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.