After the last instalment of Lord Of The Rings broke box office records and swept the board at the 2004 Oscars, movie fans eagerly awaited Peter Jackson's next film. A remake of 30s classic King Kong was perhaps a risky move, although working at the cutting edge of CG technology is nothing new for the pioneering director. To accompany the film's theatrical release comes this series of production diaries originally compiled for the Kong Is King fan site.
"It's not a calculated piece of publicity," Jackson assures us in his introduction to this two-disc set. Whatever the motivation for releasing these diaries on DVD, they are very entertaining and occasionally even enlightening. Every location is covered in featurettes that vary from two to five minutes across 131 days of shooting and in a gracious gesture to the fans, Jackson even addresses general queries posted at the official site. The stars too (the human ones anyway), including Jack Black, Adrien Brody and Naomi Watts are happy to share their experiences.
Aboard the SS Venture, Brody and Black give a masterclass in staggering side-to-side to convey the pitch and roll of the ship "Star Trek-style" before getting dumped on by whopping great tanks of water. "One more drink and it'll be perfect," says Black. "I think I peed in my wetsuit," confesses Brody. More trouble waits on Skull Island (aka Lyall Bay, New Zealand) where the crew discover that someone calling himself Gandalf is releasing unauthorised pictures to the press. It's the perfect cue for a madcap sketch with Black chasing a mysterious bearded bloke across the hills as Jackson tries desperately to keep on schedule.
After the 2004/05 Christmas break, the crew up sticks to 30s Manhattan, which is convincingly recreated in the suburbs of Wellington. Set designers highlight every detail down to the steam rising out of vintage manhole covers although no one can offer a decent explanation of this phenomenon. "It's the breath of the alligators that live in the sewers," reckons Jackson. Meanwhile there's a speed demon loose on the mock city streets - namely Adrien Brody who's decided to pull a Steve McQueen and do his own stunt driving. "I grew up in New York driving like a madman," he says, "all in preparation for this day."
In the final stage of production, Jackson begins responding to the fans requests for more nuts-and-bolts scoop. Regarding the scenes where Naomi Watts is wrapped in King Kong's fist we're shown the raw blue-screen footage and there are entries on hair and makeup, costume design and A Day In The Life Of Peter Jackson. A nerve-wracking visit by Universal execs who are keen to see some finished footage adds a little tension to the mix, but overall this is a light-hearted romp through the making of a big-budget film.
For a more detailed investigation into the intricate process of combining effects and live action, Jackson hosts a featurette that breaks down the fight sequence between King Kong and T-Rex. "It's a strange balance of reality and stylisation," says the director who first choreographs the scene using CG animatics. Later on, the craftsmen at WETA workshop mould scale models of the dinosaur and the rock chasm where the action takes place. These are then scanned into a computer and blended with live action shots of Naomi Watts flailing around on jungle vines. A clip from the finished sequence is the cherry on top.
Although there are some engaging insights into the production process, this isn't the blow-by-blow breakdown some people may be expecting. Even so, it's rare that you'll find this level of behind-the-scenes access and with a good few laughs thrown in courtesy of Brody and Black.