Let’s hear it for bestiality! I feel like I have to add a couple of “!!!” whenever I mention “King Kong!!!” While there’s not an original bone in its oversized body, “King Kong!!!” qualifies as one of the event films of the year. The sheer size and spectacle of it screams, “Keep your eyes on me!” And, “Pay no attention to some of the bad miscasting, and scenes that go a little too long.” “I’m Kong, and I must be BIG!” No, not big, HUGE!!
And that’s exactly what Peter Jackson’s “King Kong!!!” is, HUGE, in almost every way imaginable. HUGE, doesn’t mean it’s great, but it is a visual smorgasbord for the eyes. Now, I’m on record as not being a fan of Mr. Jackson’s directorial style and his many excesses, but in the case of Kong, it’s almost warranted. Every frame of this film is infused with such obvious love, care, and attention that I almost feel guilty for nit-picking it to death. But hey, that’s why I am here.
Let’s start with the story, Jackson stuck pretty closely to Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 classic story about a master showman named Carl Denham (Jack Black) who has run into some trouble due to the great depression and is struggling to shoot his next great film. His studio investors pull out of the production just before he is scheduled to mount an expedition to the mysterious and fabled Skull Island. While running from his investors, he finds out that his lead actress pulled out of the picture, in his desperation he comes across the unknown performer, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts who gives an Oscar level performance) and convinces her to drop everything to star in his film. Denham is a “by any means necessary” type of filmmaker, where he will lie, cheat, or steal to get his project finished.
He convinces everyone from his actor, to the ship’s crewmates that they are filming in Singapore, when he’s really taking them into the dangerous unknown. In many ways, Kong is not only a movie about the love of a woman and her monkey, but also a love letter to filmmaking. As sleazy as Denham is at times, you have to admire his passion for getting his film done. It’s also fun because you don’t really know if that passion is because he’s broke and he’s desperate, or if he really loves the creative process. My guess is, it’s both.
The first hour and fifteen minutes or so, is all set-up, we meet all of the major players, Jackson establishes most of the plot, and at times the first hour is plodding, and it’s where you notice some of the film’s major flaws, including the fact that Jackson, fails to really establish the relationship between Denham’s long time collaborator the successful Play Writer, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), and Ann.
While I generally like Adrien Brody, he’s somewhat miscast as the lead action hero and leading man in love here. Instead of looking lovelorn, he just looks constipated.
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson’s script doesn’t give them a real relationship, it strangely feels rushed, they meet and hate each other one minute, the next time they see each other they are kissing, and then he tells her he “wrote a comedy, just for her.” And that is supposed to convey to the audience the depth of his feelings. But it comes across as forced.
Jack Black is almost fatally miscast in this, he doesn’t fit the part and his manic performance, at times seems out of place. But he does manage to hold it together, next to Kong and Watts, this is really Black’s film and it rises and fall based on his shoulders and for the most part it works – just not as well as it should. I know it’s a contradiction to say he’s wrong for the part and then claim that he’s good in this, but the best way to describe it is, you get use to him.
Some of his line deliveries are almost too understated, especially the most famous one about “It was beauty that killed the beast” It didn’t have the emotional punch that it should have.When the crew finally gets to Skull Island, the film really takes off and sort of falls apart at the same time.
Jackson spends a lot of time on Skull Island, we see all sorts of mysterious and strange things, like Huge Dinosaurs, T-Rex’s, there’s a really creepy scene where the crew are trapped at the bottom of a cliff and are attacked by the Island’s numerous insects.
The CGI work and action scenes are all incredible, and mind blowing, but you get the feeling that it’s been done before, oh yeah, because it has, in Jurassic Park! It was as if Jackson, not only remade the original King Kong, but he also remade the original Jurassic Park, so many of the beats, and battles felt like it was taken directly from that film.
There’s a over long dinosaur stampede sequence that looked as if it was half finished, and didn’t match the rest of the excellent CGI work in the film, that could have been cut. When Kong fights three T-Rex’s at once it’s pretty amazing, but the scene goes on for a few minutes too long.
I realize this film is called “King Kong” but they showed too much of the lovable gorilla. He should have been used and seen a little more sparingly, so that the moments he does show up on camera, we could still be awed. Eventually he starts to look like a dumb CGI monkey with a crushed nose.
By the time the film gets to New York, I was about ready to go home. It almost felt like an abrupt shift in gears, as if it was part of another movie. The ending sequence is truly breathtaking, the aerial photography and CGI made me feel as if I was really at the top of the Empire State Building. My heart actually dropped a few seconds.
King Kong feels like and is 3 distinct films, there’s the beginning, then the Jurassic Kong in the middle, and the 3rd act feels like a tacted on sequel.
Cinematographer (Andrew Lesnie) does an amazing job on lighting this behemoth of a film. There are a couple of truly incredible shots in this, one of them being a side shot of Watts and Kong sitting on a ledge and watching a simple sunset. In that one moment you get that these two beings care about each. Much more so than Brody’s “I wrote a script for you” ever could. Kong’s reaction to Driscoll stealing Ann away was hysterical. I couldn’t help but think of the Joker’s Line from Batman “Never steal another man’s Rhubarb.”
Peter Jackson has hit a home run with “King Kong!!!” it’s an amazing accomplishment in spectacle filmmaking. I still think the man is a hack (I would never call him “no-talent”) who doesn’t really have any original ideas of his own, but he is an impassioned director with a clear vision, amazing crew and an astounding technical eye.
Kong is not without its flaws, but sometimes you just have to throw your hands up in the air, wave them like you just don’t care, scream at the top of your lungs and just go with the rollercoaster ride, that’s what this film is.
FINAL GRADE A
by Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted, 12/14/05