up in the '80s with a decent cable box, you must remember New York's WOR running King Kong on Thanksgiving Day as part of their King Kong/Godzilla marathons. Kong would come on at 2:30 P.M., which was a perfect time for our family since it was after the turkey was devoured. There was something so right about watching the ape tear apart Manhattan while nursing a tryptopahn buzz. WOR stopped showing Kong in 1985 and thus it become a nostalgic memory of my youth.
When DVDs first hit the video market, this was on my most wanted list. Every year it was rumored for release. When Peter Jackson was in the middle of his $200 million remake, the news hit that Warners was finally giving us the goods. And the best part was that it would come out in time for Thanksgiving. Forget the Cool Whip, this movie topped my pumpkin pie.
And twenty years later, it's still a thrilling experience. The folks at Warners did an amazing job restoring this 70-year-old epic. They were able to find 35mm elements of all the moments snipped away by the Hayes Office when it was re-released. Get a gander of the ape sniffing Fay Wray's clothes. Kong is a now glory to behold. And on DVD, you can advance the sequences frame-by-frame to truly reveal Wills O'Brien's revolutionary effects.
O'Brien gets the credit he deserves in "RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World," a two and a half hour documentary. Nearly every element of the film is explored. And even though Universal is releasing Peter Jackson's Kong, he produced this Warner feature.
For the last year, I've been rather sceptical of Peter Jackson's devotion to King Kong. We'd been fooled before by directors who swear they are fans of the original monsters and then stab us in the eyes with their horrid "I can do better" creations. Remember Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich's Godzilla hype?
And who didn't gag while watching Stephen Sommers wax poetic about his passion for Universal's Classic Monsters before unloading Van Helsing? But, amazingly enough, after watching "601," I believe Peter Jackson has virtue on his side. He's not going to "re-imagine" the film like Tim Burton re-imagined Planet of the Apes.
Because O'Brien didn't want his secrets to get out, there aren't hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes footage like there would be on an Adam Sandler film. During the early publicity for Kong, O'Brien lied about his special effect techniques to the press. In order to let us know the cinematic truth (and keep from showing us the same photo a hundred times like a bad A&E Biography), Jackson and his crew physically demonstrate how a furry puppet can grow to 25 feet tall. And then they go the extra mile by recreating the Spider Pit sequence that was clipped at the last minute from the original and disappeared.
Even though it is a treat to witness this forensic filmmaking and have it weaved into the actual footage, it's easy to see that it needed to be snipped. During the entire battle between the doomed sailors and the monsters, you're wondering what's going on between Kong and Jack Driscoll above.
The original co-director also gets his due with "I am King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper." He was a heroic pilot in World War I and an exotic documentary filmmaker. It's almost as if he had to tone down his life's stories to make believable movies. And we learn that Ernest B. Schoedsack wasn't merely Cooper's constant co-director, but his partner in adventure. You will marvel at how he photographed his tiger attack footage in Chang. These were not two film school grads using CGI effects. And this DVD gives them the respect they deserve.
If you need a gift for someone this holiday season, you can't go wrong with this special edition of Kong. They'll be especially grateful next Thanksgiving. And, if you really want them to offer you a turkey leg, pick up up the King Kong Collection that also includes Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. -- Joe Corey