movie film review | chris tookey

King Kong

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  King Kong Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
8.92 /10
Naomi Lewis , Jack Black, Adrien Brody
Full Cast >

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens

Released: 2005
Origin: US/ New Zealand
Colour: C
Length: 188

Peter Jackson’s splendid and often moving remake of his favourite monster movie will reward you with magnificent spectacle, terrific action, a droll sense of humour, and cherishable performances, though the 1933 version had one virtue that Jackson hasn’t mastered – and that’s economy.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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The original King Kong ran a pacy 100 minutes. Jackson’s version clocks in at around three hours. Whereas his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings had a multiplicity of characters and interwoven plotlines that justified its length, King Kong is a simple story that feels overextended when produced on this scale.

Any director who is being paid 20 million dollars to direct and is coming off the back of an achievement like Lord of the Rings, is unlikely to find producers who will question his judgment; but Jackson is at fault for allowing too much unnecessary detail to accumulate.

There’s an entire subplot about the relationship between a cabin boy (Jamie Bell) and a ship’s First Mate (Evan Parke) that fails to do much except slow down the movie. And some of the action sequences, including the famous Empire State Building finale, play just that bit too long. By the end, I was willing the title character to die – and that’s not good.

But should you see it? The answer’s an emphatic “yes”. Not only are the consistently astonishing special effects worth the price of admission in themselves. Peter Jackson and his usual co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have remained laudably true to the story and spirit of the old movie. They have notably improved its script, fleshing out the central characters and giving them much sharper dialogue.

In Depression-era New York, an out-of-work actress Ann Darrow (delightfully played by Naomi Watts, pictured right) steals an apple and is rescued from arrest by desperate filmmaker Carl Denham (amusingly portrayed as an irrepressible rascal by Jack Black). He’s lost his leading actress for his next film and has to set sail before his producers can cancel his movie, which he wants to set partly in a place that may or may not exist: Skull Island, in the South Seas.

Also on board is an intellectual playwright Jack Driscoll (soulfully played by Adrien Brody), who is writing Denham’s movie for ready money that never seems quite to be forthcoming.

When they land on Skull Island, they discover that it is inhabited by distinctly unfriendly natives (no concessions to political correctness here) who worship a mighty ape that lives on the other side of a great wall and abyss. When Ann is sacrificed and abducted by the aforementioned gorilla, Denham and Driscoll lead a search party to get her back.

That’s when the adventure part of the movie really starts, interspersed with sweet and lyrical sequences of Kong and Ann finding they have a lot in common, especially a taste for romantic sunsets. The second hour is an amazing succession of exciting set-pieces, including a brontosaurus stampede, an all-in wrestling match between Kong and no fewer than three tyrannosaurus rexes, and some brilliantly choreographed attacks on the rescue party by Skull Island’s spectacularly homicidal flora and fauna.

The third hour takes us and Kong to a lovingly recreated 30s New York, which Peter Jackson trashes with every appearance of enjoyment.

Jackson and his team have turned Kong’s story into not just a thrilling adventure, but also a moving triangular love story. Watts enlivens her relationship with Kong by making Ann a much funnier, more resourceful and above all less wimpish character than Fay Wray could manage in the original.

The less satisfying love story is between Ann and Jack Driscoll. Until Kong appears, this is handled very sensitively. Afterwards, too much is left unclear. We never really know what Jack’s view of Kong is, still less whether Driscoll resents that the woman he loves seems to prefer the amorous advances of a 25-foot gorilla.

I doubt whether King Kong will match the commercial success this Christmas of The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s too long for most children, and probably too frightening for kids under 10.

But, for the rest of us, it’s the third must-see movie of the festive season (the other being Mel Brooks’s hilarious musical The Producers). There is plenty here to entertain and involve us, and the film’s a technological marvel.

The dinosaurs featured here may only be a slight improvement on monsters we’ve already seen in the Jurassic Park series. But Jackson’s team has allowed its collective imagination to run riot with some memorably unpleasant creepy-crawlies, and Kong himself shows masterly use of the same kind of motion-capture effects used to animate Gollum in Lord of the Rings (Andy Serkis once again plays the performance reference for the character and also has a small role as the ship’s cook).

The 1933 Kong varied vastly in size from shot to shot, and the attempts to animate him were jerky and primitive. Thanks to modern special effects and first-rate production values, this most sympathetic of movie monsters has become real, terrifying and touching, all over again.

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