One comes away from Warner Home Video's two-disc special edition of the 1933 RKO "King Kong" with a new appreciation for the filmmakers' achievement. Technically, they were inventing the wheel as they went along, and Warner's excellent DVD makes clear how truly innovative "Kong" was.
One comes away from Warner Home Video’s two-disc special edition of the 1933 RKO “King Kong” with a new appreciation for the filmmakers’ achievement. Technically, they were inventing the wheel as they went along, and Warner’s excellent DVD makes clear how truly innovative “Kong” was. Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, visual effects genius Willis O’Brien, composer Max Steiner, sound designer Murray Spivack and others all get their due in the rich, informative extras on this DVD, which also includes an exhaustive docu by current “Kong” helmer, Peter Jackson.The new transfer is good, but with some grain (presumably due to the film stock) and some speckles and scratches. Still, it does justice to the beauty of the cinematography and brings out the movie’s fairy tale, Gustave Dore atmosphere. Best of all, the print restores several previously censored, still shocking shots of Kong stomping and chewing on hapless natives, tossing a terrified woman to her death, and more. The enjoyable commentary track with stop motion magician Ray Harryhausen, O’Brien’s protege, and visual effects expert Ken Ralston weaves in snippets from archival interviews with Cooper and star screamer Fay Wray. Harryhausen and Ralston appreciate how “Kong” takes its time introducing the characters before moving into hyperdrive. Indeed, Kong doesn’t appear until 46 minutes into the 104-minute movie. Yet “Kong” doesn’t waste any time or resources. “I don’t think there’s a superfluous word in this picture,” Harryhausen says. They also marvel at the movie’s stylized stop-motion animation, linking it to the dreamlike quality that’s heightened by the Gustave Dore design. “If you make it too realistic, it becomes mundane,” Harryhausen says. “Animation adds that quality, the dream quality. ‘Kong’ is like a nightmare, it has that dream quality. You don’t want it too realistic. Even today, with some of the faults you may see, it’s a great film.” As far as the extras go, the crown here is “RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World,” a 160-minute, seven-part documentary produced by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson (who’s behind the “Kong” remake), and Michael Pellerin, who produced the “Rings” DVD documentaries. It covers everyone’s contribution, which includes Steiner’s score and Spivack’s audio tricks to achieve Kong’s distinctive roar and other sounds. The jewel in this crown is the exploration of the lost “Spider Pit” sequence, which takes place just after the sailors pursuing Kong are knocked off the log into the ravine. In the cut we’re familiar with they seem to fall to their deaths. But in these deleted scenes several sailors survive, only to be eaten by giant spiders and other terrifying creatures. Cooper himself had cut it, claiming it stopped the story. But Jackson reconstructs it just for the fun of it, basing it on stills and the script and using techniques available at the time, and cutting it into the sequence in which it had originally appeared (it’s not inserted into the movie proper, though). “I wish one day — dream one day — that this sequence will be discovered and we’ll have a chance to compare it,” Jackson says. One may think that Cooper was right to cut it. All the same, it would be nice to take a gander at what O’Brien did with this sequence. Along with Jackson, we can dream. “King Kong” is packaged with “Son of Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young,” both of which are also available individually for $19.97. “King Kong” is also available individually for $26.99 and in a Collector’s Edition tin for $39.98. “Son of Kong” contains only a trailer; “Mighty Joe Young” carries a commentary track with Harryhausen, Ralston and star Terry Moore, plus two new featurettes.