Nobody should be unaware of King Kong’s place in cinematic history. The image of biplanes attacking the giant ape atop the Empire State Building made him a screen icon the moment it was released in 1933. King Kong, like his Japanese counterpart Godzilla, will always be a film legend. Similarly, Peter Jackson has become a bit of a legend after he put all his skills learnt directing smaller hit movies into the mammoth Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is no surprise to find that he has produced one of the most impressive films of 2005.
In the 1930s, overly ambitious producer Carl Denham (Jack Black) has plans to shoot an challenging project on an uncharted island, but is rushed into production when his backers threaten to revoke his funding. After casting unknown vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) as a last minute replacement for his leading lady, he leaves New York with his crew, including Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and Jimmy (Jamie Bell). Arriving on the island, Denham and his film crew are attacked by an ancient civilisation but escape only for Ann to be kidnapped as a sacrifice for King Kong. However, King Kong takes Ann away to his lair in the island’s jungle forcing the Denham and company to embark on a rescue mission.
What follows has been seen before in countless adventure films such as the Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones trilogies with dinosaurs and giant bugs attacking the rescue party and it fights for survival. Indeed, the return to New York where King Kong gets to run riot through the streets echoes the T-Rex scene at the end of The Lost World (Steven Spielberg, 1997). But Jackson’s King Kong effortlessly surpasses the generic monster verses humans scenario by effectively conveying the personal traits of both the human actors and, incredibly, King Kong himself.
…only made possible by the genius of Andy Serkis
Black’s constant movement onscreen and glint in his eye as he talks up his plans are perfect traits for the money-mad Denham who destroys everything he loves by becoming obsessed by it. His drive to make a film set on the deserted island sees him scrabble after his camera even when it means into the path of oncoming dinosaurs. Watts depicts Ann as the victim of Denham’s obsession who grows stronger and more independent through her developing relationship with King Kong — something only made possible by the genius of Andy Serkis. After his scene-stealing performance ‘as’ Gollum in the Rings films, Jackson gave him the opportunity to really bring Kong to life. Again Serkis delivers stunning results having studied ape behavior before donning a motion capture suit and face mask on which to model Kong’s movements and facial expressions. So much of Kong’s thoughts are successfully conveyed in this way that even the audience want to join Ann in pleading for Kong to be left on the island rather than subjected to ridicule in front of a live audience.
…he quickens the pace with relentless assaults on the eyes once Kong is introduced
Jackson provides plenty of action for King Kong, although some of the effects appear to be trying to achieve more than technology will allow. Kong’s fights with three T-Rexes and last stand on the Empire State Building may be thrilling eye candy, but a stampede of dinosaurs offers many shots that are unconvincing when humans are added to the action. No one should be complaining about the excitement Jackson creates throughout the film, though, as after a slow burning beginning he quickens the pace with relentless assaults on the eyes once Kong is introduced. Even so, the three-hour runtime does feel excessive. Jackson spends a little too long on the island with set piece after set piece and a last-minute rescue too many from the most obvious people.
Billed as the biggest film of 2005, Peter Jackson’s epic is every bit a film benchmark as the Lord of the Rings trilogy in terms of spectacle, but somehow fails to light up the screen for the duration of its three hours. Jackson has said that King Kong is the film he has always wanted to make and given the $200 million budget his vision needed, he still managed to over spend to the point he had to put his own money in. The result is a loving rendition of the original that suffers from Jackson getting too carried away with his own vision. Even so, King Kong is not to be missed on the big screen and is marvelous entertainment that cements Jackson’s status as one of the top directors working in Hollywood today.