- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Eighth Wonder of the World has returned not only to theater screens, but to home entertainment centers in a trio of multimedia packages.

King Kong: Collector’s Edition from Warner Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $39.99. Before looking into director Peter Jackson’s new ode to Kong, cinema connoisseurs will appreciate watching the original source material in this two-disc DVD set boasting plenty of background on the 72-year-old monster movie.

Disc 1 delivers the newly restored, digitally remastered, black-and-white masterpiece and even features an optional commentary track by visual-effects veterans Ray Harryhausen (who is said to have seen the film more than 200 times) and Ken Ralston.

Disc 2 first takes a look at the eccentric creator of the ape in “I’m Kong: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper,” a 45-minute documentary recently shown on Turner Classic Movies channel. Next, the seven-part “RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World” does a fantastic job of bringing to light the work of stop-motion master Willis O’Brien, the man behind Kong’s magical movement.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong from Ubisoft for Xbox, PlayStation2 and GameCube, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99. About the time I was maneuvering through a stampede of brontosaurs, avoiding sneaky venatosaurs and swatting away swamp flies in a gooey marsh to try to save a woman from the clutches of a giant ape, I realized the video game finally had become an interactive cinematic experience.

Returning King Kong to the big screen has been a passionate journey for Peter Jackson. His meticulousness and love for the subject matter also pour into this game; he allowed developers full access to his visions, including assets from the movie’s special-effect’s department, likenesses and voices of the star-studded cast, and had direct input in the creation of additional content.

In the virtual epic, the player controls Jack Driscoll as the screenwriter ends up on the home of Kong, Skull Island, with obnoxious filmmaker Carl Denham and actress Ann Darrow.

The game does away with clunky inventory menus and health meters and instead uses simple visual and audio clues to explain Mr. Driscoll’s predicaments. If he gets mangled by an enormous V-rex, the screen turns a hazy red and his heartbeat fades away. If he finds a gun, we hear him remind himself how much ammo he has and when he needs to reload.

Along the way, the hero must rescue his friends within living and lush landscapes using a small selection of authentic 1930s firearms and various spears, or his adventure ends quickly.

I can not comment enough on the exhilarating V-rex encounters. Especially rewarding theme-park-like sequences have the player riding a wooden raft while the sharp-toothed eating machines lunge at him or he tries to create a diversion for his pals as a massive dinosaur chases him around crumbling pillars.

Normally, Driscoll’s quest alone would be more than enough to satisfy. The developers, however, give players a chance to become Kong through some third-person, linear levels using a limited control scheme that overwhelms visually when Kong explodes in a rage to swat, charge and rip apart creatures while gently picking up his blond sweetheart.

I have seen many video games based on movies, and Peter Jackson’s King Kong outshines them all by delivering an emotionally draining on-screen life for the player who dreams about being part of the silver screen.

King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries, from Universal Studios Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $39.99. Never has the process of filmmaking been so revealed as when one enters the world of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The mundane and magical are explored though a two-disc DVD set combining all of the previously downloadable pre-production video segments from Mr. Jackson’s King Kong movie Web site (www.kongisking.net) with some collectible extras to satisfy the hard-core fan.

An almost four-hour immersion into the behind-the-scenes fun awaits in 54 diary segments that provide a step-by-step, firsthand account of the movie’s eight-month shoot.

All is available to the documentary crew. Moments include creating realistic animal droppings, showing the dump tanks that deliver massive waves, and details on the job of plane spotting, which requires a staff member to look out for aircraft flying over a set, which could ruin an expensive shot in progress.

Along the process, viewers meet all of the cast and most of the crew as they endure the demanding shooting schedule and enjoy some shenanigans on the set during the slower days. Fans also get 17 minutes of bonus footage on the making of the battle between Kong and a family of Vastatosaurus rexes that clearly highlight the painstaking teamwork involved.

The discs arrive on a clipboard along with a 50-page full-color book stuffed in a faux leather satchel like that of moviemaker Carl Denham. It also contains four limited-edition production conceptual art prints with a letter of authenticity.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected] times.com).

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