Updated: Jan 16, 2020
UPDATED 4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
The tale takes place during the turbulent 1970s, as a team of U.S. Army helicopters approach Kong standing 100-feet tall, three-times larger than previous movie creations.
"KONG: SKULL ISLAND"
4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2017; PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language; streaming via Amazon Video, Apple (4K) FandangoNOW (4K) Google Play (4K), YouTube (4K), Vudu (4K)
Best extra: Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' commentary
WHEN THE producers first approached director Jordan Vogt-Roberts with the idea of creating another remake of King Kong, his first reaction was a resounding – WHY?
With only one movie under his belt – "Kings of Summer" – he felt the 1933 classic, with Willis O'Brien's stop-action animation, was a defining moment in cinema history. He also admired Peter Jackson's 2005 beauty-and-beast reboot created mostly with CGI and green screens on a New Zealand soundstage, according to the "Creating a King" featurette.
Vogt-Roberts envisioned a new story for the great ape, something completely different and bigger, with all the makings of a B-movie spectacular including massive effects and plenty of laughs. His Kong would stand 100-feet tall, three-times larger than previous creations. The tale would take place during the turbulent 1970s, filmed on-location in Vietnam, Australia and Hawaii. Final production costs skyrocketed to $185 million including the A-list cast, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly. Vogt-Roberts' efforts paid off though; by mid-summer, the worldwide box office cracked $566 million.
(1) "Kong: Skull Island" opens with a World War II prologue as a Japanese pilot fights U.S. pilot Hank Marlow (Will Brittain). (2) Conspiracy theorist and former Navy sailor Bill Randa (John Goodman) trying to secure funds for a fact-finding joint mission onto Skull Island. (3) Randa recruits former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) (4) American photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is hired to document the expedition on the island in the South China Sea.
It's the summer of 1973; D.C. is in turmoil over Watergate and anti-war protests. Conspiracy theorist and former Navy sailor Bill Randa, wonderfully played by Goodman, gets the movie's best one liner: "Mark my words, there'll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington."
Randa was the lone survivor of a strange attack 30 years earlier on the USS Lawton near a mythical island. He's back in Washington trying to secure funds for a fact-finding joint mission between Monarch, a secret, multi-national research group, and the Landsat program using satellites for the first time to map the Earth's surface. A recent satellite has revealed the location of Skull Island in the South China Sea.
Randa's team includes an escort squadron of U.S. Army helicopters led by Lt. Colonel Packard (a scene-chewing Jackson, loud as always). They approach the uncharted island, music blaring "Apocalypse Now" style, in the midst of a tropical storm.
Capt. Conrad, a former British black ops specialist, is the tracker played by the perfectly groomed Hiddleston. Oscar-winner Larson is cast as combat photographer Mason Weaver, hired to document the expedition. "She's a female character who's much more dynamic and more hands-on than what we've previously seen in the Kong movies," Larson says. Vogt-Roberts wanted her to have the freedom to actually make photographs with a 35mm Leica camera during production. You'll see her images in the featurette, "Through the Lens."
The mission soon begins to unravel and Packard quickly becomes Ahab to Kong's indestructible white whale, Jackson says. Instead of Kong knocking planes out of the sky from the Empire State Building, he swats helicopters into the jungle. Comic relief arrives via the delightful John C. Reilly as World War II pilot Hank Marlow, who's been stranded on the island since 1944.
(1) The Sky Devils, a U.S. helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) drop explosives developed by seismologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) to determine if the ground is hollow on Skull Island. (2) Houston Brooks, scientist Victor Nieves and biologist San Lin record the seismologic action after the explosions. (4) Lt. Colonel Packard is shocked by the massive size of Kong and its ability to swat his squadron of helicopters from the sky.
The 4K and Blu-ray both include Vogt-Roberts' honest and informative commentary. He provides a play-by-play description of everything on screen, along with congratulatory back-pats to his cast. Oddly, at the 16-minute mark, he jokes, "I'm done with this commentary" – then explains how difficult it is to watch your own movie yet again after watching it hundreds and hundreds of times. He recalls the first time he saw "Kong: Skull Island" with an audience: "It's an incredible moment when it goes from being my movie to being their movie. That's the greatest joy for me being a director."
The Blu-ray also includes the featurette "On Location: Vietnam." Filming took place in the Quang Binh Province, where vast landscapes provided 360 degree views without a single structure in sight. "It's untapped, a perfect place of people, culture and food," Vogt-Roberts says. Residents of a nearby village would come out to watch filming, always selecting the best hillside spots to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood stars.
Unfortunately, visuals are another rollercoaster ride of varying resolutions. Originally captured on 3.4K Alexa digital cameras (2.40:1 aspect ratio), it was sadly downconverted to 2K for editing and extensive FX rendering, then upconverted to 4K. Isn't it time for directors and producers to demand their prized work be mastered in 4K or higher? Moviegoers and cinemaphiles have been short-shifted too long by this post-production digital process.
Overall sharpness on the 4K and Blu-ray are both very good, with the slightest edge going to the 4K, with finer detail evident on facial shots and lettering on signs and name plates. Vogt-Roberts also added an artificial film grain texture in post-production for a nice cinematic touch.
(1) Kong defends its territory against the U.S. helicopters. (2) James Conrad leads survivors to the rendezvous place on the north side of the island. (3) U.S. soldiers embrace after their helicopter crashed. (4 & 5) Conrad, Weaver, Brooks, and soldier Reg Slivko (Thomas Mann) discover a village of indigenous and Hank Marlow ( John C. Reilly), who has been MIA since his P-51 crash-landed on the island in 1944.
The HDR color spectrum offers a wider gap between 4K and Blu-ray as it produces a puncher on-screen look with added highlights and deeper shadows. The complexions of the international cast look more natural. Rainforest scenes are lush with deep greens and browns from cinematographer Larry Fong, who also photographed many of the "Lost" TV episodes in the same locations in Hawaii.
Both 4K and Blu-ray presentations get the aggressive Dolby Atmos soundtrack driving whirling helicopter blades, crash, mortar and gunfire effects, and Kong's deafening roars from Skull Island to ceiling-high home speakers. An outstanding soundtrack features classic rock from Black Sabbath, The Stooges, The Hollies, Jefferson Airplane and the Chambers Brothers. Composer Henry Jackman ("Big Hero" "Captain Phillips") provides the underlying original score.
4K BONUS: To coincide with the "Kong Skull Island" home premiere, Universal Studios released Peter Jackson's "King Kong" on 4K, with both Theatrical and Extended Cuts. Overall, it's a fine presentation, with exceptional sharpness and a thunderous DTS:X soundtrack, although slightly over-juiced contrast levels reduce the original 35mm film-like quality.
"Kong: Skull Island" is a perfect summertime thrill ride for just about everyone over the age of 10.
― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer
(1) Kong wrestles a mire squid. (2) A soldier keeps a watchful eye for the next massive creature. (3) Marlow says goodbye to the villagers. (4) Weaver is chased by a reptilian creature called a Skullcrawler. (4) Lt. Col. Packard tries to burn Kong alive by a series of napalm explosions. (5) Kong and "The Big One" the largest of the skullcrawler family, fight to the death.
(1 & 2) Kong saves Weaver. (3) Marlow dreams of seeing his bride after three decades.