King Kong (2005)

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 01/19/06 20:55:36

"You will believe a monkey can make you cry."
5 stars (Awesome)

I usually use this opening paragraph to make some witticism, or to make an extended, pretentious metaphor about the film and its relation to real life. But not today. Not with this. All I'll say is find yourself a cinema on a quiet day, go to the biggest screen you can with the best sound system possible, and refrain from going to the toilet during the next three hours. Because THIS is what cinemas were built for.

For the seven people not already familiar with the story of 'King Kong', here's a brief recap: it's New York in the 1920's and struggling film-maker Carl Denham (Jack Black) has one last shot at greatness. He has a map detailing a mysterious lost island and if he sets his new film there and brings back footage, then the millions will roll in. He has the crew, he has the boat but all he needs is the star. Enter Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a vaudeville actress looking for something with a little bit more punch than slapstick, and crucially something that will pay the bills. This, and the fact that Carl's new film is being scripted by playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) who is unwittingly duped into joining Carl on the expedition, convinces Ann to join the long voyage. To a place called Skull island inhabited by terrifying natives and a jungle full of dinosaurs and other nasty little critters. Oh yeah, and a 25 foot ape called King who takes an immense liking to Ann.

For a good number of years now, ask any casual film for great remakes and the usual suspects will be rolled out - 'The Fly', 'The Thing', 'Ocean's 11' etc. But now there's a new one to add to the list with Peter Jackson's fulfillment of his childhood dream. While it's unlikely that it will replace the original in terms of iconic status, this is a remake that can stand proudly alongside it. Mostly because this is a remake not afraid to tinker with the story a little. Events are changed, replaced, invented and elongated, but all with due reverence to the original, with dialogue and music from the original very cleverly inserted into Jackson's vision of Kong.

And yes, elongated, is the key word here. Yes, it's three hours long, and yes, it takes an hour to get to Skull island, but it's not an hour wasted (or even an hour that particularly feels that long). It sets up the relationship between Carl, Ann and Jack nicely while gving scope to the supporting characters such as Carl's assistant Preston (Colin Hanks), and cabin boy Jimmy (Jamie Bell). It also helps to convey the sense that they're an awful way away from civilisation as they know it.

Besides, when the next two hours kick in there won't be any complaints at all. Because this is where Jackson shows us Kong, shows us the other creatures on the island, straps us into his roller coaster and unleashes hell. Kong brawls with the sailors trying to rescue Ann, unfortunate men are picked off by some truly nightmarish creatures in a valley, there's a brontosaurus stampede, and there's the much vaunted sequence where Kong takes on three T-Rexs to protect Ann. Jackson drops your jaw repeatedly here and this is before we even get back to New York. And he's a director that knows how to direct action and how to use CGI within this action. Whereas most directors cut away like in epileptic fit, Jackson keeps his takes long and mobile, keeping you fully entranced by the spectacle.

Some critics have pointed out that there's the occasional moment where you can tell they're actors working with a greenscreen. Well, I hate to ruin your perception guys, but sometimes in the original - you can tell the creatures are made out of clay. Otherwise, this is an astounding job by WETA. The jungle is a marvel of design, while the creatures are simply breathtaking. Towards the end of the stampede sequence the dinosaurs collide into one huge scrabbling, squealing mess and the use of texture is astonishing.

And what of Kong himself? If Gollum represented a huge step forward in the Lord of the Rings trilogy then Kong has just raised the bar even higher. He's a truly wonderous creation, but Jackson is clever enough to know that without great writing behind it, special effects will just remain a tool, resulting in boring scenes of wrestling blurs of CGI. This is why Kong is just as much a character as anyone else. He sulks, he laughs, he gets sad, he gets angry, you can tell he's had fair few scraps in his day - it's an incredible piece of work and praise must go to Andy Serkis for putting in such sterling work to bring Kong to life.

Indeed, the actors do very well to acquit themselves amongst such spectacle. Brody is an interesting choice for the heroic role, and as such brings an off-kilter approach to it that works much better than the straightforward lug of the original. Black does excellent work as Denham, making him the charismatic braggart and showman he surely is, but by the end as he slinks away, also someone highly reprehensible. But Watts does fantastically well here, considering how many of her scenes were done against nothing. She brings grace and intelligence to the part making the relationship between her and Kong touching and utterly believeable. I bought into their love affair much easier than I did of Jack and Ennis in 'Brokeback Mountain'.

It's this fine playing by Watts that leads to the scene that could have provoked huge laughter if it was done by less talented people than those here, a scene where Ann and Kong go ice-skating in New York. It's a scene that will confirm if Jackson has got you totally, because if he has, then you can only agree it's the most romantic scene in years.

And of course, there's Kong's last stand on the Empire State building. If, like me, you have a fear of heights, then it may be adviseable to take deep breaths here, as Jackson swoops you around in the air so convincingly I nearly had to be pried from my seat afterwards. It's a truly dizzying sequence, and if Jackson has crafted the most exciting sequence of the year (the four way T-Rex fight), the most romantic, then he's also gone and done the most heart-breaking.

Reading a lot of interviews before the release of 'King Kong', Jackson had stated that he wanted children seeing 'King Kong' for the first time to feel the way that he had done for his first time. Well, my six year old gaped in wonder at Kong's first appearance, cheered in excitement as he grappled with his various enemies, and by the end was sobbing his little heart out - and I shared every emotion with him. Mission accomplished, Mr. Jackson.

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