The Eighth Wonder of the World returned to theaters earlier this year and now literally roars into ultra high-definition home theaters with Kong: Skull Island (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 118 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $44.95).
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ expansion of the King Kong mythology offers a 1970s, action-packed period piece that takes viewers back to a Vietnam War exhausted world.
The simple plot finds a barely sanctioned U.S. scientific expedition from the secretive Monarch agency going to an unchartered island and encountering multiple species of monstrous proportions.
Specifically, senior researcher Bill Randa (John Goodman), hunter-tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), pacifist photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a small band of U.S. soldiers led by Army Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) disturb the home of a 100-foot-tall hairy hominoid. That, of course, is not a good idea.
An opening salvo featuring a chair-clenching helicopter battle with Kong on the lush island sets an “Apocalypse Now” tone that strands the team and breaks them into unintended groups who are fighting for their lives as part of the food chain.
Besides that massive force of nature, they run into a variety of large terrestrial organisms including an enormous cousin of the water buffalo (nearly covered in moss), a petrified preying mantis the size of a cracked redwood trunk and ferocious two-legged reptiles called skull crawlers.
Suffice it to report, Japanese Kaiju cinema fans will take delight in the strange beasts and salivate over hints of a potential future battle with Godzilla.
The ensemble cast joyously acts as appetizers while supporting the multi-story star (looking amazing thanks to the work of Industrial Light and Magic). The cast also includes Corey Hawkins as young geologist, and John C. Reilly as a slightly unhinged soldier stuck on the island since World War II and befriended by the native human tribe.
Much to my delight, Mr. Vogt-Roberts’ delivers a confrontation-focused film, slightly touching on the soldiers’ baggage but without requiring much diving into the original “beauty and the tragic beast” narrative from the 1933 effort.
Ultimately, “Kong: Skull Island” is a fun version of the mega-monster movie mixing in the thrills and discovery of a “Jurassic Park” with a pinch of “Predator” and “Moby Dick” and, spoiler alert, an ending that does not cause a hairy ape fatality.
4K UHD in action: The digital transfer upscales from the original 2K source material to highlight an homage to 1970s cinematography.
Viewers will notice a yellowing-sometimes-greenish tint over the proceedings early on, with color often desaturated. However, as the team goes deeper into the island, that high dynamic range ignites the color scheme with spectacular results — showcased in a nighttime, Northern Lights-style vivid display onscreen.
As far as detail, Kong’s fur, expressive face, glowing red pupils eyes and open wounds are worthy to examine, while a shot of the King set against the full moon won’t soon be forgotten by viewers.
The Dolby Atmos sound mix delivers perfectly for the main star, as every time Kong roars of disapproval, he will shake a speaker-filled room. Also, turn up those speakers to appreciate some classic rock tracks of the era such as Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman.”
Best extras: Let’s start with an optional commentary track. The director goes solo and offers a dry overview of the production. It’s like he’s talking in a church.
If listeners get past how much he is proud of the movie, the amount of genius at work and amazing actors, it’s an interesting listen.
His discussion on the quirky shooting style, use of montages, fascination with Landsat technology mapping the world and his love of pop-culture monsters, even mentioning an homage to the 2005 video game “Shadow of the Colossus,” will make viewers appreciate his subdued passion.
Next, a two-part, 24-minute overview of the production first touches on the original movie and its latest iteration, but the actors and director are far too serious in their interviews. It’s King Kong we are talking about here, not Gandhi.
The second part is much better and focuses on remaking the movie monster with today’s computer technology. We learn the massive hairy hybrid required 500,000 polygons, 19 million hairs (two artists working over a year on fur) and the motion capture of multiple performers skilled in acting like primates to bring him to life.
Next, viewers are privy to five, too-short (8 minutes total) “classified footage” segments covering the mission of Mr. Rand and the Monarch team, the native tribe and the symbols etched on their skin, Skull Island’s ecosystem and the alpha species.