King Kong (Peter Jackson version)


Rating 3

Directed by Peter Jackson

Written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, based on a story by Merian C Cooper and Edgar Wallace

Starring Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody Jack Black, Andy Serkis and Jamie Bell

I can quote the exact date on which I went to see Peter Jackson’s remake of ‘King Kong’ at the cinema. It was Saturday 17 December 2005. I know this because I posted a message online that same day in response to a series of negative comments made by another poster. He identified many problems with the film, but his biggest criticism was saved for the performance of Naomi Watts -- reprising the Fay Wray role as Ann Darrow.

I will return to her performance, but first I need to take a step back. Having now had the opportunity to watch the film for a second time, my opinion of it is exactly the same as when I watched it at the cinema.

The film neatly splits into three parts, the opening sequence of scenes that takes us from New York City to Skull Island; the middle section on Skull Island (apparently, to be entirely accurate, it should be called Skull Mountain) when we are introduced to Kong; and the closing scenes back in New York City. It’s a very long film and many people have commented that it is too long. I would tend to agree, but I am probably out of step about the areas that need to be trimmed of fat.

For many, the opening hour is simply too long, too slow moving, too inconsequential and too boring. They are waiting to meet Kong. They are waiting for the special effects fest to kick in. They are waiting for someone or something to kick ass. Naomi Watts and that fat guy from ‘School of Rock’ are just getting in the way. Hey, the fat guy isn’t even being funny!

I love the opening hour. The tedium starts when we are on Skull Island – and specifically because of two scenes that are sequenced back to back. The first scene has Kong fighting not one but three T-Rex in defence of Ann. It goes on for what seems like an eternity -- on and on and on and on. One T-Rex and a much quicker end to the fight would have suited me fine.

Immediately after this we get the sequence down in the ravine when various hideous gigantic creepy-crawlies attack Jack Driscoll, Carl Denham and other characters. I know the inclusion of this scene is very important from Peter Jackson’s standpoint because it effectively restores a famous scene cut from the original following a preview screening and now presumably lost. However, apart from being icky and full of nasty beasties, following on from the Kong/T-Rex fight as it does, it creates an enormously long dead spot in the film when the narrative stands still and all we really get is what seems to me to be a gigantic waste of money spent on special effects.

On the subject of special effects, a lot of research was carried out to enable the New York City skyline to be recreated exactly as it was in 1933 and this took up a large chunk of the budget for special effects work. It could be argued that relatively few viewers of the film would be aware of this or bothered by it and, therefore, it was a waste of money. A part of me was inclined to think this, but there is something special about watching the film and knowing what we are seeing is the genuine cityscape as it was more than 70 years ago, even if it is just a computer-generated illusion.

One last mention of the special effects: when I was watching the film at the cinema I noticed that although the effects were mostly stunning, a few were inexplicably cheap and shoddy looking. The same thing happened when I watched the DVD. I thought this rather odd.

So, what about the performances? The film is brilliantly cast. I am not entirely convinced about the performance of Andy Serkis as the ship’s cook (he is also, of course, Kong), which is another piece of over-the-top pantomime acting similar to his turn in ‘Deathwatch’, but presumably this is what was asked of him. Concentrating on the three lead actors, I cannot think of anyone more suited to the roles than Naomi Watts, Jack Black (as Carl Denham) and Adrien Brody (as Jack Driscoll).

I’ll concentrate on Naomi Watts because… well, she’s Naomi Watts.

Is there a better actor working in Hollywood right now? She also has whatever it is that constitutes “screen charisma”. I cannot think of a film I have seen in which she gives a bad performance. In fact, I cannot think of a single performance that has not been just right for the role she is playing.

In ‘King Kong’ she gets exactly the right mix of homage to the era and to Fay Wray coupled with a performance that works now. It isn’t a parody of 1930’s film acting. It isn’t a “modern” performance that looks out of place in the setting. It works on both levels. This is surely not just an accident or a piece of luck. She’s a film actor of exceptional ability.

In the end, the most important thing to consider is Kong. Does he survive this new remake? The answer is yes. It’s a big yes. Kong dominates the film in the way he should. It is to Peter Jackson’s credit that he doesn’t screw up the big finale on top of the Empire State Building. The original film is too iconic to sensibly try to compare this new remake to it, but when all is said and done, Kong remains King.

Although it has been bizarrely claimed by some that the film “bombed” at the box office, it actually grossed nearly $550 million. This is probably less than the studio hoped for, but it is still a huge amount of money. The film also received generally very good reviews – an 84% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.


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