PG-13 for frightening adventure
violence and some disturbing images.
December 14, 2005
Thriller and Remake
Naomi Watts, Jack Black,
Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann
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In King Kong, director Peter Jackson follows
the Lord of the Rings trilogy with this overblown, monster
of a remake set in the 1930s, starring Jack Black and Naomi Watts.
Brimming with pagan elements, this adventure movie about the famed
excitable primate is a bloated, but sometimes impressive, overstatement,
both exceptionally violent and uncomfortably long.
Carl Denham, played by Jack Black, is an opportunistic filmmaker
with a P.T. Barnum-like appetite for showmanship. On the run from
the law due to shady business practices, Denham deceptively recruits
blonde actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), along with playwright
Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), Ship-captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann),
and a host of others to shoot a movie on the secluded Skull Island.
Following a rough arrival they are rudely greeted by the island’s
savage natives, who kidnap Ann to make her a sacrificial offering
to their god-in-residence, King Kong. Kong takes Ann captive,
and subsequently battles a myriad of dangerous oversized creatures,
including Tyrannosaurs, giant insects, and swarming bats. Such
enormous adversaries likewise stand in the way of the crew as
they quest to rescue the young beauty from the island’s
most formidable beast.
Although the crewmembers collectively decide to rescue Ann from
Kong, their motivations for doing so vary. Jack, the wide-eyed,
sensitive writer is motivated by his love for Ann, while the young,
sophomoric Jimmy (Jamie Bell) longs for the heroic stoicism usually
glorified in novels. The ever starstruck Carl, however, has less
noble aspirations. He sees Ann’s liberation as an opportunity
for great film footage. A textbook ethical egoist, Carl never
loses sight of his self-interest, perpetually driven by his greedy
pursuits. He’ll do whatever it takes to gain money and fame,
regardless of who gets deceived, hurt, or even killed in the process.
Interestingly, the script bestows Carl with a bulk of the funny
lines, and Black’s delivery is adequate. His charm, however,
perhaps obscures the fact that, in a movie about monsters, Carl’s
debauched behavior makes him the vilest of them all. Not hidden
is the fact that one individual’s sins often cause many
to suffer, and the consequences of Carl’s ruthlessness is
allocated in colossal proportions.
most important relationship in the story is that of Ann and Kong.
Although initially terrified of the beast, a bond quickly develops
between the two as Kong protects her from blood-thirsty monsters
that lurk in every corner. Like other spins on the beauty-and-the-beast
narrative, Ann is able to see past Kong’s gruff, misunderstood
exterior; and, the monster reciprocates with a fierce and jealous
protectiveness that subsequently leads to tragedy.
In one of the more endearing scenes of the movie, Ann playfully
dances for the gorilla, and he bellows an approving, thunderous
laugh. Naomi Watts does a wonderful job capturing Ann’s
melancholy-tinged affinity for Kong, and the movie could have
benefited from additional scenes showing their mutual affection
Although the original King Kong movie was released over 70 years
ago, the character’s popularity has endured. Since its debut,
an array of remakes, sequels, and medium-spanning spin-offs (including
cartoons and video games) have sustained King Kong’s status
as a pop culture icon. This means that even those who haven’t
seen the original motion picture are likely to have at least some
vague acquaintance with its storyline. Such familiarity poses
all sorts of challenges in remakes. For example, the story must
be told in a fresh way while retaining its timeless nature.
Jackson attempts to answer this challenge with magnitude. With
breathtaking special effects and frenetic action scenes, the large
computer-designed creatures are both scary and amusing, delivering
an abundance of thrills and seat-squirming moments. Unfortunately,
Jackson doesn’t know when to let up. Apparently too undisciplined
(or self-indulgent) to contain himself, he behaves like a child
determined to use every color in his 64-count crayon box on a
single page. Instead of condensing the pandemonium in favor of
character development, Jackson tries to beat the audience into
submission with visual tableaux and violence.
Compared to the original King Kong, this one softens
Kong's image a little bit and makes the two male leads less heroic.
Thus, the emotional heart of the movie is Ann Darrow's growing
affection for the huge ape and her attempt to protect him from
the brutality of human civilization. This helps to give the movie
a pro-environmentalist tone that attacks the capitalist forces
in human civilization that want to exploit and, eventually, kill
Kong. By making Carl Denham such a bad guy, the movie seems to
dilute Denham's famous last line – "It was Beauty that
killed the Beast."
Before transporting Kong to New York to be the centerpiece of
his latest money-making scheme, Carl gleefully exclaims “The
whole world will pay to see this!” Costing $207 million
to create, it appears Universal and Peter Jackson had similar
expectations, but, while the latest stab at Merian C. Cooper's
classic is a consistently impressive spectacle, it never manages
to scratch very far beyond its glossy finish. The movie’s
flaws mirror those of its 25-foot gorilla headliner. At moments
exciting, humorous and enchanting, it ultimately fails because
of its relentless and brutish larger-than-life excessiveness.
Address Comments To:
Bob Wright, Chairman/CEO
Ron Meyer, President/COO
Vivendi Universal Entertainment
Stacey Snider, Chairman
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608-1085
Phone: (818) 777-1000
Web Page: www.universalstudios.com
NOTE from Dr. Ted Baehr, publisher of Movieguide Magazine.
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to its magazine version, at www.movieguide.org.
The magazine, which comes out 25 times a year, contains many informative
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