07 April 2006

King Kong (Universal Pictures, 2005)

When I was four years old, I saw the original King Kong. It broke my brain. A giant ape gets captured, taken to New York and climbs the Empire State Building.I heard Peter Jackson was going to remake the movie as a follow-up to his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was skeptical. How many version of Kong have I seen?There were the bad Japanese versions of the 1960s (though I liked the mechanical Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla). There was the big budget remake in 1976 (weird to watch what with Kong's ascent up the World Trade Center). In the 1980s there was a really lousy King Kong Lives that ironically seemed to kill the concept of a big monkey movie. Although I liked everything Peter Jackson turned out, I was waiting for a big, long flop.

I was pleasantly surprised.

King Kong is a masterpiece of movie making. It's broken into three solid acts. The first act is all about New York. The original was filmed during the Great Depression. The remake features the Depression and uses it to drive the plot. The second act is the sea journey and the peril. Nobody in Hollywood wants to admit that productions are done on a shoestring. Peter Jackson isn't from Hollywood. Jack Black's producer/promoter, Carl Denham, has no cash so he cuts every corner: he gets a tramp steamer, he houses the talent like animals; and there's more. It's great. When they get to Skull Island, the natives have Peter Jackson's spin. They look and act more like Orcs. Naomi Watts' Anne Darrow is snapped up by Kong and the men come to the rescue. If nothing else, this part of the movie has too much. There are as many dinosaurs as Jurassic Park; as many giant bugs as one of those schlocky 1970s movies; and on top of that is the big man himself. Leave the bugs for the next movie, Peter. Eventually Kong is captured and shipped back to New York. The third act is set in Manhattan. Kong is a miserable, pitiable and chained spectacle. There are parts that really tug at your heart strings, right up to the tragic ending that echoes the 1933 original. To the credit of the screenwriters, King Kong is painted as a sympathetic character.

I always had a big problem with Kong: what has he? A monkey man in a suit? This version is solidly a massive gorilla and the portrayal is so effective that could almost convince Jane Goodall. He acts like a 25 foot tall gorilla but he conveys a sensitivity. This movie walks a fine line of following the events of the original while updating it to survive a reality check and make for some real suspense and surprises. The acting is strong. I actually dislike Jack Black and think Adrian Brody used the Marisa Tomei clause to win his Oscar. The performances are spot on and the casting is ideal.

The basic edition is a little skimpy but the deluxe DVD version has three hours of behind-the-scenes material. If your enjoyed the movie, the bonus material should push you pop for the deluxe edition.


Buy King Kong on DVD (US) (UK)

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