Like many genre filmmakers, a young Peter Jackson decided after seeing the
original King Kong to make movies. At twelve years old, he filmed his
own version of the climatic Empire State Building scene using puppets. Pre-production
on the adult Jackson's vision of the classic film was put on hiatus while he
directed The Lord of the Rings trilogy. At long last, his remake of
the 1933 King Kong has premiered to an eager audience. Peter Jackson's
King Kong is destined to be the first significant ape film of the new
millennium, but the question is whether will achieve the quality and visual
impact of the original classic. History is not on his side.
Peter Jackson's King Kong is the seventh big screen interpretation
of this legendary giant ape's story. The original King Kong, the first
giant gorilla movie, revolutionized filmmaking and is one of the greatest giant
creature movies ever made. Developed from an idea by crime writer Edgar Wallace
and producer Merian C. Cooper, King Kong is essentially a retelling
of “Beauty and the Beast.” Willis O’Brien's groundbreaking
special effects remained the industry standard until the 1980s and the emergence
of computer-generated effects. Thanks to O’Brien’s camera work,
a good script and a stirring Max Steiner soundtrack, King Kong established
the ape as a major movie player. The 1950s re-release inspired another popular
monster, Godzilla, and launched that decade’s giant monster movie craze.
O’Brien, Cooper, and director Ernest B. Schoedsack teamed up once again
on the tepid but humorous and rushed sequel Son of Kong (1933). Other
King Kong movies include two Japanese features (King Kong vs. Godzilla
[Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira, 1962] and King Kong Escapes [Kingu Kongu No
Gyakushu, 1967]), an awful 1976 remake and its even worse sequel King
Kong Lives (1986). None of these films match the content or the effects
of the original classic.
Peter Jackson certainly exceeds the effects of the original. They are flawless.
His vision of Kong, generated with the same technique (and actor) used to create
Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, is terrifying, savage and sad
— everything the lead in this picture should be. Kong is grizzled and
scarred. He has seen more than his far share of hardship and strife.
Skull Island is both heaven and hell. Lavishly green with picturesque scenery,
yet populated with horrific natives living in designer Alan Lee's Inferno and
menacing dinosaurs (boy are there dinosaurs!) crushing and eating Denham's crew.
Jackson manages both the little and big things well. Throughout the jungle, tiny
insects are omnipresent and actors sweat profusely adding to the realism.
Kong's battles are spectacles. Jackson is not happy with just replicating
the fights from the original. Rather, he amps them way up. In almost every way,
the ape-dinosaur fights are superior to and bigger than the original. This is
King Kong on steroids.
Before entering a movie screening, I like to listen to the comments of the
people waiting in line to get in. Most were excited and curious about Jackson's
take on the giant ape. I did overhear a couple's puzzling conversation.
HER: The trailers looked interesting.
HIM: Yeah, the first one was exciting, but the second one made it sound
like a romance.
HER: That's odd. It's about a giant ape. What kind of romance could there
HIM (shrugging his shoulders): Got me. Lord of the Rings sure was
Jackson's King Kong, set in the 1930s, is the story of director Carl
Denham (Jack Black), who is famous for his documentary-style films set in exotic
locales, and his quest to produce a movie that will salvage his career. To that
end, he convinces young actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and screenwriter Jack
Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to join him and the crew of the Venture as
he seeks out a unique location for his next movie. They eventually find their
way to Skull Island, where Ann is kidnapped and offered as a sacrifice to the
native god Kong. The beast takes Ann into the jungle with Denham and Driscoll
in pursuit. Along the way, the giant ape falls in love with the beautiful woman.
Driscoll rescues Ann and Kong is captured by the crew of the Venture.
Once back in New York, Denham displays the captured Kong as part of a Broadway
spectacle. He promotes the ape as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The former god
escapes and wreaks havoc in New York, eventually grabbing Ann once again. As in
the original, he scales the Empire State Building, where he is shot down by biplanes.
The acting is for the most part outstanding, especially Andy Serkis as the
sympathetic Kong and Noami Watts, who straddles the fine line between crazy
and goofy. Her portrayal of Ann Darrow makes the whole thing work. The relationship
between her and Kong is both terrifying and charming. Jackson successfully plays
up the whole Beauty and the Beast idea to a degree far greater than previous
The movie does falter out of the gate taking too much time to get to Skull
Island. It is well over an hour into the movie before they get there. This could
have easily been cut in half with out impeding the story. Once the crew arrives
at Skull Island, the story rockets along at a breakneck pace producing nary
a dull moment. As with the Rings trilogy, Jackson is too enamored with
the use of slow motion at inappropriate times and seemingly with no purpose.
Jackson litters in-jokes for the Kong fans throughout the picture. He even drops
a hint that Kong is not the first giant ape on Skull Island.
King Kong is a hard PG-13 with truly horrific scenes and actions.
In a pre-Oscar winning existence, Jackson was one of the world's premiere horror
directors and this picture reminds us of that fact.
As he raised the standard for fantasy in The Lord of the Rings, Peter
Jackson has set a new bar for monster movies. Easily the best incarnation since
the original 1933 blockbuster, Jackson's King Kong is a spectacle worthy
of the Eighth Wonder of the World. O’Brien, Cooper, and Schoedsack would