If we’re lucky we get one film a year that has the action, humor, heart, and colossal appeal of King Kong. The story and message are both timeless, and it’s likely that many audiences worldwide will leave the theater exclaiming that they’ve never seen anything like this before. Of all the films I have seen this year, King Kong handily owns the competition in terms of memorable shots and sheer glee. There are lots of reasons we go to the movies, and King Kong celebrates and showcases all of them.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a quick synopsis. Carl Denham (Black) is your run-of-the-mill sleaze bag movie producer who has exhausted the budget on his current project, not to mention the patience of the studio heads. Desperate to show the world something they have never seen before, Denham convinces (well, lies to) his cast and crew to charter a ship to take them to the legendary Skull Island. There he will utilize the one-of-kind location shooting. Along for the ride are recently hired Vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Watts) and screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Brody). The crew eventually locates and explores Skull Island, and I think we all know who resides there…
Director/Co-writer Peter Jackson knew that he’d have to reach into his bag of tricks to keep our ADD, “ninety minutes or bust” butts in the seats for three hours. Oh has he come through. The second act, in which the unlucky crew comes in contact with every vile beast on the island, is one of the most action-packed ever filmed. It all leads up to a third act that, unbelievably, seems rushed in comparison. Jackson never lets up, throwing new and creepy creatures at us every few minutes. A sequence involving Kong’s battle with two dinosaurs, all the while keeping Ann safe in his grasp, is the show-stopper in a film of show-stoppers. You’d think Jackson had, say, $207 million to work with here or something. Oh, wait.
What will take many by surprise is the scope of humanity given to the film. The story has always been oddly touching, but here Jackson will have even the most cold-hearted choking up just a little with the inevitable tragic ending. I figured it would be a chore to get me attached to an over-sized ape that destroys most of an island and a good chunk of New York City, but Jackson pulls it off in pitch-perfect fashion. It is the perfect footnote to a near-perfect film.
The performances are solid, but it is Naomi Watts who truly stands out. Looking as radiant and beautiful as any actress has this century, Watts is dynamic and playful as Ann Darrow. A scene involving her and Kong teasing each other is a warm and vivacious sequence that really attains its impact by Watts’ willingness to ham it up a little, especially since she probably performed primarily in front of a blue screen. Jack Black delivers most of the humor and script’s best lines. He teeters on the edge of overacting, but overall he is funny and enjoyable as the ruthless producer who only sees dollar bills. Adrien Brody isn’t given a whole lot to do other than sort of have the hots for Ann and occasionally be a hero.
King Kong is a surefire audience pleaser that delivers everything we could possible want a film to. Peter Jackson proves to us once again that he is one of the most inventive and respectful directors working today. In King Kong he has delivered a blockbuster that will be one to reckon with for years to come. As for Kong himself, he wins over Naomi Watts and literally has her in the palm of his hand. How many of us will ever get to say that?
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 187 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images.
Theatrical Release: December 14, 2005
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson. Story by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace.
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler