I do not envy Peter Jackson. Since 1996, when work began on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the man has been consistently taking on some of the most arduous cinematic tasks in history. When “Return of the King” came out, Jackson said he wasn’t going to work on another big-scale, CGI-laden movie for years. But then Universal offered him the chance to remake “King Kong”, a dream that he has harboured since the age of twelve. The result: a blood, sweat and tears movie; a true labour of love that, despite the director’s supposed ill health, has won over critics and moviegoers alike, and convinced the world that CGI monsters can act, too.
Remaining true to the original version, Jackson’s remake is set in the 1930s, and sees over-zealous filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) traveling to the ominously titled “Skull Island” on a fishing boat to film some sort of jungle love story amongst the island’s scenery. Denham brings along his leading lady Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts, “The Ring”), writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), a crew full of disgruntled looking men, and Captain Eaglehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), who also assumes the role of “old man who knows stuff”.
Once the cast and crew arrives at Skull Island, it appears that the old man does indeed know stuff, as the group is attacked by the island’s tribal inhabitants and Miss Darrow is captured to be sacrificed to Kong — the biggest monkey anyone is likely to ever see — played brilliantly by Andy Serkis (Gollum from “Lord of the Rings”) using, once again, motion-capture technology. The crew is honor bound to save Darrow, and so go deep into the heart of the island and into the jungle, where they are confronted by all means of dinosaurs and overgrown insects. However, when Carl Denham thinks about the kind of money Kong could make him, saving his leading lady is the last thing on his mind, and soon a trip back to the Big Apple commences, large ape in tow.
I’m sure every review of “King Kong” ever written will say this, and so what I am about to say will have reduced impact, but I’ll say it anyway: “Kong” is visually stunning. Watching it, one gets the feeling that something of this scale will not be executed again for a long time. Not only are the special effects good, but they are convincing, helped by the tireless motion capture acting of Andy Serkis. Serkis didn’t earn an Oscar nod for his performance as Gollum, but he should certainly get one for his performance as Kong. With major assistance from a great special effects team, Serkis has managed to make something you and I know is fake and make it feel real. Amongst an army of CGI dinosaurs, giant caterpillars and head-munching leaches, Kong stands out as a real character, and not just a CGI creature.
The phenomenal special effects are backed up by good performances from a strong cast, most notably Jack Black, and fairly decent characterisation, something that cannot be said for many of the CGI blockbusters of recent years. Unfortunately there are many weaknesses that help reduce the film’s credibility, including obvious and irritating holes in story continuity. The biggest of which being the number of crewmembers killed by Skull Island ‘s various threats. Seventeen crewmembers die on Skull Island , but the tiny little fishing boat looks like it couldn’t hold fifteen people without sinking. Repeatedly, I had to ask myself, “Who just died there?” Also, despite only having a wrecked fishing boat and about five crewmembers left, Denham still manage to transport a twenty-foot gorilla back to New York. How is this possible?
But there is a bigger problem with “Kong”, in that the movie feels like it’s missing something vital — like a soul. The supposed love between Kong and Ann Darrow is not nearly as convincing as it should be, and in fact I have very little belief that there was any love between the girl and the beast at all. At the start, Kong treats Ann like property, and handles her savagely, knocking her about for his own amusement. The supposed “turn-around” scene is where she stands on a ledge with Kong, observing the sunset, and teaches him the word “beautiful”. That’s all it takes for a woman to fall in love with a savage giant monkey?
My final criticism of “King Kong” is that it’s just too long. While it’s not boring by any means, it is tiring by about ten to twenty minutes of unneeded footage. Despite this, “King Kong” remains a visual spectacle. Jack Black is exceptional, as is Naomi Watts and the ubiquitous Andy Serkis. However, the love story is not nearly convincing enough to elevate the movie above the level of “eye candy”. There is plenty of stimulation for the eye, but very little for the heart and mind.
Peter Jackson (director) / Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace (screenplay)
CAST: Naomi Watts …. Ann Darrow
Jack Black …. Carl Denham
Adrien Brody …. Jack Driscoll
Colin Hanks …. Preston
Andy Serkis …. Kong/Lumpy
Evan Parke …. Hayes
Jamie Bell …. Jimmy