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View From The Couch



KING KONG (1933). There's no reason to doubt Peter Jackson's upcoming remake will deliver the entertainment goods (certainly more so than Dino de Laurentiis' feeble 1976 version), but it will have a long way to go to reach the bona fide classic status of this 1933 masterpiece. A gargantuan hit upon its original release and, in more recent times, a no-brainer selection on the AFI's 100 Greatest Films list, this goes beyond being a mere staple of film history: In much the same manner as The Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life, it long ago entered into the national consciousness as an enduring part of our heritage. This "beauty and the beast" variation about a great ape and the woman he loves (Fay Wray) is a passionate and brutal motion picture, and the pertinent themes open to interpretation (a treatise on slavery, as well as a look at raging sexuality) still make it a favorite among film scholars. Under the auspices of producer-directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, Willis O'Brien contributed special effects and Max Steiner a film score that both remain among the greatest ever committed to celluloid. As befitting a motion picture of this stature, Warner's home entertainment branch has made the movie's DVD debut an event to remember by issuing the film in different sets. The Two-Disc Special Edition features the movie and extras; the Two-Disc Collector's Edition arrives in a tin container and also includes a 20-page reproduction of the original 1933 program, reproduction postcards and a mail-in offer for a Kong poster. And the King Kong Collection includes the Two-Disc Special Edition as well as DVDs of the 1933 sequel The Son of Kong and 1949's Mighty Joe Young (featuring O'Brien's Oscar-winning special effects). The extra features in all three sets include audio commentary by visual effects vets Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, the hour-long documentary I'm King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper, and the comprehensive 2-1/2-hour documentary RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World. This last-named feature includes a chapter on the missing "Spider Pit Sequence" (footage that hasn't been seen since the film's premiere), as well as Peter Jackson's recreation of the sequence.

Movie: ****

Extras: *** 1/2

SKY HIGH (2005). Better than Fantastic Four but nowhere near the league of The Incredibles, Sky High is yet another feature film that centers on a family of superheroes. Cribbing as much from X-Men and the Harry Potter series as from the aforementioned pair, this live-action Disney romp stars appealing Michael Angarano as Will Stronghold, the son of superhero legends The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). As a freshman at Sky High, a high school populated exclusively by kids with special powers, Will is expected to emerge as a hero ahead of his time; instead, his lack of powers finds him relegated to the "Hero Support" classes, where he and other underachievers learn the basics to becoming a sidekick. As long as Sky High tweaks the superhero genre, it remains on solid ground, thanks to knowing dialogue and smart casting (Russell and Bruce Campbell certainly have the square jaws required of superheroes, and former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter appears as the school principal). But whenever the movie gets distracted by the conventions of the typical teen flick (the Heroes are the popular kids and the Sidekicks are the nerds), it becomes a pale imitation of Mean Girls, Clueless and half the John Hughes oeuvre. DVD extras include bloopers, a making-of featurette and a piece on the film's special effects.

Movie: ** 1/2

Extras: **

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