Monday, January 1, 2007

King Kong (2005)


Big and Lumbering, but Still Strong

Director Peter Jackson must think he can do anything. After bringing the gargantuan Lord of the Rings trilogy to the silver screen, he has now remade the classic King Kong, the film he says inspired him to become a filmmaker. While not the first to attempt this (there was another version in 1976), his take is an amazing piece of cinema that is too bombastic for its own good, but works pretty well in spite of itself.

Egocentric filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) is on his last financial legs. His latest footage has bored studio execs, and they are pulling the plug. Refusing to bow, Denham embarks via ship to film the remainder of his movie, barely escaping police and angry employers. Along for the ride are shanghaied writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), and Denham’s new discovery Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a starving actress just looking for a real job. They all get way more than they bargained for when the ship comes across a fog enshrouded island filled with nasty natives and the ultimate 800-pound gorilla.

Clocking in at over three hours, this could have been called King Long. While the first act takes its time, once the island is reached--hold on. King Kong becomes more menacing and violent than we first suspect, and the roller coaster ride begins.

The movie is full of thrilling action sequences, almost all of which follow a pattern that threaten to knock the viewer out of their suspension of disbelief. Each sequence has a nifty setup, a great development, then runs too long and almost becomes a parody of itself. Everything Jackson throws against the wall sticks, but he dwells too long and it all starts to slide down before he’s through. King Kong could really benefit from a judicious edit.

Kong himself is a wonderfully realized CGI creation, and a very convincing character. Not only does he look and act like a real ape, be he is very expressive, and effectively shows a nice range of emotions. I was glad that he was not depicted as too human, but is kept within the parameters of what he is supposed to be (a wild animal), and nothing else.

What separates Jackson from other effects-crazy directors, is that he also illicits fine performances from his actors. Watts (Stay) follows a long line of fabulous babes playing opposite the big monkey (Fay Wray in the original and Jessica Lange in the first remake), and is the best actress of them all. She is gorgeous and vulnerable, and we completely relate to everything she does on screen. The only problem I had is that the movie insinuates that she has more than just sympathy for Kong, but actually loves him. That’s a big pill to swallow, and I just couldn’t. How would that relationship ever work, anyway?

What I initially thought were bad casting choices, actually proved to be good ones. Adrien Brody (The Village) makes a convincing and determined leading man, despite that crooked nose of his. Jack Black (The School of Rock) defies his comic roots and makes a really great obsessive, crazy Denham. I like being proved wrong like this.

King Kong is large film that challenges the senses more than anything else. Whatever complaints I might have, however, are offset by a movie has an undeniable power lifting it above its flaws to deliver a tragic tale worthy of the long running time.

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