King Kong (2005)
Release Date: December 14th, 2005 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Jackson Actors: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Kyle Chandler
audeville performer Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) suffers alongside everyone else during the Great Depression, struggling to earn enough to eat – particularly after her revue is shuttered. She’s nevertheless hopeful that if she can just get an audition with legendary playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), she’ll find her way to stardom. But the competition is dishearteningly tough, and the easiest fix is to resort to a disreputable burlesque show.
Meanwhile, hotheaded producer/director Carl Denham (Jack Black) is in the middle of getting his latest picture shut down when he decides to flee to the waiting ship that he’s paid to sail to a shoot at a mysterious destination. He’s obtained a map to a most exotic, virtually undiscovered locale, and he’s intent on going – before the studio bigwigs can put a stop to the departure of the vessel, the S.S. Venture. When his leading lady drops out, Carl is forced to snag the first Size-4 dame he can find – preferably one with a pretty face. As luck would have it, he crosses paths with Ann, in time to sucker her into joining the expedition. Carl is also silver-tongued enough to trick Driscoll, who happens to be in a cabin aboard the Venture, to hand over the first 15 pages of a script – and to then get shanghaied for the journey.
From here, the Venture stumbles upon a craggy, seemingly deserted landmass with a sizable wall that was surely designed to keep something very large out. As the captain (Thomas Krestschmann) hustles to repair his ship, Carl and a few of his filmmaking crew wander onto the island, where they’re attacked by natives in an eerie deviation from the former tone. For the first time, momentary horror movie notes creep into the picture (which starts to resemble the chills of cannibal movies), though the poor editing once again ensures that it’s a temporary ghoulishness. In another pointless subplot, first mate Hayes (Evan Parke) and his young protege Jimmy (Jamie Bell) trade observations about “Heart of Darkness” – made more insincere via histrionic voiceover moments. These two are – by far – the worst pieces of the project.
With a ceaseless flair for the overdramatic, director Peter Jackson does everything with larger-than-life characters, exaggerated wide-eyed enactments (and intense stares), swelling music, rousing or ominous speeches in close-up, and plenty of intricate details. His details, however, are so overwrought and exhaustive that the end result is a whopping three-hour production. In Jackson’s world, there are no bit-parts; the overabundance of players all receive so much screentime that the pacing suffers considerably. The actors (and actress) are amusing, but even when audiences get to know them all intimately, it doesn’t much alter the impact or emotions as they succumb to the horrors of Skull Island. Here, the editing is correspondingly over-the-top, using visual gimmickry to generate false thrills – excessive manipulations that absolutely didn’t need to be utilized.
Jackson sticks with the Great Depression-era setting for this third major theatrical adaptation, but he goes to much greater lengths to set the stage than in the 1933 version. The introduction spends many minutes building up its characters and locations and financial hardships, as if the roles needed some added sympathy to humanize them for their inevitable confrontation with the monstrously inhuman (curiously, the sexual undertones – or overtones – of the previous two iterations has all but vanished). As a film enthusiast, Jackson does incorporate numerous nods to the black-and-white classic, borrowing exact lines or mimicking specific scenes, but on a few occasions, he duplicates a couple of the faults from the 1976 take, which is one of the worst choices – or accidents – he could possibly make. The love story between Ann and Jack is one such problem, as it’s built upon an unconvincing montage that is as fleeting and insignificant as the running time is long.
“Monsters belong in B-movies.” To its credit, Jackson’s update finally gives its title role the hi-tech CG makeover for which fans have been waiting. Some sequences are less convincing than others, but the technology has improved to such a degree that it’s undeniably impressive to see Kong during his most famous routines. A bit of this is ruined as well, however, as the animators have attempted to duplicate primate movements so authentically that Kong has lost some of his beastly identity. Mostly, he’s just a gargantuan gorilla – a rather predictable animal, even if significantly overgrown.
In the end, the adventure is ambitious to match the graphics, but it isn’t always effective in its extremeness (especially during an unintentionally comical brontosaurus stampede, in which the lumbering dinosaurs manage to sidestep all the tiny humans scampering beneath their enormous feet). A later T-Rex fight is far better (as well as the aerial finale atop the Empire State Building), though the choreography still favors explicit fantasy over much-needed realism; wherever it could get believable imagery, it definitely should have gone for it, yet this notion is sadly infrequent. For all of its polish and spectacle and grandiosity, the faults still drastically counteract the accomplishments.
– Mike Massie