(Universal, 2005) D: Peter Jackson, w/ Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Andy Serkis. Rating: NNNN
A word to the wise: there will be a big Kong box released for Christmas, incorporating the production diaries (currently in a big two-disc box of their own), director's commentaries and a longer cut of the film. Hey, it's 187 minutes long already! We don't need a longer cut.
That said, the audio and video here are demonstration-class. King Kong's principal problem on DVD is that it's too damned big for television. I thought maybe it was just my TV, so I visited a noted vendor of home electronics and watched about 45 minutes of Kong on a 50-inch plasma. Still too small. Interestingly, the first hour of the film, whose scale is more intimate, works fine on the home screen.
What also becomes apparent is that the Academy's failure to nominate Naomi Watts as best actress was a huge oversight in a weak year. This is very much Ann Darrow's King Kong a $210 million chick flick and Watts does as much to carry it as Andy Serkis's incarnation of Kong.
The extras list seems short, but it does constitute almost three hours of material.
Extras Post-production diaries, King Kong's New York, Skull Island: A Natural History. French, English and Spanish subtitles.
3 Films By Louis Malle: Lacombe, Lucien; Murmur Of The Heart; Au Revoir, Les Enfants
(Criterion/Paradox, 1974, 1971, 1987) D: Louis Malle. Rating: NNNN
Louis Malle is often considered a New Wave director (he was Truffaut's exact contemporary), but he took a more traditional route to directing and never worked as a critic. He's a more conventional director than the New Wave, and his attempts at New Wave-ish films tended toward the disastrous, as in the grindingly unfunny comedy Zazie Dans Le Metro.
He was, however, a reliable director capable of unexpected treats like Atlantic City, though his specialty was the careful, close study of the rituals of the French bourgeois in crisis, particularly in the films in this box set from Criterion.
Murmur Of The Heart is a tale of incest in a doctor's family in Dijon. Lacombe, Lucien deals with small-town life under the Nazis, and shocked French audiences in the mid-70s by making its central character an informer and collaborator. Au Revoir, Les Enfants, Malle's most autobiographical film, tells what happens the day the Nazis came and took the Jews from his school.
While Malle pays close attention to period detail, he never lights for period, so that while the films may be set during the second world war and in 1954, the lighting style never lets the audience indulge in nostalgia. The modernity of the look keeps us close to the drama. Criterion has shunted all the extras onto a fourth disc, leaving space for sharp, well-defined transfers at a high bit rate.
Extras Original theatrical trailers; three audio interviews with Malle; new interviews with Candice Bergen (Mme. Malle) and biographer Pierre Billard; booklet essays by Philip Kemp, Pauline Kael and Michael Sragow; Chaplin short film The Immigrant, which is seen in part in Au Revoir. French with English subtitles.
Masters Of Horror: Cigarette Burns
(Anchor Bay, 2005) D: John Carpenter, w/ Norman Reedus, Udo Kier. Rating: NNNN
Masters Of Horror: Dreams In The Witch House
(Anchor Bay, 2005) D: Stuart Gordon, w/ Ezra Godden, Chelah Horsdal. Rating: NNN
Created for Showtime, Masters of Horror commissioned hour-long episodes from directors of varied legendariness, but Anchor Bay's edition starts with a bang. John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, a companion piece to In The Mouth Of Madness, has a psychotic edge; and Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) adds to his gallery of Lovecraft adaptations with Dreams In The Witch House.
Anchor Bay seems to have the seeds of a box set here, with a fairly unified and pleasingly elaborate package (long interviews, career overviews for the directors, full commentaries), and it's a nice tribute to some of the American cinema's wild talents. On the other hand, people shouldn't let Carpenter near a commentary track unless he's accompanied by Kurt Russell. Didn't they hear his In The Mouth of Madness commentary, in which he and his DOP spend hours discussing lens selection?
Extras Director and writer commentaries on Cigarette Burns, director/star commentary on Dreams, director interviews and career retrospectives, making-of featurettes, DVD-ROM materials, outtakes, stills galleries.
(New Yorker/Morningstar, 1974) D: Peter Watkins, w/ Geir Westby. Rating: NNNN
Peter Watkins (Culloden, The War Game) worked with an amateur cast to make this masterful portrait of the great Norwegian painter and his context. Of course, being who he is, the director includes a great deal early on about the repressive economic and social conditions in 19th-century Norway. It's as if Munch, all of whose paintings could have been called The Scream, just wasn't bleak enough for him.
It's a strong and striking film, but it's not fun: three hours in a coal-smoke- darkened world that Munch fled when he could no longer bear watching his sisters cough up blood. The DVD's grainy look replicates that of the theatrical film.
Extras Extensive booklet essay/interview with Watkins. Norwegian and English with English subtitles.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb