At long last, one of the greatest films ever made makes it to DVD for the first time. The film remains a technological marvel, pretty much a moviemaking miracle, considering how new the medium was at the time of its release in 1933.
Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack pulled out all of the stops and pressed the limits of cinema with their visceral and often brutal story about a big ape who falls for a blonde (Fay Wray). Willis O'Brien pioneered the stop-motion animation that has never been surpassed in the 70-plus years since Kong. Through the meticulous positioning of 18-inch gorilla models, O'Brien somehow delivered a monster that was not only frightening, but possessed emotional range.
The DVD treatment brightens the picture (you can actually tell that the wide shot of Times Square is Times Square), and many of the imperfections seen in recent VHS treatments have been removed. The result is a crisp, clean version of Kong.
Peter Jackson is readying his remake of King Kong, starring Jack Black and Naomi Watts, for a December release. That looks to be a fun, grandiose film, but it will have to be something extra special to be considered in the league of its original predecessor, a filmmaking breakthrough with nearly every frame.
Special Features: The two-disc set contains two documentaries, one being a biography of Merian C. Cooper, whose life was unbelievable, and a modern, eight-part documentary produced by Peter Jackson. The film examines Kong's legacy as well as the significance of its incredible special effects and soundtrack. Jackson, a well-known Kong enthusiast, goes to great lengths here, including a re-creation of the infamous lost spider sequence. The sequence, which was removed during the original production, involved large creatures eating men who had survived a fall after Kong shook them off a log and into a canyon. Jackson's re-creation of the scene is actually quite convincing, and those who aren't paying attention might mistake it for the real thing.
There's also a commentary with stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (he didn't do Kong, but did work on 1949's Mighty Joe Young). There are also some interview bits from the late Fay Wray and Merian C. Cooper on the commentary.
When The Who reunited in 1989 for a "celebration" of their music after seven years apart, it was viewed as a sellout. Many of the folks calling the tour a sellout didn't actually see the shows, which were terrific musical journeys and a priceless opportunity to see one the world's greatest live rock bands in rare form.
This DVD contains three discs. Disc one is a performance of the entire rock opera Tommy at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Special guests like Billy Idol, Phil Collins and Steve Winwood assist The Who (Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and a large group of backing musicians and singers) with the story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a pinball messiah.
Disc two contains a live performance of Quadrophenia from the group's '96 tour. The story of Mods and Rockers clashing in England had been difficult for The Who to perform live during the Keith Moon days, but they got it together quite nicely in the for this tour. While it also features some guest performances (including Billy Idol as the Bell Boy), I remember seeing Gary Glitter as The Rocker when I caught the show in San Jose. I guess his penchant for collecting child porn got him removed from Who history, because he's nowhere to be seen on this DVD.
Disc three is "Who hits" which are actually the encores from the Tommy and Quadrophenia shows. There are also three tunes culled from '89 performances in Giants stadium, one of which I bought a scalped ticket for and watched live back in the day. The tour itself had Townshend mightily strumming an acoustic guitar due to his hearing problems. As the tour went on, Townshend didn't seem to care about his ears anymore, and he strapped on an electric for large parts of the shows.
Special Features: Townshend and Daltrey provide full commentaries for both the Tommy and Quadrophenia discs (you can actually access a feature where video of the two as they speak is superimposed over the concerts).
Right in time for the holidays, director Tim Burton's take on Roald Dahl children's classic gets a nice DVD treatment. Johnny Depp is great fun as Willy Wonka, the crazed candy creator with major daddy issues. Burton's film is, of course, crazier than the original Gene Wilder version, and is a different experience altogether. Burton's eccentric take is worthy of its predecessor, and became his biggest hit since Batman.
Special Features: A two-disc set with many treats. Behind the scenes featurettes include actor Deep Roy's hard work as all of the Oompa Loompas, and the horrors of trying to train squirrels to inspect walnuts.