King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries

Going ape over that last minute gift for the home theater enthusiast? Or looking to drop a hint on a gift for yourself? Check out Universal's recent release, King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries. Boxed in a faux-antique file briefcase that someone was paid entirely too much money to design and that you'll probably ditch anyway because it won't fit on your bookshelf, this set contains a production memoir, four limited edition prints (my signed Certificate of Authenticity is number 32,786!), and, most important, two DVDs filled with behind the scenes production material on the making of the film.

It does not, of course, contain the film itself, which just opened. Think of this set as a (long) sneak peak at the extra features we'll get in the eventual home video movie release. It's loaded with fascinating details, videotaped while the film itself was in production. Most if not all of it was previously available on the Internet, but it's presented here in better quality and a more accessible form.

Just don't expect feature-film picture and sound. On the plus side, all of it is anamorphic widescreen—if only more filmmakers appreciated the need for a consistent, preferably widescreen aspect ratio in their DVD extra features. But on the downside, the picture is consistently soft—strictly consumer camcorder quality.

But there's one dramatic exception here to the mediocre images. The only actual clip from the movie itself is a sizable excerpt from the T-Rex vine fight. It's one of the most intricate, spectacular sequences in the film and a treat to have now, months before the home video release of the entire film.

Any film buff or home theater fan will appreciate this set—assuming he or she doesn't already have it.

As to the movie itself, I fought off the multiplex crowds last weekend to see it. Actually, I took it in at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, with its fully reserved seating, no commercials before the show, and optional Internet ticket purchase at no extra charge (though the $14/seat freight plus $2 parking fee is charge enough!).

My impressions were pretty much the same as Michael Fremer 's (see his blog, "Believe the Hype" here). I was blown away.

Yes, there are one or two points I could criticize. I won't itemize them here. I don't want to ramble on—or spoil the experience for anyone who hasn't yet seen the movie. But as for the most common complaint that it is too long, I'll just say that if the time doesn't fly by for you, you may be among the minority who isn't enjoying the film anyway. Peter Jackson's King Kong is far more than a monster movie or a celluloid video game largely because the extra length adds considerable depth to the story.

I'll save any further comments for the inevitable DVD extra- special, super-extended edition. Actually, I'm hoping for a Blu-ray and/or HD-DVD extra-special, high definition edition, but that's another story!

I will say this, however. Unless you own the biggest home theater screen in the neighborhood, a state-of-the-art video projector, and know for sure that the home video release will be in some sort of high definition format (something no one can yet know, except possibly Universal), see it now in the best theater you can find. This is one film that demands the full, big-screen experience. At the Arclight Cinema the image was pin-sharp with great shadow detail—one of the best looking movies I've seen in years. And it was film projection, not digital. The movie has not been released in digital projection (at least not in LA), and given the quality I saw, that's probably a plus—at least if you have access to a first-rate theater.

(For LA area readers, I saw the movie in one of the Arclight's regular auditoriums, not the adjoining Cinerama Dome where it is also playing. My past experiences in the Dome suggests that it has too many problems, particularly in blowing up a 35mm print to fill its huge, curved screen and with reflected light from one side of the screen washing out the other side. I wanted to see the film first in a venue that I knew would provide the best technical quality. But I may go see it again, this time at the Dome, just to see if the undeniable immersive experience of the biggest screen in town silences my criticisms.

If you haven't yet seen either the film or the Production Diaries DVDs, I highly recommend both. But do see the film first. It's a lot more fun if you're not thinking about what's happening behind the scenes, or looking for the seams in the nearly flawless CGI.