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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’: DVD extras

One of my earliest movie-geek memories is of watching a making-of special about Raiders of the Lost Ark on TV as a kid. I was fascinated by all the amazing stuff FX techs could do with miniatures and paintings and the like — this was way before bluescreens and CGI, when everything was loving crafted by hand to fool your eye. That was it: I was hooked on behind-the-scenes stuff, and I wanted to know how they did it all.

And I’m still like that, so I’m totally enamored of the post-production diaries that make up the bulk of the extras on the 2-DVD version of Peter Jackson’s King Kong (my review of the theatrical release is here). These 35 featurettes — which together are almost as long as the running time of the film itself — pick up where the production diaries that were released on DVD late last year left off, after principal photography on the film was completed and the project moved into its final phases of editing, creating special effects, and so on. (For those of you playing along at home, the diaries here are #55 to #90, which had appeared online at KongIsKing.net, but they’ve since been removed from the Web.)
And so naturally there is tons of geeky stuff to goggle, like Andy Serkis’s face covered in electronic sensors, the rotoscoping guys explaining with mock sadness some of the unintented side effects of spending your day tracing out images of foliage in jungle footage, the creation of surprisingly seamless digital stand-ins for the cast, and a lot more. But it’s not all high-tech, either: One diary follows a couple of extras around during a day of pickup shooting (those happen when the director realizes, Oh crap, he needs to reshoot this or didn’t realize he wanna gonna need to shoot that in the first place), when they spend hours getting into costume and makeup and getting propped up, and then sit around all day and never end up being needed. Another diary highlights the obsessive detail that goes into the ADR — various real and joking explanations for the acronym all boil down to: rerecording the actors’ dialogue in a studio; Colin Hanks, who plays Carl Denham’s (Jack Black) assistant in the film, is sorta mystified and delighted to find that the ADR script is so detailed that it includes instructions for him to breathe in different ways to express a variety of emotions.

It’s stuff like that, the explorations of the fanatical, nitpicky devotion that is demanded to pull off a convincing world like Kong’s, that are even more impressive than the technical demands of the film’s FX, and make the diaries a genuine geeky pleasure.

The other substantial extras in the set are the featurette “Skull Island: A Natural History,” which uses a clever faux-reality attitude — that Skull Island was a real place really discovered in the 1930s — to talk about creating the island’s animal life. Even better is the featurette on New York City in the 1930s, the dry PBS talking-head style of which is more than compensated for by the trove of info on everything from the Great Depression’s impact on the city to how the connection between Kong and the Empire State Building in the pop-culture imagination came about. And there’s lots archival film from the era, too, including neat-o aeriel footage of the city during the era.

Two shameless advertisements — for NYC tourism and for an automobile brand I won’t name — “complete” the set… and they’re the only “extras” on the single-disc version of King Kong. For Jackson buffs — or anyone seriously interested in film production — the 2-DVD set is the way to go.

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