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King Kong
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Peter Jackson (director)
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   December 14, 2005
Review Date:   December 12, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Like many genre filmmakers, a young Peter Jackson decided after seeing the original King Kong to make movies. At twelve years old, he filmed his own version of the climatic Empire State Building scene using puppets. Pre-production on the adult Jackson's vision of the classic film was put on hiatus while he directed The Lord of the Rings trilogy. At long last, his remake of the 1933 King Kong has premiered to an eager audience. Peter Jackson's King Kong is destined to be the first significant ape film of the new millennium, but the question is whether will achieve the quality and visual impact of the original classic. History is not on his side.

Peter Jackson's King Kong is the seventh big screen interpretation of this legendary giant ape's story. The original King Kong, the first giant gorilla movie, revolutionized filmmaking and is one of the greatest giant creature movies ever made. Developed from an idea by crime writer Edgar Wallace and producer Merian C. Cooper, King Kong is essentially a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” Willis O’Brien's groundbreaking special effects remained the industry standard until the 1980s and the emergence of computer-generated effects. Thanks to O’Brien’s camera work, a good script and a stirring Max Steiner soundtrack, King Kong established the ape as a major movie player. The 1950s re-release inspired another popular monster, Godzilla, and launched that decade’s giant monster movie craze.

O’Brien, Cooper, and director Ernest B. Schoedsack teamed up once again on the tepid but humorous and rushed sequel Son of Kong (1933). Other King Kong movies include two Japanese features (King Kong vs. Godzilla [Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira, 1962] and King Kong Escapes [Kingu Kongu No Gyakushu, 1967]), an awful 1976 remake and its even worse sequel King Kong Lives (1986). None of these films match the content or the effects of the original classic.

Peter Jackson certainly exceeds the effects of the original. They are flawless. His vision of Kong, generated with the same technique (and actor) used to create Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, is terrifying, savage and sad — everything the lead in this picture should be. Kong is grizzled and scarred. He has seen more than his far share of hardship and strife.

Skull Island is both heaven and hell. Lavishly green with picturesque scenery, yet populated with horrific natives living in designer Alan Lee's Inferno and menacing dinosaurs (boy are there dinosaurs!) crushing and eating Denham's crew. Jackson manages both the little and big things well. Throughout the jungle, tiny insects are omnipresent and actors sweat profusely adding to the realism.

Kong's battles are spectacles. Jackson is not happy with just replicating the fights from the original. Rather, he amps them way up. In almost every way, the ape-dinosaur fights are superior to and bigger than the original. This is King Kong on steroids.

Before entering a movie screening, I like to listen to the comments of the people waiting in line to get in. Most were excited and curious about Jackson's take on the giant ape. I did overhear a couple's puzzling conversation.

HER: The trailers looked interesting.

HIM: Yeah, the first one was exciting, but the second one made it sound like a romance.

HER: That's odd. It's about a giant ape. What kind of romance could there be?

HIM (shrugging his shoulders): Got me. Lord of the Rings sure was cool, though.

Jackson's King Kong, set in the 1930s, is the story of director Carl Denham (Jack Black), who is famous for his documentary-style films set in exotic locales, and his quest to produce a movie that will salvage his career. To that end, he convinces young actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to join him and the crew of the Venture as he seeks out a unique location for his next movie. They eventually find their way to Skull Island, where Ann is kidnapped and offered as a sacrifice to the native god Kong. The beast takes Ann into the jungle with Denham and Driscoll in pursuit. Along the way, the giant ape falls in love with the beautiful woman. Driscoll rescues Ann and Kong is captured by the crew of the Venture.

Once back in New York, Denham displays the captured Kong as part of a Broadway spectacle. He promotes the ape as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The former god escapes and wreaks havoc in New York, eventually grabbing Ann once again. As in the original, he scales the Empire State Building, where he is shot down by biplanes.

The acting is for the most part outstanding, especially Andy Serkis as the sympathetic Kong and Noami Watts, who straddles the fine line between crazy and goofy. Her portrayal of Ann Darrow makes the whole thing work. The relationship between her and Kong is both terrifying and charming. Jackson successfully plays up the whole Beauty and the Beast idea to a degree far greater than previous Kong incarnations.

The movie does falter out of the gate taking too much time to get to Skull Island. It is well over an hour into the movie before they get there. This could have easily been cut in half with out impeding the story. Once the crew arrives at Skull Island, the story rockets along at a breakneck pace producing nary a dull moment. As with the Rings trilogy, Jackson is too enamored with the use of slow motion at inappropriate times and seemingly with no purpose.

Jackson litters in-jokes for the Kong fans throughout the picture. He even drops a hint that Kong is not the first giant ape on Skull Island.

King Kong is a hard PG-13 with truly horrific scenes and actions. In a pre-Oscar winning existence, Jackson was one of the world's premiere horror directors and this picture reminds us of that fact.

As he raised the standard for fantasy in The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson has set a new bar for monster movies. Easily the best incarnation since the original 1933 blockbuster, Jackson's King Kong is a spectacle worthy of the Eighth Wonder of the World. O’Brien, Cooper, and Schoedsack would be proud.

Contributing editor Rick Klaw has written about King Kong for numerous venues including RevolutionSF, Moving Pictures, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, SF Site, Kong is King, and King Kong is Back!

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