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Going ape Peter Jackson has all the answers for fans of 'King Kong'

Bless the film buffs who become filmmakers. They make it all the more fun for the rest of us -- especially when they use their creativity for the home video market. After all, guys like Peter Jackson, who lost themselves in the world of movies as kids, know exactly what other fans crave. That's why Jackson gave such in-depth bonus material on DVDs of his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

And that's why on Tuesday, the day before his big-budget remake of "King Kong" opens in theaters, you'll be able to get a behind-the-scenes look at the movie on the new DVD "King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries." ($39.98, Universal).

To clear up a bit of confusion immediately and to illustrate why this is such a groundbreaking move in the DVD world: This is not the DVD of the full-length movie. It is a cleverly packaged two-disc set preview; nearly four hours of material chronicling Jackson's efforts to remake the 1933 movie that inspired him to become a filmmaker.

There are more than 50 separate short segments (about 2 to 5 minutes each) that focus on a different aspect of making "Kong" such as how the art department made realistic animal manure (Day 14); what a dump tank is (large tanks of water dumped on the cast and crew for, in this case, storm scenes; Days 16 and 18); and a day in the life of Jackson (Day 100). If you can think of a question about this movie, you'll find the answer here.

This was originally started as a daily diary for the Web site www.KongisKing.com. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that Jackson decided (I'm sure with help from the Universal marketing people) to make the entries more in-depth and compile them for this DVD.

"This was not a calculated piece of publicity. It's the filmmakers connecting directly with the fans," Jackson says in his introduction to the DVD.

A cool thing about this set is the obvious give and take between Jackson and the fans who were watching these diaries as they were originally posted on the Web site. For instance, after airing a segment on the various cameras used to make "Kong" (Day 62), many fans asked on the Web site what happened to the film after it left the set every day. So Jackson addressed that question on Day 67 in what he called his "first Web diary sequel."

These daily dairies also provide a realistic view of the physical toll filmmaking can take. There's no hiding the bags under the eyes of Jackson and his crew; you'll notice how hair and beards grow longer and more unkempt as filming progresses -- and how Jackson's weight dramatically drops.

So, is this set worth buying? It's certainly worth watching, especially if you keep in mind that this is different from what you've seen before. It is not one long documentary, but rather snippets that bounce from topic to topic. Think of them as teasers to the bonus material we'll find when the movie is eventually released on DVD. (The only segment of "extended" length is the 15-minute anatomy of the T-Rex fight).

Still, the diaries are informative. Some are also nostalgic (they did many little things, like re-creating Fay Wray's hat, as a nod to the 1933 classic) or done for laughs (actor Jack Black loves to mug for the camera). Jackson also has fun by staging stunts like when he calls in director Bryan Singer to help him finish filming. ("He's a super man," says Jackson, alluding to his friend's current film project.)

And, to show how really warped these guys are, they got me on Day 123 when they announced they were making two sequels: "Son of Kong" and "King Kong: Into the Wolf's Lair." I even had a laugh-out-loud moment when a Universal executive said they could do it because of the production money they saved by not making a second "Chronicles of Riddick." I neglected to notice that Day 123 was April 1.

The list price for this set is a bit steep at $39.98, but you shouldn't have to pay more than $30 (even less if you're a savvy shopper). Most of that cost is associated with the packaging that includes a small, 50-page color collector's book and four 8-by-10, limited-edition production lithographs with a numbered letter of authenticity.

One thing's for sure: "King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries" will whet your appetite for the one ape to rule themall.

***

DVD EXTRA

Sky High: Kurt Russell stars in family comedy about the late-blooming son of the world's biggest superheroes.

Bonus material: Bloopers; behind the scenes and stunts featurettes; and a Bowling for Soup music video. ($29.99, Disney. Available now.)

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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