In the movie publicity game, they call it a roadblock: promotion that dominates various media so completely that it cannot be ignored. It’s not a new concept, but the roadblock being set up for King Kong — Universal’s high-stakes revamping of the 1933 original from Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson — goes way beyond the scale of previous barricades. Kong doesn’t open until Dec. 14, but already an effects-heavy preview has become omnipresent in theaters, on television, and on the Internet. There’s also an unfolding behind-the-scenes production diary available online that’s already long enough to fill a DVD’s special-edition supplement — which of course upstages the eventual DVD. The question is, how did Peter Jackson wind up the star of his own experimental, downloadable version of Project Greenlight, and isn’t anybody worried that all the buildup might eclipse the actual movie?
This unorthodox and massive machine rumbled to life at 8:59 p.m. on Monday, June 27. That’s when 10 NBC Universal networks showed a first-look trailer lasting two and a half minutes. (Similar TV blitzkriegs happened in the U.K., Germany, Japan, France, and Peter Jackson’s native land, New Zealand.) Two days later, the same trailer fanned out to theaters around the world with 17,000-plus prints of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds — thousands more than a typical opening-weekend launch. Given that the movie still has more than 1,000 visual-effects shots to be finalized, and that live-action shooting only wrapped in mid-April, crafting so revealing a preview this early carries enormous risk. Look no further than The Hulk‘s 2003 Super Bowl trailer for evidence. The earliest shots of the CG-rendered title character, far inferior to shots done in later months, were a flop not only with fans of the comic but with a general audience, and doubtless contributed to the movie’s disappointing run.
So far, Internet fansites (which can be a brutal gauntlet for big-budget studio movies) have been fairly kind to Kong. JoBlo.com pronounced it ”awesome. . .through and through.” But it did receive a few knocks. An otherwise positive Ain’tItCool.com item sniped, ”It ain’t the 8th wonder of the world.” There’s also been some grumbling about the CG effects (typical among fanboy sites), with complaints that they look unconvincing. But director Jackson isn’t worried. ”All the trailer [CG] shots are inevitably the first passes,” he tells EW, ”and will get redone. But I’m happy with how things are looking and have no excuses. . . .I’m feeling good about the movie. It’s got a lot to offer beyond a few shots of dinosaurs.”
As the trailer went under the microscope among fans, Kong continued building a sizable Internet presence via material that cannibalizes future DVD supplements in an unprecedented way. In an act of amazing self-exposure, Jackson began recording an extensive series of video diaries — basically high tech blogs, put together by his own DVD supplement team on the Kong sets, starting way back in September 2004. He then began releasing chunks of it to the fan website KongisKing.net, which is not subsidized by Universal.
”It was Peter’s idea to show a production diary,” says Michael Regina, the website’s editor in chief and also a cofounder of the Lord of the Rings fansite TheOneRing.net. ”We thought we’d get one [update] every few months. They ended up coming a few days apart.” The tally stands at several hours’ worth of material already — which may or may not wind up in the same form on a Kong DVD down the line — including comical segments in which Jackson is pictured as so exhausted, he has to bring in ”guest” directors Bryan Singer (who’s been in Australia working on Superman Returns) and Frank Darabont. (The jury may still be very out on the actual promotional benefit of all this early leaking, but that hasn’t stopped Singer and Warner Bros. from echoing Jackson’s approach on their own blog outlet, BlueTights.net, which started up this spring.)
What’s unorthodox about this online approach is the sheer volume of detail it reveals in advance, despite many blurred-out monitor shots of sensitive material: how the actors look, what the sets are like, the outlines of the plot. As star Jack Black says in one segment, ”Isn’t that, like, verboten?”
Not at the moment — but check back after the box office receipts come in.