King Kong (2005)

King Kong

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is the 2005 remake of the 1933 monster classic. It is, of course, a film about the fictional giant ape known as Kong. The film stars Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, Jack Black as Carl Denham, Adrian Brody as Jack Driscoll and Andy Serkis (also known as Gollum to some people) as Kong. The film’s budget was a huge $207 million, but it made more than enough to cover that with big box office openings and good DVD sales.

The story is rather familiar, of course, but Jackson’s added quite a few developments to the plot to flesh the film out over its 188 minute theatrical runtime. Taking place in Depression-era New York City, King Kong opens with Ann Darrow and begins to really develop her character. The film spends time providing the audience with evidence of her plight, as she loses her job and struggles to eat. Darrow has a chance run-in with Denham, whose character is also fleshed out in a failed production meeting. Both characters receive a great deal more depth in Jackson’s version than they do in the original, causing audiences to be made aware of their situation a full hour before Kong is even spotted.

As we know, Darrow and Denham end up going to Skull Island and a number of adventurous situations unravel. Kong is presented as a sympathetic character in this film, not just a monster. Jackson’s love affair with the character of Kong likely began when he was nine years old in New Zealand. He saw the original 1933 version of the film and was in tears when Kong finally fell from the Empire State Building. Jackson’s sympathy for the character of Kong is evident in this film and it translates beautifully, making King Kong a very sensitive action-fantasy film.

The performances of the characters are spot-on. Watts is brilliant as Ann Darrow, convincingly delivering her character with grace and depth. Darrow becomes a character that we can rally behind, instead of a standard damsel in distress as in the original film. Watts’ performance conjures up visions of original scream queens in cinematic monster movie history as well as strong female characters from old standards. Jack Black is a wonderful delight as Carl Denham and plays his character perfectly. His moral levity in light of making profits isn’t overdone by Black and he proves he has the stuff great actors are made of with his delicate but strong performance. Brody is good as Driscoll, too, and plays the role of unlikely lovestruck hero very well.

The character of Kong is truly a marvel. Sure, the special effects are incredible and the adventure sequences are tremendously engrossing and captivating. The visuals that Jackson and his team pull out of this film are stunning, with some of the most amazing fantasy action sequences I’ve ever seen. But Kong as a character is the true star of the film. The performances from the other actors when they perform with Kong do not feel forced over a bluescreen, as is often the case with effects-laden films. Instead, Watts’ interaction with Kong feels true and often beautiful. It is sad and impossible, all at once. The use of Serkis for Kong makes pulling emotion out of the giant ape possible, too, and makes for a very engaging performance. Kong is quite possible the most emotionally gripping special effects character of all time.

The action sequences, as mentioned, as tremendous and stunning. From the dinosaur stampede to the creepy crawly bugs and slimy things to the sheer grandeur and majesty of Kong, Jackson’s film delivers thrills to moviegoers that think they’ve seen it all before. In a day and age of “anything is possible” in terms of cinema, it’s nice to see that notion unravel before your very eyes as Jackson pays tender homage to the 1933 film but reconstructs it with magical effects, tender performances and a compelling script. The time the film takes with its characters and with its creatures shows the amount of love and passion that went into the storytelling for Peter Jackson and, like the brilliant Lord of the Rings saga, King Kong proves Jackson’s mettle as one of cinema’s modern masters.

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7 thoughts on “King Kong (2005)

  1. I think you have to suspend your belief in terms of how “apes behave” when you’re dealing with an ape that is the size of a building living in the land of dinosaurs. I suppose I agree with the ground not shaking during one or two moments, but I can honestly say that I hope I never watch films that closely.

    Kong’s facial expressions are human for a reason: so that the audience can relate to his plight and his situation. Kong’s loneliness and his lack of inherent purpose, simply striding through the jungle and conquering on a forgotten island, gives him a sense of despair. This is accented by his sitting and staring out at the open sea in the scene with Darrow on the side of the cliff. It is also accented by his search for a companion and some contact, as when he finds Darrow to be different than others that have been sacrificed to him before, he longs to keep her and protect her. Kong seeks her out in NYC for a reason in Jackson’s vision, whereas the original merely has him looking for blonds.

    If you disagree with Jackson taking those liberties with the character of Kong, that’s fine and that’s up to opinion. But to say he’s “too human” denotes that Jackson somehow fouled up his own vision and I can’t agree with that. Peter Jackson knew what he wanted out of Kong and created a new, fresh character out of the monster while still remaining faithful to the original vision. He just gave Kong depth and utilized the CGI techniques and Andy Serkis’ profound abilities to do so. That’s not a failing of the CGI, the ground thing you mentioned may well be, but once again I hope I never watch films that closely so as to ruin the aesthetic.

    I also enjoy films from different eras, extensively. I appreciated the context of the original Kong as well, as you can see from my review a little bit down the page. I watched the two Kong films back to back and attempted to remove any “time bias”. I find too often that people tend to have a bias towards films that are older or, conversely, films that are newer. To me, films aren’t about the time in which they are made but about the time limitations they have the potential to EXCEED. A film like Casablanca or Citizen Kane or Doctor Zhivago, for example, exceeds their time limitations and remains as true today as they were at the time they were created. Films like King Kong, while amazing in their time limitations, don’t really resonate in the NOW for me. If I took a shot-by-shot remake of the 1933 version, removed any time limitations from the special effects and concentrated on the story and the acting, Jackson’s version would be superior because of the depth in performance, script and storytelling.

    Jackson’s King Kong is fun, but it is also a film with heart. Perhaps you shouldn’t allow Jackson’s motivations for making the film tarnish the overall opinion. If you disagree with his vision and his agenda, that’s one thing. But King Kong is not a bad film because of his direction unless he fails to achieve his particular vision.

    As for Watts, I thought she was great. She acted out Kong scenes with Andy Serkis, so I’m not sure where you pulled that “she wasn’t there” notion from. In terms of people not being there or remotely looking there, I’d cite the countless terrible dinosaur scenes from the 1933 original as source material and pretty much shut the case.

    A lot of films serve no artful purpose, but Jackson’s King Kong isn’t one of them. Every filmmaker also has an agenda and Jackson’s is to create magical stories that transport the audience into magical worlds. He accomplishes that and is still able to inject some of his own storytelling into the original works, from Kong to LOTR, and create something special. Jackson makes fun, invigorating and awe-inspiring films at the movies. If CGI-laden special effects-filled films are not your thing and you’re hunting for skips in the CGI armor, then that’s your perogative. But for those of us with a longing for adventure, storytelling and a great time at the movies, Jackson’s films provide that much the same way Lucas’ films did for Star Wars. Sure there are flaws and sure the films aren’t perfect, but filmmaking isn’t about achieving technical perfection. It’s about heart, soul, character, adventure and fun.

  2. I agree, it is all down to interpretation. Considering your response, I can’t resist defending my initial comments.

    The cgi, as in Lord of the Rings, looks souless.Not only does Kong look far from photo-realistic, the physics and lighting are very poor too. He is a monstrous size yet he can leap around with acrobatic finesse. There is a scene in which he jumps to the floor and Anne Darrow doesn’t even move, no vibrations at all. The scene in which she is in his hand is over-done, King Kong’s facial expressions are too human, I know we need to sympathise with him but apes do not behave like that. I can only account this to the over-acting of Andy Serkis. Gollum had the same problem. I’m not attacking the overall design of Kong though. Stan Winston actually attacked the effects in a recent Empire interview, I consider him a great authority on this.

    I say the 1933 film is better because, I suspect like you, I enjoy a varied range of films from differing eras. I simply love watching classic films and submerging myself in the era and context of when it was released. The original Kong was a pioneering technique, nothing like it had been done before. I understand it received small criticism at the time for being to mechanical but, overwhelmingly, people loved it. It was re-released 4 times. As haggered as it looks today, at least it isn’t over-long like the 2005 version. It is pure fun. As for the acting, yes it is bad but that befits a film from that age. It send a tingle down your spine. Plus, although Faye Wray is far less attractive than Naomi Watts she has a much more sincere reaction to the ape. Naomi looks as if her contact lenses have just fallen out. She doesn’t seem like she is actually there either, simply because she wasn’t. In the 1933 version you can, at least, say she was.

    You say that remakes should be “self-aware,” or at least it is the common rule. I suggest the that they propose no artful purpose. Jackson has an agenda, he has made 2 unremarkable adaptations now .I say unremarkable because they are far from awful, thanks to the budget, but leave you unsatisfied and alienated from the characters.

    Mighty Joe Young and the 70s remake was a joke by the way. Ha.

  3. I actually don’t agree with any of that, but that’s the beauty of film and interpretation. I think Jackson’s CGI work is great, Kong is a moving character and has more depth than any of the films you listed, and the “self-awareness” is generally akin to remakes. That’s not always a bad thing.

    Not sure where you get the “superficiality” either. Jackson’s Kong is about as far from shallow as you can get. To suggest that Mighty Joe Young is somehow comparable given your critique of Jackson’s piece is rather, to put it nicely, interesting.

    I found the effects very well integrated, especially given the fact that it wasn’t baseless CGI. The 1933 version has terribly aged effects, even for that time, and the performers feel nowhere near the monstrous characters. When Ann Darrow is in Kong’s hand in Jackson’s film, she is IN Kong’s hand. It’s beautifully done.

    The 1970s version is terrible.

  4. I wasn’t happy with the end product. It has a self-aware and superficial quality to it. And as for the cgi…somebody pull Jackson away from those computers, unless they are intelligently intergrated with other visual effects it looks like a Playstation game. Give me the 1933 version any day, hell I’d take the 1970s one too- sod it, I’d take Mighty Joe Young and King Kong Lives too.

    I think I have made my point. Nice writing style and interesting review though.

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