King Kong (2005)    2 Stars

“The eighth wonder of the world.”


King Kong (2005)
King Kong (2005)

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody

Synopsis: In 1933 New York, an overly ambitious movie producer coerces his cast and hired ship crew to travel to mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who is immediately smitten with leading lady Ann Darrow.




The original King Kong is the movie that inspired Peter Jackson, the director of this version, to become a director, and his adoration for Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s classic 1933 version shines through in every frame of the CGI-heavy 2005 remake. Jackson’s version, which he co-wrote with Fran Walsh and Philippa Bowen, remains unusually faithful to the 1933 story, even setting it in the era of the Great Depression. Naomi Watts (Dream House, J. Edgar) takes on the role of the struggling actress Ann Darrow, made famous by Fay Wray, who finds herself penniless following the sudden closure of the low-rent vaudeville show in which she was performing. Caught stealing an apple from a street vendor, she’s saved from possible arrest by movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black – Bernie) who talks her into accompanying him to Singapore that very night in order to shoot a movie.

What Denham hasn’t revealed to Ann or any other member of the cast and crew he’s conned into accompanying him at a moment’s notice is that the weather-beaten boat he’s chartered is actually en-route for Skull Island, the last patch of unexplored earth on the planet. Other members aboard include screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody – The Pianist, Splice), and leading man Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler – The Wolf of Wall Street), neither of whom are too thrilled to discover they’ve been shanghaied under false pretences.

Although Jackson spends plenty of time allowing us to get to know the characters, the film somehow manages to avoid dragging too badly despite some excruciatingly uninspired dialogue. Despite this, an air of expectancy looms over every scene, and it’s only when the monstrously-sized Kong finally makes his appearance that the film really comes to life. Nearly ten years after the movie’s initial release, Kong still cuts an imposing figure. Never seeming anything other than a giant ape, Kong nevertheless possesses recognisably human expressions with which he demonstrates his amusement, anger or mistrust. He lives behind a giant wall on an island which is home to prehistoric monsters, oversized exotic insects and human-eating tube-worms, all of whom the hapless cast and crew of Denham’s movie and the ship on which they travelled stumble upon at some point or another.

Jackson’s determination to remain true to the original even extends to inserting an incident which takes place in the canyon into which a handful of characters fall after being shaken from a log bridge by the enraged Kong. The same scene in the original movie, in which those who fell into the canyon were devoured by giant spiders, was actually cut from the released version because it was considered too harrowing for audiences, and so this sequence in Jackson’s version is by far the most gruesome of the movie, with giant insects swarming over the survivors, and the character played by Andy Serkis (who seems to be trying to simulate Popeye’s facial expressions) finding his head providing a snack for a giant tube worm (a scene which some mainstream TV stations ironically choose to cut from their broadcast versions). Mostly, though, King Kong fights shy of horror to focus on the fantastic elements of a love story between a teenage girl and an oversize ape.

To be honest, Naomi Watts doesn’t have much more to do than Fay Wray did in the original. Somehow, she manages to look quite fetching, even after giving a dizzying demonstration of how it feels to be carried in the hand of a giant ape as he blunders through the jungle at speed. This is the kind of effect that can be convincingly presented thanks to CGI, but Jackson’s use of new technology isn’t always completely successful. For example, the sequence in which the travellers find themselves accompanied by a herd of stampeding dinosaur verges on the comedic thanks to the dodgy CGI effects. In fact, the use of CGI gives the entire movie a vaguely unreal atmosphere, even when the action takes place in 1930s New York. At night, the city’s skyline makes New York look like some mystical kingdom rather than a city struggling in the midst of a depression, and a more down-to-earth depiction might have enhanced the fantastic elements of the story by comparison. This is a minor quibble, though; overall, despite its unnecessary length, King Kong provides a decent – and sometimes thrilling – level of entertainment, fostering an overwhelming sense of injustice at the miserable treatment of a dignified beast by cruel and stupid humans.

(Reviewed 26th November 2014)

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