King Kong

Following up the box office and Oscar success of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is an undertaking that is sure to have its dangers. Expectations of the fans notwithstanding, the ability to recapture the magic of the trilogy could be akin to capturing lightning in a bottle. When it was announced that Peter Jackson would follow his Oscar success by doing yet another adaptation of King Kong, there were plenty of questions amidst the excitement.

When an earlier remake was a critical and commercial bomb, “Would Jackson be able to do justice to one of the all time classics?” was one of the biggest questions. When it was announced that comedian Jack Black would be in the film, people began to wonder what Jackson had brewing. Black, as well as Academy Award winner Adrian Brody were seen as offbeat choices. As the release date for the film neared, so did speculation over the look of the film, the running time, and its decision to follow the screenplay of the original rather than adapt to a modern setting.

The film follows a filmmaker named Carl Denham (Jack Black), who in an act of desperation flees New York for a mysterious and uncharted island in an attempt to finish his latest movie before the studio can shut him down. Amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression, it is clear that Denham knows that failure now could be the end of his livelihood and his long term future. As he embarks on his fly by night production, Denham encounters Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a recently unemployed Vaudeville performer who is enticed into the film in the hopes of meeting its writer Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody). It seems that Ann has long coveted a part in Driscoll’s plays and hopes that by meeting him, she will obtain her long sought after audition.

With the cops and studio hot on their heels, the cast and crew board a tramp steamer named “The Venture” as they set off for the mysterious island that is known only to Denham via a mysterious map he obtained through methods unknown.

As the voyage unwinds, not only does Denham get the chance to film segments of the film, but Ann and a stranded Jack find themselves becoming an item. Jack is inspired by Ann, and he works like a man inspired turning out page after page of material for various projects which he hopes Ann will star.

Eventually the ship finds its way to the mysterious Skull Island surrounded in fog, and the crew venture ashore to take in the bizarre and exotic land that has previously been unexplored. Upon finding a fortified wall and settlement the crew has a run in with some dangerous natives which in turn leads to Ann being kidnapped and offered up sacrificial style to a gigantic creature the Islanders refer to as Kong. Undaunted, Jack and the crew set off to rescue Ann while Denham shoots footage along the way, as the island offers visuals the likes of which have never been seen by mankind.

Along the way, the crew encounters deadly creatures and obstacles at every turn, as does Ann who plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Kong as she comes to grips with her situation. Kong is taken with the lovely Ann and protects her against numerous dangers including a pack of Tyrannosauruses in one of the film’s best action sequences.

Of course few will be surprised at the final act of the film so I will leave it to say that the fish out of water nature of the previous versions remains intact as Kong finds himself dealing with an urban jungle which leads to a spectacular finale atop the Empire State Building.

In many ways Jackson’s film is three separate films. The first hour of the film is an interesting and, at times witty, character piece where the lead characters assemble. The look of the city is amazing, making it very clear that enormous amounts of effort went into crafting the look of Depression Era New York, and to remind the audience that Prohibition was also in effect. The interplay between the characters is decent.Black does standout work as the slick Denham, as does Watts as the wholesome and lovable Ann.

The second hour of the film is the special effects showcase where the mysteries of Skull Island and Kong are shown complete with all manner of CGI creatures and action sequences. While most of them are well staged, I could not help but note that on more than one occasion the CGI backdrops did not match up well with their live action counterparts. There is one scene of a stampede where it looked like the actors had been drawn in and that they were running in place as they clearly did not mesh with the spectacle behind them.

Throughout the film this occurrence happened more and more which really had me wondering if the effects house was overtaxed. A film with a budget reportedly over 100 million should not have these technical issues. Thankfully Kong himself is a wonder, with everything from his expressive eyes and facial features, captured in a remarkable way. It is just a shame that the other effects did not get the same treatment as the films namesake, as he truly is a site to behold. Andy Serkis who did the character mannerisms for the animators program did a phenomenal job. The movements of Kong progress with a strength and agility that bellies a simian rather than a skilled performer.

I do not want it to sound as if I did not enjoy the film, as much of the film worked very well, technical issues aside. What my biggest issue with the film was that at over 3 Hours, it was far too long for the material to support. We get numerous scenes of Ann and Kong flirting, bonding, fighting, running, and more. What is cute the first couple of times becomes dull the more it is repeated. It is obvious that they have a bond; we do not need to see it over and over ad nauseum to get the message. Also, the character development and interplay between the characters that was so effective in the first part of the film all but vanishes amidst the effects.

The finale of the film is a rousing success as the daring visuals and camera angles are very inventive and thrilling. This segment with its fury of motion and sound will have viewers on the edge of their seat as it certainly delivers the goods. The biggest issue again is having to sit through three hours to get to it. Anyone who has seen either version of Kong knows exactly where the film is heading, and after two hours of screen time I found myself wishing they would just hurry up and get to it.

Jackson has crafted a very entertaining and lavish film that packs its share of thrills. What the film needed is someone to reign in Jackson and his boundless enthusiasm for the project to remind him that sometimes less is more. Jackson has said that he had over 4 hours worth of material filmed but trimmed it down to its current running time. When the film is almost twice the running time of the original, I found myself thinking that minus 45 minutes the same story could have been told.

Despite the flaws and the hype, King Kong is a solid film that for me was more satisfying in many ways than any of the “Rings” films. While not quite a masterpiece, this Kong is worthy of the name and pedigree of the timeless original that inspired it.

3 stars out of 5