director: Peter Jackson
starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody
running time: 187 mins
In completing King Kong Jackson both fulfilled a childhood dream and showed just how valuable a well-timed remake can be, even if the original is as iconic a masterpiece as this. Another combination of Andy Serkis’ acting skills with Weta technology, we are granted an utterly real Kong, visually rather than just by drawing us into the fantasy world as with the previous films.
We follow struggling actress Ann Darrow [Naomi Watts] as she meets the untrustworthy filmmaker Carl Denham [Jack Black]. Pursued by creditors, he hires her as the lead for his picture, setting sail for the undiscovered Skull Island by following a map he has received. Scriptwriter Jack Driscoll [Adrien Brody] has also been tricked into joining them for the voyage. Once they reach the mysterious island, Ann is captured by the natives and offered to Kong, a gigantic ape. The ship’s crew mount a rescue mission across this prehistoric world to save Darrow and escape.
Most will tell you that at over three hours the film is excessively long: it is not Lord of the Rings. However they will disagree over what should be cut. Over an hour is spent on establishment before we even see the beast, and Jackson delves into the backstories of all our characters. Although a proper understanding of Darrow and Denham’s motives is key, the history of the ship’s crew is somewhat unnecessary. Once the action begins, however, it is utterly riveting. It is any action adventure afficionado’s dream with man versus giant insects, man versus dinosaur, dinosaur versus Kong, and of course, man versus Kong. Skull Island’s creatures are phenomenal, peaking with a ten minute brawl between Kong and three tyranosaurs. For this alone, it is must-see on the big screen.
I cannot understand why Jackson, in the position to select any actor he pleased, took the risk of casting Jack Black. Whether it was a calculated gamble or blind luck I cannot tell, but despite being no fan of Black’s prior acting performances, here his straight performance has a caged intensity which perfectly captures the essence of Denham. Watts does well as Darrow, giving depth to her role and creating brilliant chemistry with a non-existent creature as she displays believable affection for Kong. Having Serkis on set must have aided this greatly. Her relationship with Kong is two-way, following the 1976 telling rather than the 1933 (incidentally for those who worry about continuity and such things, this incarnation of Kong is about 25 feet tall). Brody is an unlikely choice as the action hero and fares somewhat less well. Although he plays the scriptwriter role well, he’s often unconvincing later in the film. One remains incredulous that he could lead Darrow back across the island virtually unharmed when a band of well-armed sailors suffered so many casualties.
The weakest portion of the film is probably the return to New York City. Although one of the finest special effects is this historical recreation, once Kong breaks loose we have the army called in when the ostensible body count is virtually zero. The closing lines are a horrible and rather abrupt end to a poignant demise. I suspect a director’s cut may alter this closing scene. The scenes which absolutely cannot be cut, and indeed it is doubtful could be improved upon, are the intimate moments between Darrow and Kong. Shots of them watching a sunset together and her dancing for him are astounding in both their beauty and sincere simplicity. The human expressions etched upon Kong’s face will remain with the viewer long after the movie ends.
Jackson has crafted a magnificent version of this tale, although it perhaps falls short of becoming the definitive version. However, for those introduced through this movie it will be difficult to rewatch the older incarnations because the visual standard is simply so high. This is certainly Kong for the current generation and creating a more believable and emotionally captivating Kong on film may well be impossible.