News for Dec. 01, 2005
King Kong Reviewed!
12/01/05, 8:30 am EST - Xoanon
NEW YORK - Peter Jackson's King Kong comes to the box office loaded with expectations by remaking one of the greatest movies of all time and also serving as Jackson's follow-up to his own "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. From the inception, it has a monkey on its back if you will.
One thing is abundantly clear: Jackson loved the original Merian C. Cooper film from his own childhood and his love shows up all over the screen. There are winks and nods to the original and this film follows its basic outline while not being a slavish copy but thoroughly inspired.
The press screening kicks off a press junket for Kong that leads into its official premiere in New York City in a few days that will be followed by premieres in London and New Zealand and then finally, the flick will be unleashed on the public.
So the question is, has Jackson created a masterpiece that will join its predecessor as a classic beloved by generations? The big question is best left to time and audiences but it is sure to please mass audiences of today and hopefully end Hollywood's constant, irritating whining about its anemic box office.
The story - unknown to few living souls wandering the planet - begins in New York City in the midst of the great depression. While Cooper's audience needed only walk out of the movie theater to be reminded of the economic and therefore emotional tough times in 1933, Jackson recreates the era with care to send viewers back to a time when the world wasn't quite all mapped out yet and while new technologies were emerging, man was still learning to master them.
Ann Darrow performs in the tough world of big-city theater and the opening takes time with her and each of the other key characters to give a feel for them and where they fit into the coming unlikely events. From the start Ann has a sense of destiny and even doom while Denham is clearly a swindler and scoundrel who isn't above manipulating his friends to accomplish his lofty goals of fame and fortune.
Jack Driscoll is a talented writer who has spoken to Ann's soul with his written words, inspiring her to dream of better and more important entertainment than the cheap laughs she generates for almost no pay. Denham's scheming and desperation launch the voyage that will take them and the crew of the Venture into unchartered waters and unimaginable danger, starting with the mystery of sailing unchartered waters.
Jackson can't resist turning every situation into harrowing drama and he does so with a deft touch. At times the action comes at the viewer in machine-gun quickness and at other times the tension is filled with thick and important silences that let characters and situations breath. The director's vision is almost without equal in film today. Jackson reaches for the stars time and again pushing every situation to its limit and almost all of the time manages to pull it off.
Once Ann is inevitably in the clutches of Kong, the character focus and gentle pacing switches to frenetic efforts for various characters and groups of characters to stay alive. Despite Kong's brutality and fierceness, likely the qualities that allow the giant gorilla to stay alive on the savage island at all, he is quickly sympathetic and interesting. He is both scary and endearing as he comes to terms with the strange new blond creature given to him as sacrifice from the barely-hanging-on natives. Everything about the discovered island is brutal and gritty and deadly. But even when the action is hot and heavy, the characterization of human and beast is never lost. Lots of directors can deliver action pieces but none can match Jackson and his Weta special effects team in making them character driven and thus thick with drama and action.
King Kong delivers fast-paced, eye-popping life-and-death struggles that emote and entertain at the same time. The peak of this gut-wrenching action is Kong's fight with a trio of V-rex (T-rex with unique evolution) to preserve his life but above all, Ann's. It is brutal and beautiful and squeezes the breath right out of the viewer. But this isn't all, in fact not even close. Jackson returns to the excised 'spider pit' sequence from the 1933 original and turns in a disgusting scene that will cause audiences to jump and squirm. Andy Serkis who plays both Kong via motion capture and the ship's cook Lumpy is treated to a death so horrifying and icky that its clear Jackson and Weta tried to devise a scene that would have the same impact of the now lost sequence. Further, those busy saving their own skin are in equally horrifying situations. Wow!
The most important aspect of all this mayhem is that it creates deeper characterization of humans and the primate and cements the emotional bond between Kong and Ann that makes the final third of the film pay off so handsomely. None of the action is empty but rather brings out the truth of the characters and their relationships with each other. In Kong, crisis forces characters true colors to come out.
The conclusion of the movie, made to feel inevitable after throwing Ann and Kong together, shifts back to New York and is filled with enough inventiveness to keep things fresh when each and every viewer knows that there can be only one ending. It is nicely done and when the emotional bell finally rings, it is rich and deep and resonate.
So, how good is King Kong? At its best moments its action and emotion are peerless. That doesn't mean it is a perfect movie. Perhaps Jackson's love for the material forced the film to be a tad too long but it remains compelling and that hardly even counts as a complaint. At the same moment, a DVD with more dinos and monsters isn't hard to imagine.
The score, done last minute by James Newton Howard, served the movie well. While it isn't immediately memorable, it adds texture at all the right moments. It is interesting to see Howard Shore, original scheduled to score the film, make a lengthy cameo.
Some of the special effects could have been finished better. There are moments when the digital animation isn't completely smooth but again, it can't distract from the considerable emotional punch. Still, the feeling remains that additional time might have erased some of these 'almost' moments. It is important to note that when Kong's face is the focus, the special effects are at their best. He looks completely believable and scores as an accomplished actor showcasing a range of emotions, evoking laughs, screams and for some tears.
Another minor complaint is a syrupy scene that edges to close to a cliched romantic moment. Still these complaints are insignificant when held against what works so wonderfully in the film. Jackson is a master artist in the midst of a series of artistic achievement that leaves the viewer wondering what, and looking forward to, whatever he might do next.
Kong - the film - accomplishes something pretty astounding. It carries the weight of a gigantic spectacle of a film but it also is able to hoist and run with its own history.