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 V.14 No.50 | December 15 - 21, 2005 

Film Review

King Kong

Epic remake of Hollywood classic is monstrously entertaining

“Can I take him home. Please? I promse to feed him.”
“Can I take him home. Please? I promse to feed him.”

King Kong

Directed by Peter Jackson

Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody

There are times when remaking a classic Hollywood film is appropriate, and there are times when it is not. The intentions of the filmmakers are important. The degree to which the original is beloved is important. The amount of time that has passed between original and remake factors into it. In the end, though, history judges by the final product. For example, producer Dino De Laurentiis' silly 1976 remake of King Kong is pretty much an example of how not to do a remake. But, with the bad version out of the way, there's room for a good one.

Filmmaker Peter Jackson would seem to have all the appropriate qualities to do the job. He has long proclaimed his love for Merian C. Cooper's 1933 film. (Jackson's early film Dead/Alive had many Kong references.) Jackson more than proved his mettle for epic filmmaking by helming the massive Lord of the Rings trilogy. And he promised up and down that he would be faithful to the original film.

Now, anticipation and expectation running high, Jackson's version of King Kong has hit theaters with a mighty roar. Clocking in at just over three hours and boasting a budget somewhere north of $200 million dollars, it's hard to accuse Jackson of giving the project short shrift.

Jackson and his longtime screenwriting collaborators Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh have followed Cooper's 1933 script almost to the letter. They've just added a hell of a lot more letters to it. As before, the plot follows Carl Denham (comedian Jack Black, going almost serious), a filmmaker/con man trying to get a cheesy jungle picture financed in Depression-era New York City. Forced to hightail it out of the country after “borrowing” some camera equipment from disgruntled studio executives, Carl is desperate for a leading lady. He grabs the first pretty face he can find, out-of-work vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts, doing Fay Wray proud). Together with a slightly kidnapped screenwriter (Adrien Brody), an egotistical actor (the very funny Kyle Chandler) and a crew of tough-looking sea salts, Denham and his cast of characters sail off to the South Seas.

Carl's plan is to follow a questionable map to the long-lost, uncharted “Skull Island” where he will shoot his exotic masterpiece. Of course, as we all know, Skull Island is the residence of one giant ape by the name of King Kong. In due time, our lovely lead actress is captured by the ape and our ragtag group of heroes is traipsing through a dinosaur-laden jungle trying to rescue her.

Jackson certainly doesn't skimp on the action. The scenes on Skull Island are all jaw-droppers. Brachiosaur stampedes, T-Rex fights, giant bat attacks--King Kong makes Jurassic Park look like the teacup ride at Disneyland. The computer animation Jackson created for the Lord of the Rings films has been perfected, and it is a rare moment when the film's CGI roots show through. Kong himself is an amazing creation. “Acted” for the computers by Andy Sirkis (who performed similar duty on Lord of the Rings' Gollum), Kong is a living, breathing character--which is a damn good thing, since most of the film's success rests on our sympathy for the big lug.

For the most part, the only alterations between the original film and this one are positive ones. Character motivations are more solidified, some of the corny dialogue is sweetened and the romance is more nuanced. (Adrien Brody's insecure screenwriter replaces Bruce Cabot's swaggering seaman from the original as the film's love interest.)

There are moments, admittedly, when Jackson's love for King Kong shows through a little too much. I'm not one to argue against long movies, but this Kong could have used a trim or two. It's not that the film's pacing is off, or that it ever becomes boring. It's just that Jackson is a bit too indulgent with his creation. One frightening sequence in a bug-filled pit is a little too long and a little too gross. (Those under 13 are assured nightmares.) The scene in which Kong and Ann go ice skating in Central Park (no, I'm not kidding) probably pushes the “romance” envelope a tad far. And the film's tragic climax gets milked a bit too much for sympathy.

Still, those are minor complaints, as King Kong achieves its ultimate goal: to entertain. Jackson has put his all into this one, and it shows. From the unbridled excitement of the action scenes to the tear-inducing drama to the loving recreation of '30s Manhattan, King Kong is moviemaking at its most classic.

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