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A Royal Hollywood Epic

By Jeremy Mathews
King Kong
1/2 (out of four)
Universal Pictures
Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson,
based on the 1933 screenplay by
Merian C. Cooper, Edgar
Wallace, James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose
Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien
Brody, Thomas Kretschmannn,
Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Lobo
Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall,
Kyle Chandler and Andy Serkis
Rated PG-13

For all the film’s impressive spectacle, the best scene in “King Kong” is a quiet moment of improvised fun on the ice of a New York City pond. At first, the giant ape creature and his human love tumble by accident, then playfully spin around. In a final act engulfed largely in crashes and destruction, the scene emphasizes the film’s real strength: its portrayal of the relation between beauty and the beast.

Regardless of whether or not the computer animation in Peter Jackson’s brazenly overloaded remake of the 1933 classic special effects landmark always blends perfectly with the live-action footage (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t), the director has again triumphed in creating a virtual character with a full range of emotions. With actor Andy Serkis, who provided the movement for Kong, and the great Naomi Watts, Jackson makes the relationship between the title character and beautiful would-be actress Ann Darrow understandable and poignant.

The out-of-work Vaudevillian winds up in the jungle when a rogue film director named Carl Denham (Jack Black) steals some equipment from his studio and hops on a creaky boat to find a long-lost exotic island to serve as his film’s location. In need of work during the Great Depression and intrigued because her favorite playwright, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), is writing the screenplay, Ann reluctantly accepts the last-minute job—which might seem like a bad choice in hindsight. A few minutes after landing on the exotic, hidden island, nasty-looking natives kidnap the actress and sacrifice her to their jungle’s giant ape, Kong.

Jackson credits the original version of the film for inspiring him to become a filmmaker, and made this new version as an homage to the beloved classic. Perhaps too enamored with his material, Jackson has made a film over-stuffed with action, drama and comedy. Recreating classic moments and adding his own, the director sometimes loses sight of how simple his story actually is: A group finds and explores a hidden jungle island, captures a giant ape and takes him back to New York City as a love story emerges.

At three hours, the film is nearly twice the length of the original. While no scenes are bad or poorly done, at a certain point the story arc should have been considered. Eye-popping as they may be, there are a few too many large-scale action set pieces that go on for a few too many minutes.

The original film was a landmark in special effects. This one uses effects to extraordinary results, but doesn’t exist in the same moment in history. While Kong’s interaction with Ann is brilliantly created, it echoes what Jackson already accomplished with Serkis as Gollum in his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The action scenes occasionally go overboard—most notably in a scene in which the expedition runs through a narrow canyon as a pack of dinosaurs stampede—but contain unforgettable moments. At one point, while being chased by dinosaurs and rescued by Kong, Ann and her predator wind up stuck on conversely swinging vines, both sides hoping the laws of physics work to their advantage.
That sequence is also the most important jungle action story-wise, as Kong reinforces his alpha-male status on a rescue mission. Both Watts and the collective Kong—Serkis, Jackson and his effects team—rely heavily on body language to express the growing relationship between the prisoner and her captor. She initially tries to calm him through her vaudeville act and begins to see a creature from whom she doesn’t need to run away.

And whether or not you’re in the mood for nonstop action, it’s hard not to be moved. As Jackson works his magic, he reminds us why he fell in love with the cinema, and we fall in love with it again a little bit as well.

jeremy [at]


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