General Release 2005
187 minutes approx
Ann Darrow -
Carl Denham -
Jack Driscoll -
Directed by -
Written by -
Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson
A film director is struggling to convince the studio that the epic that is so overbudget will, in fact, pay back their investment handsomely. It is unlikely that Peter Jackson will ever have to face this kind of conversation ever again. The amount of money that THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy made New Line Studios (and continues to make) was such that every studio in the whole world must have been queuing up to throw money at him to make whatever he wanted to. What he wanted was KING KONG.
The director here is Carl Denham (played with great aplomb by Jack Black). He is a driven man and throughout the film he drives others to the very limits to get the film that will save his neck. To that end, he steals equipment from the studio, hires a ship that he can't afford, kidnaps a playwright for the journey and fails to tell anyone the whole truth.
The truth is that they are all heading for an island upon which was built a giant wall, devised in ages past to keep something on the other side. That something is Kong.
Kong (and if you don't know this then you have been living on a desert island with the characters of LOST since 1933) is a giant gorilla who takes a shine to the actress accompanying the ship (Naomi Watts) and decides not to eat her straight away. He might have saved himself a lot of bother if he had because the crew chase after him, led by the lovestruck playwright (Adrian Brody) and various dinosaurs, giant bats and other nasties attack him trying to get at the tasty little morsel.
Before you know it, the girl is rescued, Kong takes off after her and is captured and brought back in chains to New York to be offered up as a sideshow attraction. When he breaks free, all hell goes with him, right to the top of the Empire State Building and a date with some byplanes.
Everybody knows the plot and everybody knows how it ends. The burning question is what has Peter Jackson done with it?
Pretty well, would be the answer. He clearly has an affinity with the source material of the level that he had with THE LORD OF THE RINGS and has added a whole lot of modern sensibilities to the bare bones of a plot that remains timeless. The characters are changed and fleshed out, it's true, but to the benefit of the film.
Anne Darrow is much more modern and resourceful with Naomi Watts managing scared, feisty and, at times, downright luminous. This will certainly put her on the A-list and it is easy to see why both Kong and Driscoll fall for her.
Jack Driscoll is the character that changes the most from original to this film. In 1933 he was an inarticulate lunk of a seaman, but now he is a sensitive playwright who seems just as inarticulate in speech. Adrian Brody is given a thankless task here as he is asked to convince as a city intellectual and an all action hero. He pulls of the first easily, but a playwright as a master of the jungle is just too hard a sell.
The there's Carl Denham. Jack Black is reined in by Jackson, not to extinguish his madness, but to keep it in, all behind the eyes. Denham is a man with a sense of purpose that overrides all else, including his sense of decency. He will use anyone and anything to get his vision realised and never once think that it wasn't worth it.
Which brings us to the big fella himself. Well, Kong is a masterful melding of CGI gorillaness and Andy Serkis's remarkable performance capture. The man who was Gollum would now be king, King Kong, and you never for one moment have to suspend disbelief. If a giant gorilla existed in this world, it would look like this. Much effort has been put in to make his bond with Anne believable and it is touching. The moment when he takes her for an ice skate in the Big Apple (in Central Park? At night? Does this ape have a death wish?) is sheer whimsy, but also really touching.
As for the film itself, it's a marvel. Twice as long as the original, it is jam-packed with excitement, thrills and bravura storytelling. Admittedly, there are times when it goes too far and a little pruning of the film or reining in of the director would have been better. When Kong takes on three T-rexes and despatches them over a cliff, it's a brilliant sequence - then it goes on to have them all dangling from vines as they fall down a chasm and you think too much. When the characters fall into the fabled spider pit to be menaced by all kinds of giant creepy crawlies it is truly thrilling, until the man-eating maggots appear and you think too much. And then there is a whole relationship built up between the ship's honourable first mate and wild crewmember that just suddenly...stops. I'm not at all sure what that was all about.
That said, Jackson is a master storyteller and boredom is never even on the horizon throughout the three hour running time. He also knows how to put a picture on the screen and captures the style and sense of the 30's (or, more accurately, 30's movies) superbly. The first part of the T-rex rumble is fantastic and never before have I seen a sequence of such sheer movement and kinetic energy as when the biplanes take on tall, dark and handsome at the top of the Empire State Building.
The big question then, is it better than the original?
In almost every way, yes. As a spectacle, in its characters, in its acting, in its imagery and, of course, in its special effects, it is superior, but somewhere there is a niggle at the back of the mind. Something has been lost. Perhaps it is simplicity, perhaps innocence, perhaps soul.
Even so, this season there won't be a blockbuster to challenge it.Top
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