One of the more fascinating side effects of the video revolution has been the enshrinement — almost entirely for marketing reasons — of the classic film canon. At the high end are those boxed ”deluxe collector’s editions” such as MGM/UA’s 50th-anniversary Casablanca set (reviewed in EW #133), and now Turner Home Entertainment’s 60th-anniversary version of King Kong and Republic’s 40th-anniversary package for High Noon. Sleek, fully loaded, priced to reflect their uniqueness, these sets are meant to be the luxury sedans of video. Which is all the more reason to check under the hood.
First off, you have to wonder who the audience is for these goody grab bags. Really serious old-movie vidiots prefer to see their favorites on laserdisc, since that format’s sound and picture quality are superior to tape’s (and in fact, both Kong and Noon have long been available from Voyager in spiffy CAV laser editions that include commentary on an alternate soundtrack and other neat stuff). Young pups who want to bone up on the greats can simply rent copies from their corner video store. And the rest — those who wouldn’t mind owning a crisp copy of either of these two movies but can’t or won’t shell out the extra dough — can be content with buying the non-”limited” anniversary versions. Republic and Turner are making those available at the same time. There’s also a colorized version of Kong, which as an anniversary gift ranks right up there with plantar’s warts.
So what do these lavish boxes get you? Well, okay, two wonderful movies that really do deserve the ”classic” label. King Kong remains the monster movie par excellence, a deeply imaginative experience that works on dozens of levels: Freudian dream, Hollywood in-joke, reflection of Depression angst, FX magic show, ultimate New York tourist nightmare. High Noon, for its part, was the Unforgiven of its day: a dark, stark, mature Western in which sheriff Gary Cooper, superbly grave, faces down his townsfolk’s cowardice. You can’t go wrong here.
Mostly, though, the collector’s editions are about tchotchkes and status. They’re about owning and displaying, not watching and appreciating. Both boxes are too big to fit on a bookshelf: In design and heft they’re made for the coffee table. And what’s in those boxes isn’t really that impressive. The High Noon box gives you four sepia-toned lobby-card reprints and a full-size sepia-toned poster — from the film’s 1956 reissue. There’s also a hardcover book, The Complete Films of Gary Cooper, which is quite nice until you realize that the original 1970 Citadel Press softcover edition is widely available for $15.95. The even weirder Kong box features something that Turner Home Entertainment is calling ”an innovative commemorative embedment… featuring three sequential 35 mm frames from King Kong.” This turns out to be promo-speak for a chunk of Lucite with a strip of film inside. There’s also a large anniversary poster and a pointless Certificate of Authenticity, but the catch is that you have to mail in a card that comes with the box to get those.
The only genuine addition to the legends surrounding these movies is the short making-of documentary that’s packaged alongside each. Both are models of informed film-buffness, although The Making of High Noon, written and hosted by Leonard Maltin, seems to be the more deeply researched. Where else would you find rocker David Crosby talking about his father, Noon cameraman Floyd Crosby? But, hey, the High Noon documentary is also on the non-”limited” $20 version.
In short, no one is disputing that these two movies are great, or even that you should own a copy of them. But whether you need the limited collector’s edition depends less on the movies than on the size of your wallet and your ego. King Kong, the movie: A+ King Kong, the box: C+ High Noon, the movie: A High Noon, the box: B-