King Kong (2005)Rated PG-13 for frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images.
Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis.
LVJeff's Rating: 10/10
Photo ©Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.
Return of the Kong
This is what it means to go to the theater and watch a big movie made with love, care, and intelligence. Not a frame in Peter Jackson's King Kong indicates he was making the film with monetary rewards in mind; Jackson wanted to re-tell a story that enthralled him when he was young, and that enthusiasm in storytelling gets conveyed scene after scene. He just happened to have a big budget and a marketable property to play with -- but we're all the better for it, for seeing this marvelous result.
Jackson shows how to mount an homage the right way, using Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's original 1933 film as a solid base on which to express his own interpretation of the movie. The '33 King Kong was a monster pic that was high on special effects (dazzling back in the day) and lean on content -- the deepest it wanted to go was to demonstrate the idea that beauty bewitches the discerning beast (and the deepest it got was in suggesting that the sex drive destroys even the strongest of creatures). However, this was entirely one-way, with Kong, the giant ape, as subject and Ann Darrow, then played by Fay Wray, as object. It was about how Kong felt about Ann, who, throughout the movie, remained fairly terrified of him.
But Cooper and Schoedsack firmly kept spectacle as their first priority, and spectacle it was, with Kong battling dinosaurs and giant snakes, stomping on people, and eventually swatting at biplanes atop the Empire State building. Jackson doesn't lose sight of this either, and how! Using the wise decision to employ an entirely computer-generated Kong whose motions are acted out by Andy Serkis (exactly the way they created The Lord of the Rings's Gollum), Jackson's Eighth Wonder of the World would've made Cooper and Schoedsack's eyes bug out. He looks amazing and is entirely convincing, complete with expressive eyes, realistic fluidity of movement, and a natural feel in his surroundings. And his exploits are indeed spectacular, from engaging in one of the most ferocious dinosaur battles in all movies to giving new meaning to bad traffic in New York.
From here, Jackson takes it a step further -- it isn't simply beauty that tames the beast, it's friendship. This time, it's reciprocated love. Kong seems only to take a passing fancy at the beauty of Ann (Naomi Watts, wonderful here) when he first abducts her; it takes much more convincing on her part to actually make him see that he's found something more than just his usual sacrificial offering. And once she sees the giant's gentle and protective sides, she learns to trust him. This, of course, dooms Kong -- as soon as he's taken a shine to Ann, he's never the same beast again. But now beauty isn't just working on a superficial level; it has deeper value as inner beauty, and it gives the famous last line of the movie, which Jackson repeats from the '33 version, the same sentiment but a different meaning.
Speaking of repeating from '33, Jackson's ode to the original movie is as wide as it is deep. His decision to set the film in its original time setting is applause worthy, and it also indicates how seriously he's taking the project -- after all, the story could still work in modern times and it would've saved on production costs, but when Jackson makes an homage he goes all the way. The 2005 film parallels numerous scenes from its forefather, from the small moments like filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) meeting Ann as she steals an apple to the famous set pieces like Kong shaking off his human adversaries from a log bridging a gorge. Humorous references are planted throughout (a mention of Fay is but one example). A few things have changed to make the story work better -- Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is now a playwright instead of a ship captain -- but the new film largely remains true to the original's logic (e.g., once again, no scene necessary to show the logistics of how they got Kong back to New York).
Jackson has once again shown us the value of making a movie with passion, of giving us a story without irony but with sincerity. He's dedicated to making the tale he tells as believable as possible. Much of the convincing comes from the stellar special effects he is required to utilize just to be able to create his fantastic worlds, but there's more behind that. When he tell his story, you can clearly see that he loves it and believes in it. When we understand that, we believe in it too. It's what allows him to compose the final act primarily out of wordless, lingering moments, as he takes his time alternating between shots of Kong just looking peacefully at Ann and Ann looking back at him with sympathy and care. There's plenty of love to go around, after all.
©Jeffrey Chen, Dec. 12, 2005