Vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) finds herself out of a job in Depression-era New York, but her luck changes when entrepreneur, adventurer and filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) offers her a movie role. A fan of its screenplay writer, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), she accepts. Little does she know when she boards the SS Venture that Denham has a secret agenda: to film the undiscovered, mist-shrouded Skull Island, home to wild natives, exotic beasts and a giant ape who takes a shine to his star, Ann. Denham's crew risk all in deadly confrontations with the wild beats, but he perseveres as he sees a fortune to be made with the ape as a novelty exhibit - King Kong - back in New York, but is blind to the power of the new feelings that Ann has stirred in the beast.
Review by Louise Keller:
The impact of Peter Jackson's King Kong is as massive as the gigantic gorilla itself, a spectacle to marvel at, but most importantly, a story with which we can connect emotionally. Set on a grand scale with extraordinary visuals and fantasy elements, the film's core sentiments about love, loyalty and betrayal remain simple. And Jackson's greatest achievement is to make us believe the connection between Naomi Watts' Ann Darrow and the 25 foot, 8,000 pound gorilla.
It could be said that Peter Jackson has been working on King Kong for the past 32 years, ever since as a 12 year old, he started working on his own low-tech version featuring a hand-painted bedsheet and a stop-motion gorilla figurine covered with fur from his mother's discarded stole. The fact that the original 1933 version of the film inspired him to become a filmmaker in the first place raises the stakes even higher for Jackson, and he should be glowing with the result.
Perhaps there's more than a little of Jackson in the character of Jack Black's filmmaker Carl Denham, who risks everything to discover some of life's mysteries and capture them on film. An adventure, feature creature and love story, King Kong is nevertheless grounded in reality and can be enjoyed on many levels. With a running time of over three hours, the film is a little long, but enthralls at every turn with its heart-pounding action, awe-inspiring stunts and a sizeable heart.
Watts is wonderful as 'the saddest girl who makes people laugh'. It's a physically demanding role and we warm to her vulnerability. We feel her terror, but soon our affections extend to the giant gorilla who falls impossibly in love with her. With the all-important input from Andy Serkis, who creates Kong's persona, Jackson achieves the impossible in that we believe the mega-beast with the liquid eyes is real. Casting is perfect with Jack Black cheekily likeable as the rebel filmmaker and Adrien Brody is engaging as the playwright who can't express his emotions in words.
I felt seasick as the tramsteamer Venture pitched and rolled, leaving us stranded on the unchartered Skull Island, where we meet cannibalistic natives, giant insects and there's a thrilling moment, when we are caught in the middle of a dinosaur stampede.
We have to wait for over an hour before we see the giant Kong for the first time, but it's worth the wait. There's a faint roar, a crackle of the jungle scrub and then we see him crashing through the undergrowth, the massive alpha male with a prominent lower tooth and fists that rhythmically pound his chest with primal power. Our initial fascination is replaced by engagement, as beast cups beauty in the palm of his hand.
I especially like the scene when Ann Darrow juggles, leaps, dances and does cartwheels to impress Kong after she realises for the first time she can actually communicate with him.
From exquisite production design to James Newton Howard's music score, there's much to marvel at in this extraordinary achievement of gigantic proportions. It's the event of the year.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Once upon a time many movies ago, there was a film in which a small group of filmmakers found an unchartered island, home to exotic, dangerous creatures, including a giant ape ... Fairy tale and parable, simple escapism and multilayered tragedy, King Kong is all things to all men (and apes). To Peter Jackson, King Kong is an example of pure cinema, both from the point of view of the maker and the consumer. A big story with a big surface attraction as well as plenty of layers, the adventure and the thrills are as important as any of the underlying issues that are available for discussion.
But let's stick to the movie, a virile adventure that in its resurrection dwarfs Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. It's no surprise that Jackson has retained the original 1933 setting, a time of depression and desperation in America. That mind set and those times are crucial to the film's psychological environment.
So meticulously and cleverly crafted that the results overwrite the methods, Jackson succeeds in making Kong as close to emotionally responsive as possible, yet without anthropomorphizing him. We surrender to the magic of cinema, not too bothered how the technicians worked their magic. And so it should be.
Andy Serkis provides the internal performance for King Kong, and it's well to remember that. At the very heart of the film, as it were, is a love story of sorts, which drives the emotional connection to the audience, an unlikely one between a beast and a beauty whose sheer presence tames the ape's heart. This basic element is the burning flame at the centre of the film.
Jackson's version of King Kong is, for the most part, a sensational reprise of the greatest virtues of old Hollywood with the greatest tools of modern filmmaking and a deeply human sensibility. Even where he takes poetic licence in a few scenes, he is referring to the filmmaking school that values imagery above crass reality. But he also stages some of the giant spectacles with the confidence of a master, those terrible, deadly fights with dinosaurs and other exotic beasts, making them seem all too real. There is real danger, real fear, real amazement value.
The human characters are also tested, though not as much as Kong, who is made to pay the ultimate price for his few moments of empathy with another creature. Naomi Watts is terrific as Ann, neatly balancing her showbiz toughness with natural panic, and the supporting cast all deliver genuine characterizations. A giant achievement, Kong is indeed a King of the cinematic jungle.
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BUILDING A SHREWDER APE
KING KONG (M)
CAST: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis
PRODUCER: Jan Blenkin, Carolyne Cunnigham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
SCRIPT: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens (story by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie
EDITOR: Jamie Selkirk
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Grant Major
RUNNING TIME: 185 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 14, 2005