Tuesday, May 1, 2012

King Kong (2005) Review

King Kong (2005)
It was love and respect that saved this beast

Times have been kind of slow for good movies these days and the ones I have been trying to get around to seeing don’t fit into my schedule. So I’ve decided to review a slightly older movie, one that already has a general public view of it but hasn’t been clouded by the shroud of bias and over praising that many classic movies have attained. I’m going to note right now that although I have seen the original King Kong, it was a long time ago and I can only go by my distant memories of it and other small anecdotes that I’ve learned about it since then. This is why I’m glad that director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy) didn’t follow my path when he undertook the massive task of remaking such a revered and respected movie like King Kong. Jackson has stated that he holds the original very close to his heart and wanted to treat it with the utmost respect, but also that he would add his own little touches that would make this version stand out from the others.

It’s 1933, and the Great Depression is affecting everyone trying to make a living in their careers. Ann Darrow is a struggling vaudeville stage actress who is having trouble finding gigs that will support her. Carl Denham, a once respectable movie director, has lost his credibility in the industry and desperately needs a film that should bring him back up. Jack Driscoll is a writer who has had great critical success in theatre but not really any experience in film or commercial notice. Denham manages to rope in Darrow and Driscoll (who become attracted to each other), who become attracted to each other, to join him on a sea voyage so he can shoot his new film. But Denham doesn’t intend to shoot in Singapore like he said. Instead he wishes to find Skull Island, which is only a legend that hasn’t been discovered yet, and he believes should prove to be a great shoot location. But the various inhabitants of the island don’t take too well to their arrival and pretty soon Ann is in the possession of a giant, 800 lb. ape.


Let’s get my minor quibbles out of the way first. Yes, at three hours, the movie could have been edited a little tighter to remove some of the less important character development. Some of the sailors and film crew members are given some screen time of their own and this has been included to presumably add some depth, but ultimately we don’t care about these characters as much as the four main players (that includes Kong). The only minor characters that stand out really are a few cameramen and Jimmy, one of the sailors. This is mostly because of the strong acting from each person, especially Jamie Bell as Jimmy who is proving to be a newcomer to watch for. But this is only a small issue that doesn't intrude on my enjoyment of the film. 

The headlining actors, however, are excellent in their roles, Jack Black especially. His version of Carl Denham is a man who has a set vision for himself and will do anything necessary to save his career. But over the course of the movie we see shades of some realization that he has gotten himself in over his head and comes to grips that he has made some wrong choices in this journey. Adrien Brody is also really good as Jack Driscoll, who is conned by Denham into joining him, and I’m surprised he hasn’t had many good roles recently. But I feel that Naomi Watts was snubbed for at least a nomination at the Oscars that year. What’s odd about her Ann Darrow is that she is a mish mash of both Fay Wray’s screaming damsel in distress from the original and Jessica Lange’s sympathetic version from the 1976 remake. This arguably makes her the best version of Ann in any King Kong movie ever, and she completely sells the sad ending.


At the rate he is going, Peter Jackson is looking to be the next Steven Spielberg for blockbuster movies. He has a great skill at creating memorable visuals and epic battles that are intense and build up to incredibly satisfying climaxes. In this version, Kong fights not one but three T-Rexes (or V-Rexes if you’re anal) and that fight is easily one of the films highpoints in terms of entertainment on a grand scale. Jackson also handles the films numerous special effects admirably, and Kong himself is one of the most realistically portrayed effects I’ve ever seen from his emotional ticks to the fluid ape like movements he does. The acting from this ape is some of the best the movie has to offer! Just watch the famous ending on the Empire State Building and try to hold back those tears. The films environmental effects are also excellent and have a classical style to them that makes them feel like they came from an older movie (that’s a positive). Skull island is amazingly well designed and it keeps throwing new surprises at the viewer at every corner. Some of the monsters that inhabit the island are pretty nasty and could induce nightmares to the easily frightened (those water worms are awesome).

Jackson has done the seemingly impossible task of remaking a classic of Hollywood cinema. He not only came away unscathed, but also created a genuinely great movie. It has all the qualities that made the original so good in the first place and adds some of its own touches that update the movie for modern audiences. I know I think that the beginning could have been edited a little tighter, but the fact is that the movie is so well made, entertaining, and emotional (even in the beginning) that it still deserves a high rating.


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