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King Kong (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 29

King Kong

KING KONG (2005)

Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler, Lobo Chan, Thomas Kretschmann, Evan Parke, Colin Hanks, John Sumner, David Dengelo, Stephen Hall, Richard Kavanaugh, Louis Sutherland, Ray Woolf, Geraldine Brophy, Joe Folau, John Clarke and William Wallace.

Screenplay by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh.

Directed by Peter Jackson.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 187 minutes. Rated PG-13.

How many movies can you think of that have been so anxiously awaited by a global audience yet everyone already knows the tragic outcome of its ending?

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is that movie, and it’s an extraordinary cinematic achievement.

An enthusiastic acolyte and student of the 1933 original, Jackson borrows the stark vision of that seminal work and reshapes and recontextualizes it, lovingly molding and chiseling out his most personal, compelling and visually appealing film to date. Clearly, from the opening frame of the film set in 1930’s New York City to the climactic scene where Kong perches defiantly atop the Empire State Building viciously swatting at fighter planes like he’s trying to squash a pesky bug, Jackson’s profound love for the great Ape and tight adherence to the fundamentals of the story illuminates every frame. The cinematography is spectacular, as are the wonderfully evocative and atmospheric period sets, especially the mysterious and dangerous Skull Island and its spooky inhabitants.

Even if you’ve been living in cave for the past fifty years, you all know the story of King Kong, so we won’t be retreading it here. And while there’s mile a minute action in the film – there’s almost an hour spent on Skull Island depicting the harrowing rescue attempts and adventures of struggling filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black), the film and ship crew, screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), savagely battling dinosaurs (including a hair raising scene of Kong engaged in a fierce battle royale with not one but several ferocious T-Rexes), giant crabs, spiders, disgusting leeches, cockroaches, huge vampire bats, large centipedes and more) – what resonates most strongly is the tender love story between Kong and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts).

Thanks to cutting-edge computer animation and wondrous special effects, our simian superstar is a beauty (and a beast) at the same time. His glowing eyes, in particular, are amazingly expressive, burning into your psyche and opening up a window into his tortured soul. Unlike the 1976 Dino de Laurentiis abomination, which lacked a plausible story and suffered from poor pacing and terrible acting, the 2005 Kong is a lean, mean yet vulnerable fightin’ machine. Meanwhile, Watts is perfect in the film, lending her role a studied elegance, desperation, and emotional vulnerability. Hairy man or hairy ape, she’s a scene stealer.

Black is also a nice surprise, more often relegated to playing zany, high strung comedic roles in films like School of Rock, and High Fidelity. Thankfully Black reins it in here, and tones down his histrionics, proving himself a formidable dramatic actor while retaining his unbridled energy, attitude and vivacity of spirit. Brody, too, another newbie to the big budget action oeuvre, also impresses; his interpretation of Jack Driscoll is spot on, his shyness and growing love for Darrow and willingness to put his life on the line for her is resoundingly convincing.

Where the film makes a misstep, to be perfectly candid, is its length. At over three hours, it felt too long (the film would have worked much better with an hour excised). That said, King Kong is an unequivocal triumph, standing as a marvelous and emotionally vibrant work, packing enough visual thrills, non-stop action, and most crucially, heart and compassion, to please even the most hardened cinephile, young and old. (12/05)

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: December 13, 2005.


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