Why now for a long-delayed DVD release of the black-and-white granddaddy of beast-on-the-loose movies? Because director Peter Jackson’s big-budget color remake of King Kong is due in theaters Dec. 14, of course. But there’s no stink of cross-promotional infomerciality in this splendid enshrinement of the original, the story of a bad-tempered giant gorilla forcibly relocated from his primordial stronghold to the mean streets of Manhattan. It’s been packaged with geek love, and whether you fancy the Collector’s Edition with the tin-can case and little poster repros or stick with the regular-sleeve Special Edition (the double-disc guts of each version are identical), you’re in great hands.
The movie looks improved over earlier video and TV copies, and still packs a wallop despite way-corny dialogue. (”Say,” drawls Bruce Cabot’s macho seaman, ”I guess I love you!” ) Crucial bits of shocking footage cut by censors in the late ’30s, then reinstated decades later in crummy, grainy iterations — like Kong pulling off the dress of a barely conscious Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and sniffing his fingers with unstoppable, hot-monkey curiosity — at last look immaculately detailed. The extras, shaped by longtime DVD-supplement producer Michael Pellerin, are commendably detailed (though it’s too bad there’s no still-frame gallery of the swell conceptual art). Stop-motion- effects master Ray Harryhausen provides commentary, and under Jackson’s supervision, special- effects folks at his New Zealand studios have done a fantastic job re-creating original models and scenery for a sprawling 159-minute documentary. Plus, just for fun, the new Kong effects team reconstructs a long-lost scene from the original, a horrific spider-pit sequence in which hapless sailors, shaken off a giant log on Skull Island, meet gruesome ends. Ahhh, fanboy nirvana.