King Kong Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

It's been said enough that it seems like a spoonful of medicine but for all its historical importance, technical innovation and groundbreaking storytelling, King Kong kicks ass as a thriller, a weeper and one of most entertaining movies you'll ever see. Full stop. Arriving on DVD for the first time, the 1933 original — fully restored to its pre-'38, compellingly violent length — is spectacular and no surprise, remake director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) is a big reason why. Jackson's Wingnut Films is heavily involved in an epic documentary exploring the film and he adds the most compelling features to this two-disc issue: namely, a recreation of a famous sequence, known as the "spider pit," that would be considered lost if anyone could agree that it ever existed. This archaeological process is revealing because original directors Cooper and Schoedsack refused to chronicle the filmmaking process, in order to keep its creation a secret, but Kong geek Jackson has made the study of its secrets into an obsession since he first saw the film at age nine. Adding to the compelling tale is the true life of Merian Cooper, the Indiana Jones of his time, who's the subject of an hour-long biography that reveals his life as a nature filmmaker, a Pan-Am executive, an inventor of three-screens-wide Cinerama, an innovator of Technicolor and as John Ford's collaborator. It is in this context that we can see Kong as autobiography: the adventures of filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) exploring "darkest Africa" parallel Cooper's own life. Whether it's inspiring animation innovator Ray Harryhausen, creating the "monster movie" genre, down the line to Jackson's career, the legacy of Kong cannot be overstated. But now it can be enjoyed and understood — and its context explored — in its original form, a lesson in filmmaking innovation and history that remains unmatched. Plus: commentary by Harryhausen and animator Ken Ralston, with Cooper and Fay Wray interviews, trailer gallery, more. (Warner)