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King Kong

Beauty and the Beast

Well, Peter Jackson has done it again. When I first heard of him undertaking this project I thought he was crazy. Why was he re-making this film of all movies in the world that could be re-done? My theory is: don't fix what ain't broke. And the original 1933 King Kong, starring Fay Wray and directed by Merian C. Cooper, most definitely wasn't broken. Neither was the 1976 version with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange (even though it had its moments). However, Jackson has succeeded in turning King Kong into another movie altogether. Something, it seems, only he can do.

It's Depression-era New York and the difference between the haves and the have-nots is glaringly obvious. One of these have-nots is Ann Darrow (the absolutely lovely Naomi Watts), a down on her luck actress whose Vaudeville gig gets closed down leaving her jobless and literally starving. Which is exactly how movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black) likes 'em. The more desperate they are, the easier they are to manipulate. And Denham would (and does) manipulate anyone to further his own causes. In this case, the cause is an epic movie set on a remote yet undiscovered island of whose map he mysteriously finds. Renowned playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is writing the script and all Denham needs is a new leading lady -- Darrow fits the bill.

He convinces her to join him and his crew. "I'm someone you can trust Ann. I'm a movie producer," he tells her. After finding out that her idol, Driscoll, is writing the script, she reluctantly agrees. And the adventure begins. They board a ship (that looks like its barely holding itself up) headed by a captain with a nebulous European accent, Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), and some obviously shady dealings.

In fact, the whole crew seems to have something going on and Jackson, along with the screenwriting team of Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (who also worked with him on the LOTR series) skillfully weave their stories into the plot. Including that of Hayes (Evan Parke) and his young mentee Jimmy (Jamie Bell), whose interaction, although a bit mawkish at times, works in the overall context of the movie. They are also the vehicle for several well-placed references to Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, essentially about the white man venturing into the unknown, which is the perfect compliment to King Kong as they are both metaphors for, among other things, imperialism, colonialism, economic and class disparity, sexual desire, and the state of the black man in the world today.

Jackson brings a soul to King Kong that it had previously lacked. There are a myriad of details that infuse the film with heart and lend it substance. Annie provides the innocence and light (she in always bathed in a soft glow) and Driscoll provides the courage. But the scene-stealer here is King Kong himself (played by the amazingly talented Andy Serkis in a dual role as the chain-smoking Lumpy the Cook). Kong's eyes are tremendously expressive and soulful. This is no little person in an ape suit trying to steal away a virgin for his own salacious fantasies. He is a complex, well-rounded character who develops a moving relationship with Annie. This Kong is like no Kong you've seen before. And it's not just because the movie's more technically advanced.

Jackson also brings adventure like never seen before. This version can best be described as Jurassic Park meets Indiana Jones sprinkled with a bit of Peter Jackson extra special secret sauce. Two scenes must be mentioned and warrant the fact that King Kong be seen in the theater rather than on video. One is that in which there is a stampede of brontosauruses that is breathtaking in its velocity, and another is a scene in which King Kong gets into a tumble with three very viscous Tyrannosaurus Rexes.

As Jackson is known for -- no detail is left unturned. Even the rocks on the island are scary. The opening of the film is different from any movie of its kind, and immediately sets the stage for the rest of the piece. Jackson establishes the tumult of the era and captures it through snippets of life in New York; union-busting, prohibition, poverty, progress, beauty, happiness, sadness etc., it's all there. There is also a 1930s art deco aesthetic that pervades the whole film, from the dialogue structure and delivery to the musical score and graphics. A nod, of course, to the original.

The only criticism concerns those scenes that Jackson films out of focus. They are meant to convey unease and build tension, but they just donít work and seem gimmicky. Speaking of gimmicks, don't be surprised if there's a King Kong themed ride at Universal Studios by next summer. In fact, bet on it.

However, the big-budget Hollywood machine behind this movie shouldn't deter you from seeing the movie. It's one of those rare films in which you truly get your money's worth of entertainment, and all the cash you just threw down to see it will seem well-spent.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars