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Posted By Ted Baehr On 12/16/2005 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled
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.
The 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 bloodthirsty 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 transpire.
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.
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