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Going ape 'King Kong' DVD shows even more bonus features

What do you do for an encore when you've already released what are essentially bonus features for a DVD -- before the movie is even released to theaters?

That's the challenge filmmaker Peter Jackson set himself up for when he released the two-disc DVD set, "King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries" ($39.98, Universal), days before the movie opened in theaters in December.

For the two-disc special edition of the "real" DVD release of "King Kong" ($30.98, Universal, coming out Tuesday), Jackson has augmented that first set with bonus features that take viewers even deeper into the filmmaking process. (Note: A single-disc DVD containing just the movie is also available at a manufacturer's list price of $1 less than than the double-disc set. Need I say, why bother?)

The special edition once again has hours of production diaries, originally made for the Web site, www.KongisKing.com. This time, they spotlight the 33 weeks of post-production work.

But before tuning into the wizardry of modern moviemaking, let's focus on the imagination.

There are two fantastic documentaries that have been included, Jackson says, to give viewers an idea of the research and details that went into making the film.

"Because everybody involved in the film has to have the same knowledge and the same understanding of what we're making, there is enormous research that goes on and only a small amount makes it into the film," Jackson says in his introduction.

The captivating documentary "Skull Island: A Natural History" is fascinating to watch, because the rich details and vivid stories about Skull Island -- including legends, dinosaurs, humans and culture -- make you believe Skull Island exists.

"The zoology, the flora, the fauna, the cultural history of Skull Island was a huge amount of fun to see designed. . . . We're able to share with you here the details and the fun that we had in creating the history of Skull Island that we could never put into the movie," Jackson says.

Another documentary, "Kong's New York, 1933," delves into the history of the time and how the filmmakers used that information for the movie. To say this documentary has interviews with scholars, historians and authors makes it sound quite dreadful, yet it's the opposite.

This concise overview of the Great Depression, vaudeville, the New York Harbor, Prohibition and the skyscraper boom is educational without being boring. In fact, I dare say it's even engrossing. Archival footage and old photographs lend to the authenticity.

You'll learn that the streets of New York City in 1933 were pretty much the way they are today -- "chaotic, crazy busy and vibrant," Jackson says. Only back then, they were filled with 7 million people, plus horses, wagons, cars and trolleys.

The segment on the skyscraper boom is especially interesting as it shows how the New York City skyline came to be, including the building of the Empire State building at the remarkable rate of almost a floor a day. The famous movie ending that found Kong at the top of the Empire State Building -- well, that wasn't part of the original plan, because the building was only finished months before the original movie began shooting.

The only negative to these bonus features is the inclusion of two shamelessly commercial shorts, including "The Volkswagen Toureg and King Kong."

Surprisingly, you won't find deleted scenes or commentaries, nor any featurettes about the original movie (surprising since it was the film that inspired Jackson to direct). That makes me think that, just as he did with his "Lord of the Rings" films, Jackson has an extended DVD of "Kong" on the horizon.

Since only the bonus features were available to preview at press time, I can't let you know how a film of such giant scope transfers to the small screen. I'll have more on that next week, if needed.

>Also available

Speaking of giant monsters, next week will also be a good week for Godzilla fans with Tuesday's releases of the major Hollywood film and the TV series that followed.

"Gozilla: Monster Edition" ($19.94, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) starred Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno and Hank Azaria in an intentionally funny and surprisingly good modern-day adaptation that saw the iconic monster wreaking havoc in the United States.

Bonus features include a featurette on the "All-Time Best of Godzilla Fight Scenes," a photo gallery, commentary and music video by the Wallflowers, plus three episodes from "Gozilla: The Series."

And speaking of the TV show, the second and third volumes in the ongoing "Godzilla: The Series" sets, called "Monster Mayhem" and "Mutant Madness," are also available ($9.98 each, Sony). The made-for-TV series, created after the 1998 movie was made, pitted humans against all sorts of giant monsters.

Anytime I hear that whimsical "Murder, She Wrote" theme, I can't help but stop what I'm doing and spend an hour with the charming, mystery-writing Jessica Fletcher.

The newly available "Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Third Season" ($49.98, Universal) has a few great reasons to watch. It includes the crossover episodes with "Magnum, P.I." called "Novel Connection" and -- this is the goodie -- it includes a guest appearance by George Clooney.

The Oscar-winner, complete with a full head of wavy hair and bushy eyebrows, plays Kip, half of a young couple caught between bickering fathers who were once partners a la Lewis and Martin. Even in his early 20s, Clooney obviously had the "it" factor.

"Undertaking Betty" ($29.99, Miramax). This whimsical and mature romantic "fable" has a wonderful cast led by Brenda Blethyn, Alfred Molina, Naomi Watts and the irrepressible Christopher Walken.

Blethyn is Betty, a lonely housewife married to a cheating cad. The local undertaker (Molina), who has been in love with her since they were kids, finally gets the nerve to admit his feelings and learns Betty feels the same way.

But divorce is unheard of in this picturesque town in Wales, so they concoct the crazy idea that Betty has to fake her death -- and all of the expected comic consequences follow.

This delightful British film is definitely too quirky for its own good. Musical numbers, fantasy dance sequences and crazy plot points with Walken as undertaker Frank Featherbed who plans funerals with such outlandish themes as "Star Trek" (the corpse is dressed as a Vulcan), are over the top.

However, the performances are so charming and the picture-perfect locations are enchanting. The movie comes with a making-of featurette.

>Coming soon

Tuesday's DVD releases include: "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " (Paramount), "Memoirs of a Geisha" (Sony); and "Stay" (20th Century Fox).

***

DVD Extra

In the Mix: Soulful singer Usher has his first leading role in this romantic comedy that also stars Chazz Palminteri and Emmanuelle Chriqui. Extras include the featurette "25 Days and Not a Minute More" and deleted scenes. ($27.98, Lionsgate. Available now.)

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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