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December 16, 2005

'King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries'

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At three hours and 46 minutes, it's longer than the film (three hours and 7 minutes) itself.

Michael O’Sullivan wrote in today's Washington Post about this companion DVD set, released this past Tuesday, December 13 and available for $28.96 on Amazon.

The material was "originally shot for the Web site kingkongisking.net as a series of short, behind–the–scenes peeks at the filming of 'King Kong'...," wrote O'Sullivan.

However, it turned out to be an insightful look into the kind of fanatic attention to detail and superhuman effort required to direct a major Hollywood film and succeed, as "Kong" has clearly appeared to have done judging by the mostly rave reviews it’s garnered.

The crew making the DVD appear to have driven everyone else on the set crazy with their invasive, "Big Brother" style of putting their cameras and microphones anywhere and everywhere.

Along with the two DVDs, packaged in a limited edition gift box, come "4 exclusive production art prints, a letter of authenticity, and a 52–page scrapbook of drawings, photographs, images and notes from Peter Jackson" (top).

Lots of fun for the true Kong and/or Jackson buff.

Here's the Post story.

    The King Kong of All Production Featurettes

    Call it the King Kong of making-of featurettes.

    At three hours and 46 minutes, it's longer than the finished film itself.

    Originally shot for the Web site http://kongisking.net/ as a series of short, behind-the-scenes peeks at the filming of "King Kong," the video snippets comprising "King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries" (Unrated, Universal, $39.98) are not just a fanboy's dream -- though they are that -- but a fairly serious examination of the art and science of big-budget moviemaking, circa 2005.

    By now, everybody knows what a stickler for detail director Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) is.

    Unless you watch this DVD, however, you have no idea just how much of a stickler.

    In an episode focusing on the art and props department, we watch as crew members fashion an array of unappetizingly realistic (and painstakingly researched) animal poo for a brief zoo sequence.

    Later, set dressers from the miniature unit, tasked with shooting the film's many reduced-scale scenes, are shown attaching tiny lead weights the size of buckshot to itty bitty fern fronds that will ultimately double as jungle trees on Skull Island, and whose movements will have to be slowed down -- both mechanically and in the camera -- to maintain the illusion of enormous size.

    One special effect conspicuously absent from "Production Diaries," of course, is the big ape himself.

    That's because Kong is largely a computer-generated creation, inserted into scenes digitally during postproduction.

    The closest we get here is a green, doughnut-shaped harness mounted on a hydraulic platform, standing in for Kong's hand, or actor Andy Serkis wearing a padded suit that makes him look, as co-star Naomi Watts says, like "a ballet dancer on steroids."

    As he did for the role of Gollum in the "LOTR" films, Serkis spent much of the "Kong" shoot in a high-tech motion-capture getup (when he isn't playing Lumpy, the ship's cook) that enabled the film's team of several hundred digital animators to visualize Kong's movements and facial expressions.

    There's almost no aspect of "Kong" left unexamined, from sets (all of which, including an ersatz New York City, were built in New Zealand), to costumes, makeup, cameras, lighting, sound, continuity, catering and the job of "plane spotter."

    FYI, that plum spot entailed standing on a hill above the Wellington airport, radioing in whenever an airplane was about to disrupt a shot.

    There's plenty of cheeky humor, too.

    How can there not be when Jack Black is on the set?

    One tongue-in-cheek installment concerns the efforts of the crew to hunt down an on-set spy, dressed as Gandalf, who has been posting unauthorized photos on the Internet.

    The other revolves around an increasingly exhausted (and ever gaunter-looking) Jackson's efforts, during the last week of shooting, to recruit eleventh-hour replacements for himself -- in the form of filmmakers Bryan "X-Men" Singer and Frank "The Green Mile" Darabont -- just so Jackson can catch up on sleep.

    Funny, and often astonishing, stuff.

    Is it a bit much for anyone except diehard movie fans?

    Maybe.

    Then again, in this day and age of reality TV, and cameras in every cell phone, maybe not.

    As Serkis mock-complains, during an episode in which the cast and crew turn the tables on the "invasive" DVD crew: "These days, you can't just sign on and get a job. You can't just get a part, get offered a role and then actually go and carry it out. Oh, no, you have to do this thing called 'B-roll' and 'behind-the-scenes' and 'DVD footage,' and it's like living in 'Big Brother' all the time, you know, to the point where it drives you absolutely insane. People can't leave you alone. You just can't even go to the toilet, you can't even pick your nose, you can't go anywhere. People just following you. It drives you nuts, it drives you crazy. But no, no, no! They keep going, they keep going, and they think it's all really interesting, every single living, breathing thing that you do."

December 16, 2005 at 07:01 PM | Permalink


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