King Kong

The original King Kong, despite it’s awkward performances and clunky dialog, is one of the most influential films ever made. It introduced the magic of big special effects to generations that have gone on to polish that vision into the multifaceted jewel we have today. One of the those entranced millions was Peter Jackson. He, of course, went on to make The Lord of the Rings, probably the current pinnacle of the fantastic in cinema. It also made a lot of money, which allowed Jackson to name his next project. He went back to the big ape that inspired him in the first place.

Normally, I don’t hold with remaking past classics. After all there are plenty of bad films out there that had good ideas at their core, but which, for one reason or another, weren’t successful. And the less said about the first Kong remake in 1976, the better.

But the original is very much a film of the 30’s when acting conventions were different, and even at the time, not the film’s strong point. The effects were beyond cutting edge and many of them still look good, but obviously they have been surpassed today. Peter Jackson has remade King Kong in the best sense. Not only has he updated the effects but he’s also introduced a sophisticated sensibility to the other elements. The dialog is smooth, the performances are modern and nuanced–Merion C. Cooper’s idea has been fleshed out and given real psychological depth. Geeks everywhere should rejoice.

First of all, King Kong wins you over with it’s incredible look. The folks at WETA, the special effects house in NZ that does Peter Jackson’s visuals, are now so good at what they do, they make it look easy. Every frame of King Kong contains some meticulously created setting, costume, or computer generated image that knock your eyes out. For three hours it just gets better. Look at the scars that have been lovingly placed all over Kong’s body. They speak of a history, a long struggle for supremacy over a savage land. And you can see the pride in the ape’s eyes and in his bearing. Kong is worshipped as a god on Skull Island, and he’s thinking, “Yeah, that’s about right.” The credit for much of this performance goes to Andy Serkis, who’s motions were copied into a computer to provide Kong’s movement. He did the same thing for Gollum in LOTR.

The human acting is good, too. Jack Black has the manic chops to play Carl Denham. You can tell by the look on his face when first confronted by Kong, that he’s not thinking about saving his life, he’s thinking about that moment when he steps on a New York stage and introduces the eighth wonder of the world. It isn’t even the money; it’s that moment.

Adrian Brody is believable as an intellectual with an action hero inside. The crew of the Venture is a fun mix of characters not fully developed but well enough that you care for them when things start going wrong.

But by far, the best performance by a human in the film is given by Naomi Watts. She plays Ann Darrow, the Fay Wray part. This Ann is not only beautiful, she has spunk and smarts. When she’s kidnapped and given to the gorilla, she quickly realizes that Kong is her only chance for survival among the mega-fauna of Skull Island, and she goes about the task of charming him, even doing cartwheels and juggling. She also stands up to him, putting her foot down when he knocks her over with his index finger and laughs. Her chemistry with a CGI construct is better than a lot of chemistry between two live stars in other movies.

I could talk about the themes in King Kong, which Jackson has amped up like he has every other aspect of the story. There’s a lot of talk about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and civilization encroaching on the wild mystery of nature. There’s even a romantic angle to be played here. I’ve heard that this movie’s being compared to Titanic. But that’s not why you’re going to go see this. You’re going to see King Kong fight three T-Rex’s at once.

And believe me, you’ll be geeking out about it for years.


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May 2006
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