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King Kong (2005)
Director: Peter Jackson

review by Hugh Slesinger

Some of us who are old enough to recall watching the original King Kong before there was a sequel, remember seeing it for the first time on the Sunday afternoon movie on television back when the breadth of the entire film world was still depicted in black and white on our screens. Many were left scratching their heads upon hearing that Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson had planned to remake the vintage feature for his first post Oscar winning film. For one thing, it had already been done back in 1976 with then previously unknown glamour girl Jessica Lange and Tron startup Jeff Bridges (who would later go on to become Big Lebowski's infamous 'The Dude') cast in the lead roles. The 1970s' version of Kong was hardly memorable, except for Lange's come-hither look and the final showdown that took place with helicopters and rockets atop the pre-9/11 twin towers.

Despite the early efforts of 1930s' director Merian Cooper, the original King Kong appears jumpy and dated by today's box office standards. Perhaps the most enduring contribution of the original film was the hauntingly powerful musical score written by famed Gone With The Wind composer Max Steiner, which carried the film through its two dimensional golden age Hollywood acting, and gave the release meaning by making the terror come alive. But "good things never last," according to Kong 2005's blonde heroine Anne Darrow early on.

Played skillfully by Naomi Watts, Anne Darrow's character might be personified as a cross between a modern Fay Wray and chimpanzee behavioralist Jane Goodall. Jack Black is perfectly cast as financially harassed and self-absorbed New York movie producer Carl Denham, who's down on his luck and is left with nowhere but a lost map to turn. Black, under the directorship of the stout hearted Kiwi, seems more mature and believable than before, and gives an outstanding performance as an over inflated ringmaster whose entrepreneurial karma is sidelined by blatant greed and nostalgic hubris run aground. CGI super stunt model and actor exhibitionist Andy Serkis deserves another crack at best supporting action figure for his dual versatility in playing not only the king of the apes, but the Cockney cook lumpy, who is eventually consumed by giant man eating tubeworms in the flesh.

It's long been reported that Peter Jackson, New Zealand's favourite son since Sir Edmund Hillary, has been longing to shoot an updated version of Kong since well before the founding his now ubiquitous Wingnut Productions and WETA Works digital studio he unveiled in Fellowship Of The Ring. The new King Kong, was a concept previously shelved by Miramax long before things went sour between Mr Jackson and New Line Cinema, and was gobbled up by Universal Pictures by default. By directly evoking a Heart Of Darkness parallel, and having the creative smarts to have stow away character (Jimmy) reading the Joseph Conrad text, Jackson echoes themes common to many great films like The African Queen and Apocalypse Now. Kong is clearly no follow-up to Jackson's 2003 Return Of The King. But, by his own admission, Jackson recognises the fact that "you can spend the rest of your life trying to top Lord Of The Rings."
period setting in King Kong 2005 giant ape in King Kong 2005
Kong is set appropriately in a historically accurate Depression era backdrop. After seeing the film, it is clear that the maverick director is not only adept at creating compelling horror, and edge of your seat gripping suspense, but capable of crafting rich cultural storytelling, clever foreshadowing and cutting edge special effects utilising lightning quick editing to keep up the pace. Jackson weaves a surprisingly multi-faceted plot, where Lost World monsters are juxtaposed by the self-determined superiority of modern humanity. ("Don't worry folks, these chains are made of solid chrome steel!")

Drawing upon timeless themes of man versus nature and the miracles of animal intelligence, Kong goes a big crushing step further than your typical sci-fi action blockbuster thriller. The seemingly real relationship between young starlit Anne Darrow and the 25-foot, chest beating, T-Rex crunching, oversized machismo gorilla, is deeper and more sincere than one might expect. With the exception of a flat performance by Adrien Brody, as Denham's screenwriter Jack Driscol and a few overly redundant dinosaur fight and stampede chase scenes, Jackson's Kong succeeds where other monster films usually bite and collapse. This is due in part to Jackson's critical eye for detail and relentless overly excited schoolboy infatuation with adrenaline pumping explosions, spooky insects and patented cliff-hanging endings.

Under Jackson's command, Kong morphs from ferocious beast to a gentlemanly giant, with a sense of humour and a fetish for pale skinned vixens. From the implausible sea journey to Skull Island to the dizzying climax and predictable fall form the Empire State Building, the film's most genuine theatrical value comes from the way the director de-vilifies Kong and transforms him from furry antagonist to sympathetic protagonist in a matter of only a few short takes.

In the end, we can't help but feel empathy and compassion when a terse news reporter incorrectly attributes Kong's downfall and ultimate demise to the fact that "he was just a big dumb animal." It's clear that Darrow and her one time nemesis are indeed having an intimate relationship, rooted in more than mere infatuation, namely the friendship and security that they both mutually provide.

Despite knowing exactly where the film is headed, the viewer is compelled to remain riveted for over three hours nonetheless. Kong's heart pounding action and underpinnings of emotional atonement make willing captives of us all. Most likely because quite simply, "the beast looked upon beauty and lowered his hand." Meanwhile, some of the audience felt compelled to put theirs together in response to this amazing spectacle of enormous cinematic proportion, while still others just continued scratching their heads, wondering where will Mr Jackson go from here and what on earth will he attempt to capture on film next?
King Kong 2005 poster

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