The other day, I was over at Big Lots and I noticed they had the 3 disc King Kong Deluxe Extended Edition for $3. This is the most recent remake of the classic, released in 2005, directed by Peter Jackson. I really like this film. Of the three versions, it is by far the best. The original is quite good, but the subplots are weak, the portrayal of the natives is racist, and Kong is kind of dorky. Still, I own it. The 1976, John Guillermin, remake is an embarrassment. (It still seems strange to me that when people talk about bad films they turn to interesting low-budget films like Plan 9 From Outer Space rather than terrible big-budget films like Jeff Bridges in Kong.) Even though I already own the original release of Jackson’s Kong, I bought the Deluxe Extended Edition.
The best thing about this film is that Kong becomes a real character. Despite 43 years of technical innovations, the Kong in the 1976 version was no more real than the stop-motion original. In fact, what I hate most about the film (but there is a lot of competition) is the stupid, static look pasted on Kong’s face whenever he looked at Dwan (the Ann Darrow character in the other films). In Jackson’s version of the film, Kong is a real character who interacts seamlessly with Ann Darrow. In the other versions, it is hard to care too much about the obviously fake creature. Kong’s death in this version, however, is heartbreaking. I could say much else about this film: the script is great; the casting is perfect; and all the other things I usually gush about.
The Deluxe Extended Edition contains the film with 13 extra minutes. These are all in the second half of the film and are no big deal. On the first film disc is 38 minutes of deleted scenes. These are a big deal. They take an already rich story and expand it. It isn’t surprising that I would think this, however; most of these scenes are from the voyage to Skull Island, which is my favorite part of the film.
The third disc of the set is basically one long documentary. It is interesting and certainly worth the $3, but I could have lived without it. There was one really great part of it, however. Naomi Watts, who plays Ann Darrow, met with Fay Wray, who played her in the original. I’ve never thought much about her; I don’t think I’ve seen any other of her 100+ films. Unfortunately, she died right before they started principle photography on the film. She was 96. You would think if she’d hung on all that time, she could have managed another year. Sad.
Actually, when I think of Fay Wray, I don’t think of King Kong—at least not directly; I think of this:
Peter Bogdanovich once said to Orson Welles that he loved Marlene Dietrich, but that it was a shame she only ever made two really great films. “Well,” replied Welles, “You only need one.” As much as I like this remake of King Kong, the original is still the classic. And it is Fay Wray, and not Naomi Watts, who is immortal.