Kong: Skull Island (4K Blu-ray) (2017)

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Released 19-Jul-2017

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure Audio Commentary-with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2017
Running Time 118:26
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Tom Hiddleston
Samuel L. Jackson
Brie Larson
John C. Reilly
John Goodman
Corey Hawkins
John Ortiz
Tian Jing
Toby Kebbell
Jason Mitchell
Shea Whigham
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $39.95 Music Henry Jackman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Atmos
English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Czech Dolby Digital 5.1
Polish Dolby Digital 5.1
Russian Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 2160p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Czech
Polish
Russian
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Post-credits scene

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Plot Synopsis

     A quasi-remake of King Kong, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island is a mightily entertaining B-movie in every sense of the word, and it represents the second instalment in Legendary Entertainment’s interconnected “MonsterVerse” franchise, following 2014’s Godzilla. Whereas Peter Jackson’s 2005 reimagining of King Kong augmented its spectacle with emotion and themes, Skull Island is all about rampaging monsters, but it’s nice to see a blockbuster of this ilk made by a team of filmmakers who care about their craft and know how to create thrilling action sequences. There are no pretensions here - this is just a fun, well-made monster yarn which miraculously doesn’t require a lobotomy prior to viewing.

     In the waning days of the Vietnam War, senior Monarch employee Bill Randa (John Goodman) convinces the United States government to sanction an expedition to an uncharted land mass in the South Pacific known as Skull Island. For the trip, Randa and his scientist partner (Corey Hawkins) recruit British Special Air Services Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to join the team, which is escorted and guarded by a military envoy out of Vietnam headed by Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Taking to the skies of Skull Island to bomb the landscape in order to draw out any wildlife, Packard’s team unwittingly disturbs the natural order of things, which enrages monster ape Kong. Attacking the squad of choppers, Kong makes a mess out of the soldiers, separating the survivors into groups scattered all over the island, who have just two days to make their way to the rendezvous point. But the humans quickly find that the island is populated by other creatures even more menacing than Kong, especially the carnivorous “Skullcrawlers” who consume everything in sight. Amid the chaos, they encounter Marlow (John C. Reilly), an American soldier stranded during WWII who hopes that he finally has a chance to get home.

     With a script credited to three writers (from a story by John Gatins), Kong: Skull Island more or less plays out like the first two acts of any other King Kong movie, minus the capture of the titular ape and New York finale. It’s a welcomely refreshing way to reintroduce the gigantic simian yet again, finding director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) plotting out his own fresh vision which takes inspiration from Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park, with a fun reference to Cannibal Holocaust to boot. Set-up and exposition is efficient, doing just enough to explain the mission and introduce the characters before reaching the island and giving over to a fast-paced succession of action set-pieces. Subplots do appear, but Packard’s yearning for revenge against Kong is perhaps the most prominent - he takes Kong’s initial attack personally, becoming very reminiscent of Captain Ahab. As previously stated, there isn’t much in the way of emotion throughout Kong: Skull Island - it doesn’t even try to dabble in the science-gone-wrong themes of Jurassic Park - but it all comes together well enough nonetheless. The script even serves up a smattering of gallows humour to add some levity to the sometimes unnerving violence.

     It would appear that Legendary learned from 2014’s Godzilla, which was criticised by fans due to its lack of action and shortage of Godzilla screen-time. Hence, Vogt-Roberts doesn’t waste much time introducing the great ape - Kong is briefly glimpsed in an effective prologue establishing Marlow’s residency on the island, but he really joins the fray at the half-hour mark as he viciously takes down Packard’s choppers, killing dozens of soldiers. From there, monster throwdowns are prolonged and frequent, spotlighting the titular beast as he battles the island’s perilous wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Whereas Michael Bay repeatedly ruins each Transformers movie with a routine of rapid-fire cutting and shaky-cam, Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong ensure that the carnage is always fun to watch and easy to comprehend, relying on smooth wide shots. Vogt-Roberts endows the combat with fun little quirks, too, adding personality to what could have been just another drab, generic blockbuster in less skilful hands. However, the movie does go a bit too far with a 300-inspired slow motion shot of Conrad slicing prehistoric birds in mid-air which just comes off as hoary, unnecessary and self-indulgent.

     Skull Island’s unique version of Kong stands approximately 100ft tall and is more human in his movements, never hunching over on all fours like a primate. As to be expected from a generously-budgeted studio blockbuster, the digital effects consistently impress in their fluidity and detail, and Kong is insanely expressive and nuanced thanks to always-improving motion capture techniques. However, the CGI is knowingly artificial as well, which is more noticeable because the movie was shot digitally, taking away any sense of tangibility. It has to be said that there was a bit more charm to similar monster movies of yesteryear, which were shot on good old-fashioned celluloid and used men in dumpy rubber suits to play monsters on miniature sets. Still, Kong: Skull Island gets more right than wrong, and Fong makes fantastic use of the truly breathtaking locations in Vietnam, Hawaii and Australia. For a monster movie, there’s genuine cinematic artistry throughout, and it’s brilliantly accompanied by a soundtrack of classic rock tunes from the Vietnam era - the playlist includes tunes from Creedence Clearwater Revival, David Bowie and Jefferson Airplane (just to name a few), adding further flavour to the material.

     As perhaps to be expected, the acting is effective but unremarkable for the most part, though at least nobody disgraces themselves. Hiddleston is a very good actor and he acquits himself well enough, but he’s certainly not believable as a badass special forces type. Jackson, however, can do this type of hard-nosed military leader routine in his sleep, and he’s a real asset, while Larson is simply lovely as the token female character who seems to intrigue Kong. But its Reilly who really steals the show; he actually has a proper character to play, and it’s easier to instantly latch onto him compared to the rest of the ensemble. Reilly is his usual goofy self, but there’s a hint of poignancy here too, giving the movie its only real traces of humanity. The rest of the actors do what they can with their underwritten roles, particularly Shea Wingam who makes a good impression as a seasoned soldier, but the movie basically belongs to Kong and John C. Reilly.

     Kong: Skull Island is a bit silly and it likely won’t resonant with many viewers on a profound level, but it’s slickly-made and it doesn’t outright insult anybody’s intelligence, nor does it feel overlong, which confidently places it above other contemporary blockbusters. Quite simply, it delivers the goods, and it’s a total blast if you’re in the mood for some well-paced big-screen escapism. Also, be sure to stay tuned for a touching additional sequence during the credits and a Marvel-style post-credits scene which sets up further connections to Godzilla and teases what’s to come in the future of the MonsterVerse.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Kong: Skull Island was shot digitally with Arri Alexa camera rigs at 3.4K resolution and was reportedly only finished at 2K, presumably making this an upscale from the digital intermediate. Despite the fact that Skull Island is considered to be "fake" 4K, the presentation is still wonderful fodder for the Ultra HD format, exhibiting an appreciative increase in detail and texture compared to its 1080p counterpart, and it's further bolstered by High Dynamic Range and stronger contrast. Free of the compression which marred the standard Blu-ray to a certain degree, this 2160p, HEVC/H.265-encoded presentation is the superior way to view the movie at home. (Though the 3D Blu-ray is honestly not far behind.) Roadshow make use of a dual-layered 66GB disc, but with the 118-minute movie getting the disc to itself (audio commentary notwithstanding), the disc space proves to be perfectly sufficient.

     Instantly, the increase in image depth here is noticeable, thanks to superior contrast and truer blacks, plus the subtle but effective use of HDR. The presentation looks more alive and vivid compared to the standard Blu-ray. The stylised, '70s-style cinematography is a great fit for HDR, and with the benefit of Wide Colour Gamut, the colour palette is stronger than ever. See the trip through the ape graveyard, or the night-time scenes at the 67-minute mark wherein the colourful sky looks gorgeous. Skull Island is full of lavish landscape shots, with the movie having been lensed against beautiful locales in Hawaii, Thailand and Australia, and it all looks genuinely breathtaking in 4K. This UHD presentation brings out stronger details and textures - close-ups are stunning in particular, but even in medium shots you can discern lots of detail. The transfer never looks smeary or overly smooth. There is a light layer of source-related noise that's more palpable here, but it's very fine and only serves to make the movie look more cinematic and tangible.

     The standard Blu-ray was razor-sharp, and there isn't really much of an increase in sharpness here - the transfer just looks better-resolved all-round. You can count the hairs on John C. Reilly's beard, and object delineation is superb. The image can look a tad soft at times, particular during the more CGI-heavy sequences, but this presumably traces back to the source, as the standard Blu-ray is similarly soft in the same spots. Nevertheless, clarity remains top-notch, even in darker sequences. Luckily, I did not detect any encoding anomalies - there's nothing in the way of aliasing, macroblocking, banding, ringing or anything else. This is a competent encode across the board.

     As perhaps to be expected, the disc's High Dynamic Range is encoded in HDR10 as opposed to Dolby Vision, even though DV was initially rumoured to be on the disc. (Worth pointing out that in the United States, a streaming version is available for purchase in DV.) Kong: Skull Island was actually released in Dolby Cinemas and screened in Dolby Vision, but the arguably superior HDR format is only gradually being rolled out for home consumption and there's still limited player and television support. Still, the option would have been appreciated, as it might have improved the quality of the image to some degree. Nevertheless, Skull Island looks genuinely excellent on 4K UHD Blu-ray, and fans should definitely pick up this set for the best viewing experience possible. This is one of the best 2K upscales I've seen on the format.

     Subtitles are offered in English, Spanish, Czech, Polish and Russian.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     This 4K Blu-ray contains the exact same Dolby Atmos track found on the standard Blu-ray. My thoughts therefore remain unchanged.

     Kong roars to life on home video with a full, rich Dolby Atmos track. From the very beginning, the dynamic range of the track is on full display - as the Warner Bros. logo appears, the sounds of a dogfight can be heard off-screen; the surround channels are put to good use as gunfire fills the speakers, and panning makes you feel as if planes are flying overhead. When Kong's hands first appear, you can feel the full impact thanks to booming sound effects and subwoofer use. And that's just the beginning. Helicopter rotors are so immediate and impactful that you'll think they're in the room. When Chapman looks up to see Kong approaching at the river, all sounds of Kong's approach come from the rear channels. When a Skullcrawler appears in the graveyard sequence, panning makes you believe it's moving off-camera.

     Scenes on the island are bolstered by location-specific ambience. Especially in the jungle, sounds of bugs and other animals can be heard from all sides, putting you in the thick of Skull Island. Music comes through with precision as well, including the era-specific songs. And in amid the frantic soundscape of gunshots and monster roars, dialogue remains consistently well-prioritised and is never challenging to comprehend.

     I found no flaws with this track to speak of. It's crisp, clean, and absolutely devoid of any encoding errors.

     As with the standard Blu-ray, there is also the option of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (the disc defaulted to this on my set-up), and a few other lossless tracks.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The 4K disc itself only contains the director's audio commentary. However, the set also contains the regular old 1080p Blu-ray which features a larger selection of extras.

Commentary

     Director Vogt-Roberts comes in strong from the very beginning, introducing himself as he begins a chatty, informative scene-specific audio commentary track. It's clear that the filmmaker is proud of his movie and was thrilled to have the opportunity to direct it, waxing lyrical about the actors, things that were cut or changed, and general production titbits. Other topics include homages (Apocalypse Now of course, and he mentions The Big Lebowski) influences, and even the choice not to include any actual dinosaurs because it has been done before and Jurassic World had just debuted. But my favourite anecdote is Vogt-Roberts pointing out that one dogtag says "Harambe." He's very talkative, even saying he doesn't have enough time to talk about everything as shots go by so quickly. Despite a few quiet patches, this is one of the better commentaries that I've heard of late, and if anything it enhanced my liking of the movie.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As with the standard Blu-ray, all editions worldwide appear virtually identical, language options notwithstanding. Unless certain audio or subtitle options matter to you, buy local.

Summary

     Kong: Skull Island may prove polarizing to an extent, depending on your expectations. It's more entertaining and competent than 2014's Godzilla, but it lacks any sort of emotion. It's a big, fun monster movie, playing out with an infectious B-grade spirit. I had a great time with it.

     Roadshow have chosen to debut the movie on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, which is another major win in my books. The vast improvements in picture quality are both noticeable and appreciable compared to the more compressed 1080p Blu-ray, and the audio remains seriously immersive. Add in the standard Blu-ray with its selection of extras, and this set comes highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Friday, September 01, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDLG UP970 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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