Our Rating: 3 out of 5
Reviewer: Brett Willis
I presume that almost everyone knows the King Kong story. In the 1933 original, a film crew doing a location shoot on an exotic, uncharted island encountered a giant ape that the natives kept restrained behind a wall and periodically fed human sacrifices to. (The island also featured dinosaurs and other exotic creatures.) The ape, Kong, became obsessed with the films blonde leading lady, was captured and put on display in New York City, broke his chains, climbed the Empire State Building with Ann in tow. Kong was dispatched by fighter planes, but Ann survived. In addition to the excessive violence, there was of course a subtle romantic sub theme to the relationship between Kong and Ann.
The studios followed up the films success with Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. In 1976, Dino De Laurentiis did a remake of King Kong, changing the story in several minor ways, setting it in the then-present, and making the relationship between Kong and the girl more tender and less like assault, but with the same tragic ending (except that Kong climbed the Twin Towers). Well, Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame has created a new remake. It's set in the Depression-era 1930s, and uses the original storyline and cast names. Besides Kong, dinosaurs and giant carnivorous bats, it has a sequence of giant carnivorous bugs, modeled on a sequence that was cut from the original as too gross and upsetting. If the sequence was upsetting when done with stop-motion claymation, small wonder what its like when done with CGI.
Everything about this film speaks of excess. It also comes across as politically incorrect and hokey in several ways (the seemingly demon-possessed black Islanders; the rich New Yorkers in tuxes stupid enough to go to a live exhibition of Kong and trust he wont break flimsy chains), but it can get away with this because of the faithful remake approach. There's also a good bit of self-parody: for instance, skuzzy and manipulative filmmaker Carl Denham, desperate for a substitute leading lady, asks if Fay is available and is told that she's working on a picture for RKO (guess which one). This kind of thing works, too, because we know that the film is pure escapism.
The characters are richly developed. Naomi Watts is perfect as Ann Darrow. Jack Black plays Carl Denham, making a successful transition from comedy to a negative dramatic role much as Paul Reiser did in Aliens. Adrien Brody is screenwriter Jack Driscoll, who becomes Ann's other love interest (and therefore Kong's competitor). Minor characters are given ample back story also. Kong doesn't make his appearance until about an hour and a half into the film, but the time flies by. When Kong does appear and takes Ann, and when a rescue party goes after her, the action becomes truly nonstop. One harrowing incident after another, with hardly time to come up for air. T-Rexes, giant centipedes, giant toothed worms, falls down chasms... this island really needs to be visited by OSHA. But then again, maybe it shouldn't be visited by anyone. One of the unmistakable sub themes is that man commits acts of senseless violence, always messes up nature and destroys what he's fascinated by (this too was one of Jacksons deliberate aims, and he succeeded remarkably).
Aside from a movie producer rattling off a string of slang terms for female breasts, there's no sexual language, but there are about a dozen instances of Jesus or Christ as expletives, a half-dozen uses of GD, and other profane religious terms. Unlike in the original, Ann's clothing doesn't keep getting torn off bit by bit as she interacts with Kong and the jungle. Ann is a hungry, out-of-work Vaudeville performer, and is tempted to work in Burlesque, but she turns and walks away from the audition. (We do see photos of other women on the theatre exterior; and although they're not explicit, they look more like present-day strip club posters than like something from the 1930s.) Ann and Jack experience the beginnings of romance, and kiss somewhat passionately. When Ann finds that Kong is not going to immediately kill and eat her, she develops a multifaceted relationship with him that has aspects of friendship, humor, mutual appreciation of beauty, and yes, even romance. She entertains him with her Vaudeville dancing and juggling skills, and sleeps contentedly in his hand. Later, in the New York sequence, Ann and Kong even go slipping and sliding on a frozen pond. Its almost like dancing. But alas, it cant last.
The violence is scary and without letup. People are killed by Kong and the other creatures, and by each other, in all kinds of grotesque and bloody ways. I wont even begin to chronicle the details. Lets just say that the PG13 rating is pushed to the max. Since the CGI special effects are so perfect, its hard not to be totally sucked in by the story. You'll be grossed out by the bugs and other frightening creature sequences. You may cry repeatedly over peoples stupidity and heartlessness, and will wish that Kong could have just been left alone. You'll get dizzy and have a fear of falling, looking down from the Empire State Building on the 1930s New York skyline. There's something primeval about this story a reason why it endures. I believe Jackson has captured the essence of the story for a new generation. Despite the over-the-top violence and unnecessary language, I did enjoy it as a rare escapist indulgence, but I don't recommend it for sensitive viewers.