Review by Mark Walters


I've said it before, and I'll say it again... and again if necessary.  I've been a fan of Peter Jackson since long before he was a household name.  I have very fond memories of his early low-budget fare like BAD TASTE, and the masterfully gory DEAD ALIVE.  When THE FRIGHTENERS was announced, I was initially very happy that American audiences would finally get introduced to his genius.  But unfortunately that film was largely overlooked, and really didn't develop a fan base until it hit home video.  When Jackson was granted the directing rights to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, some folks I know scoffed at the idea of putting a fairly "un-established" director on such a large project.  Somehow I knew he'd do it right, and boy did he ever.  Peter has clearly proven himself to be the most visionary director to come along since George Lucas.  It was announced shortly after the RETURN OF THE KING came out that he would be doing KING KONG as his next project.  Some thought it was a great idea, and others wondered why Kong?  Jackson has made it clear in interviews that this was a film he's wanted to make for quite a while now, since before LOTR actually.  The biggest question now is does KING KONG appropriately carry on the magic qualities that Peter exhibited prior, and is it a worthy successor to his previous efforts?  Not to mention that other big screen incarnations of Kong (the original excluded) have been less than impressive.  So how does the new one hold up?


The films opens in 1930's New York.  A comedic stage actress named Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and her theater troupe are trying to hold together their productions, but times are tough, and before you know it their building is boarded up.  Across town a desperate director named Carl Denham (Jack Black) is trying to convince his movie studio to ante up a little more dough so he can finish his picture the way he wants to.  Denham has acquired a map to an uncharted island, where he hopes to sail to in order to get the ultimate shot for his masterpiece.  But the studio feels he's a hack, and wants to shut him down.  So Carl grabs his reels and bolts out, deciding he's going anyway, and can hopefully come back with cinematic gold.  His lead actress drops out, and after a chance meeting with Ann, he convinces her to join him on his journey.  They leave with a rag tag boat crew, lead by the rugged Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann).  On the boat Ann meets writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who she had admired for years.  The crew is unaware of Denham's plans at first, thinking they're headed to Singapore.  They eventually hit the island, literally, crashing into the surrounding rocks.  While there they discover some creepy natives, who end up taking Ann hostage just before everyone can leave.  Apparently they want to use her as a sacrifice to a giant monster on the island... Kong.  The crew decides to save her, but the island holds more secrets than they could ever imagine, and this rescue mission could end up proving fatal for all of them.

 The story follows the original film pretty closely, with more than a few embellishments thanks to Jackson.  There are several characters to keep up with.  Outside of the main three and the captain, we have the ship's tough first mate Mister Hayes (Evan Parke), his rescued protégé Jimmy (Jamie Bell), Lumpy the cook (Andy Serkis), the smug film star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chander), Carl Denham's assistant Preston (Colin Hanks), and Herb the cameraman (John Sumner), to name but a few.  There's plenty of other crew on the boat, all of who see some action at one point or another.  The first 45 to 50 minutes of the movie is pretty slow moving, taking it's time to establish the characters.  Once everyone gets to the island, things get going pretty fast.  It's an hour and fifteen minutes before we actually see Kong.  I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but it does seem like it takes a bit of time for things to get interesting.  Thankfully the island scenes are absolutely packed to the hilt with action.  After the initial introduction to Kong, we're thrown into a brontosaurus stampede, a tyrannosaurus rex battle, a giant bug attack, and a dramatic escape from the island, none of which skimp on excitement.  But that's not the best part.  As anyone who is familiar with the classic character knows, the story ultimately builds up to the big gorilla being brought back to New York for the whole world to see (which doesn't happen until over two hours of this film has played out).  All of this culminates to a dramatic struggle on top of the Empire State Building.  At three hours runtime, KING KONG is a definite cinematic experience, albeit a rather long one.

 Let's talk about the effects.  My God.  Get ready to be blown away for three hours.  It starts with the amazing recreation of 1930's New York.  You'll think you've gone back in time, as all of the street and building shots are so convincing, I almost forgot it wasn't real.  I imagine very few sets were actually built, but it's all done so well you'd never know it.  The scenes on the ship are great too, rivaling what came before in movies like TITANIC.  For the most part the island scenes are pretty amazing, with one glaring exception.  The first big action piece, the brontosaurus stampede, just looks unfinished.  The blue screening is rather unpolished, and the rendering on the dinosaurs looks more than a little off.  I have to wonder if this was a result of Jackson running out of time.  That whole sequence really stuck out like a sore thumb to me, and I almost wish it had been left out.  Not to mention no one ever seemed all that confused about the fact there were dinosaurs on the island in the first place.  Kong looks amazing.  Andy Serkis, who did all the motion capture for Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, also did the motion capture work for Kong.  He studied real gorillas for research, and the end result on film looks incredibly real and natural.  The most simple movements are so well done, everything else seems to pale in comparison.  The big t-rex battle with Kong is spectacular.  It goes on and on, and never gets boring.  This scene really stands out in the film.  I liked the fact that the t-rexes looks a bit odd.  They're not as clean in design as what we've seen in movies like JURASSIC PARK.  These creatures look more monster-like, and it works well considering where they are.  The giant bug scene is... um... gross.  I think this was Jackson's way of trying to really creep out the audience, and it worked like a charm.  Get ready to squirm, especially when the rather phallic swamp worms do their thing.  I could describe them, but some things just need to be seem to be believed.  The escape from the island with Kong in pursuit is also incredibly exciting.  It's a desperate moment, and in many ways feels like the most dangerous event the crew faces while there.  But none of that stuff, no matter how impressive it may seem, can hold a candle to the last 45 minutes of the film.  When Kong arrives in New York (or rather gets loose in New York) you'll simply be stunned.  I've never seen scenes of havoc done better than the giant ape stomping butt in the streets of Times Square.  And when he climbs to the top of the Empire State Building, you'll find yourself flabbergasted at how convincing everything looks.  As the bi-planes descend on the big guy, we're right there with them.  I honestly couldn't believe how utterly great those final moments were.  Richard Taylor, who was responsible for the effects in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, also handled the job here, and it would be a crying shame if he didn't get the Oscar for his efforts.  It's the finale where everything gels, and you get completely immersed in the whole experience

The acting is pretty good throughout.  Granted this movie is all about the gorilla, but casting the wrong leads could've hurt things greatly, so thankfully that didn't happen.  Watts is charming and endearing as Ann.  Considering her lack of dialogue, especially after meeting Kong, she does a fine job of selling the moment.  Brody is good too, as the concerned love interest.  He's nothing at all like what I expect a leading man to look like, but maybe that's a good thing.  Jack Black plays it serious for the most part here.  I liked most of what he did, but there were a few moments where his dramatic acting felt a bit forced.  It's hard to forget we're watching Jack "Tenacious D" Black, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little distracted by elements of his performance.  The abundance of characters is a little unnerving at times.  I understand that you don't want to just ignore the other people along for the ride, but it is a lot of folks to keep up with.  A few of the subplots, such as Jimmy's pursuit of adventure, end up seeming like an afterthought that never sees resolve.  I do wonder if Jackson had to cut any plot elements in editing, which perhaps we'll see on the DVD.  One thing Jackson excels with here is the emotional aspects of Kong and Ann's relationship.  The scenes on top of the Empire State Building are at times flat out heart wrenching.  I guess you could say some of the best acting in the film comes from Kong himself.

Peter Jackson has created an incredible piece of cinematic history yet again.  Overall KING KONG is an amazing movie.  The score by James Newton Howard complements the film nicely.  I'm curious why Howard Shore opted out, especially since I could've swore he had a cameo as the orchestra conductor toward the end.  But the music James created is so great, I almost don't miss Howard, hate to say.  My hat goes off to Andy Serkis, who has once again helped to create a memorable CGI character that consistently upstages to real actors around him.  As for Jackson, I know he's into the whole epic filmmaking thing, but it might not have hurt to shave a good 30 minutes off this film.  Don't get me wrong, because for the most part it's all really great.  But three hours in the theater is... well... three hours.  The final 45 minutes makes it all worth it though.  Don't worry Pete, you're still aces in my book.  This movie is easily the most impressive film you'll see all year.  I'm not sure where Jackson can go from here, but I'll be first in line for tickets. score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give KING KONG a 9.

Visit the official Universal Pictures KING KONG movie website by clicking here.

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