Directed by Peter Jackson
As the biggest event film of 2005, Peter Jackson’s King Kong couldn’t help but fall a little short of huge expectations. The movie is still as large as its oversized star. Every scene, every frame is a beauty. Starting with the stylized grit of depression-era New York – created both digitally and with a huge set built on Jackson’s home turf of New Zealand – to the exotic Skull Island where are adventurous movie crew (shooting a film within this film) goes in search of a shooting location. Back in New York the protagonist hypes Kong as the “eighth wonder of the world” – and in the world of popular culture, this film is on that scale. The special effects, particularly Kong himself, set a new standard – a higher bar – that subsequent effects-driven movies will struggle to match.
Jack Black, as maniacal film director Carl Denham, will probably be considered over the top by most people who see this film -- but I loved his performance. Carl is such a fanatical filmmaker that he keeps shooting [film] as his crew is being killed by angry natives and dinosaurs. He comes across as a semi-sleazy wheeler-dealer -- a wide-eyed crazy who can think of only one thing. He doesn’t blink at the mayhem but when some of his precious exposed film is destroyed, he’s devastated. Having heard about Peter Jackson’s fanatical devotion to his craft as a filmmaker, I took this character as an autobiographical nod – and a self-deprecating nod at that since Carl will do anything including lying to his friends and worse to make his film. In another tip of the hat to film fanatics, Carl debates the superiority of film over stage – heresy now and unthinkable back in 1933. Jackson pays homage to Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 version of King Kong (starring Fay Wray in her life-defining role as Ann Darrow) – he gives Carl (he’s desperately trying to find a new leading lady) the line: “I can’t get Fay… she’s doing a film with Cooper.”
Naomi Watts is well cast as Ann Darrow, the starving young actress who Carl cons into going on a tramp steamer to an uncharted island to shoot his movie. On Skull Island she’s first taken captive by Kong, then grows to love him after he saves her from various monsters. It was important that the tender connection between Kong and Ann be convincing – the essence of the film is their unlikely love (really a love triangle – I’ll get to that later). The audience has to believe that this severely mismatched couple is in love (chaste, but still love). They have several touching scenes together – beautifully shot – that show what a wonderful “guy” Kong is in spite of his appearance – the classic “beauty and the beast” story. Do you agree with me that some of the best movie scenes are free of dialog? The scenes in which Ann and Kong form a bond have a universal quality – since they don’t depend on language, anybody, from any culture, should appreciate what’s happening.
One aspect of this film is so superior – so obviously better than anything comparable: Kong himself. His eyes – they help us connect with him as a “person” in his intimate scenes with Ann – are so convincingly realistic that it’s hard to believe that they’re computer generated. His movement appears so smooth and realistic – like a natural athlete – whether he’s battling prehistoric monsters or climbing the Empire State Building. Those battles with the dinosaurs, by the way, are, by themselves, worth the price of admission. Everything about Peter Jackson’s Kong makes it clear that a new standard has been set in the realm of computer animation – the bar has indeed been raised. Kong was created by putting Andy Serkis (who also played Lumpy the Cook) in a suit fitted with sensors, having him act out Kong’s movements, then using computer animation technology to transform those movements into Kong’s screen movements. He and Jackson teamed up similarly to create the Gollum character in the Lord of the Rings movies. There’s no doubt that Jackson and his team will receive several technical Oscars (and maybe some non-technical, as well) for this ground-breaking work.
My biggest complaint about King Kong is the character of playwright Jack Driscoll – he’s the third side of the love triangle (with Kong and Ann.) The filmmakers made a huge mistake by casting Adrien Brody as Jack. He’s done some great work -- he was well cast as a loveable fool in The Village. I blanched when he won the Oscar for The Pianist. When he plays a good guy he overplays the part by a full order of magnitude. When he suffers in silence, with the Basset-Hound-puppy-dog eyebrows, I feel like I’m having a massive saccharine overdose. In this movie we’re supposed to believe that he’s such an ideal guy that Ann might choose him over Kong, the biggest stud on the planet. Jack is only a supporting character and it doesn’t come close to ruining the movie – and if you’re a huge fan of Adrien Brody you’ll disagree with this paragraph.
The beautifully sad story of Kong as a compassionate and loveable creature that it unjustifiably tormented by humans is told so well that most of you will cry at the end. King Kong is such a major event film, such a visual extravaganza, that you absolutely must to see it in a theater – nothing less than 35mm will do it justice. Kong’s head is 30 feet high and the resolution is fantastic. So don’t even consider waiting for the DVD.
Images are copyright Universal Pictures.
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