How do you remake a classic monster movie – an icon of Hollywood history beloved by generations of fans? How do you captivate the audience when the film’s climactic tragedy is already known? How do you take the story to a different level while improving the visual aspects of the film?
Director Peter Jackson manages to exceed all expectations in his epic retelling of “King Kong,” creating a breathtaking masterpiece that boasts far more strong points than flaws.
Beginning with the opening montage vividly depicting life in 1933 New York City, “Kong” is meticulous in its attention to detail. From the city streets to the wild jungles of an uncharted island, Jackson’s keen eye for subtle facets and gift for constructing accurate settings lures audiences into a world where the concept of an undiscovered land full of zoological wonders seems probable.
However, it is this same fastidiousness that sometimes bogs down the first third of the movie as Jackson introduces character after character and provides background information that – while interesting – isn’t necessary to the overall plot.
The primary players are well-crafted. Jack Black plays overzealous filmmaker Carl Denham. At the onset, Denham’s irresponsibility and impulsiveness make him fairly endearing – a man with a dream against an apathetic world determined to keep him from his goals.
But his vision is tainted by greed, and as the story progresses his fanaticism and self-indulgence reveal his true, monstrous nature. Denham’s character’s degeneration is in clear contrast to that of Kong, who is initially portrayed as a monster but becomes more human as his relationship with Ann Darrow plays out.
Naomi Watts plays Black’s last minute replacement star, Darrow. In her scenes with Kong, Watts makes the inconceivable believable. Her eventual admiration and affection for Kong seem as genuine as her initial terror upon seeing the beast. The other love interest, playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), becomes the antithesis of Black, the unsung and selfless hero caught up in events beyond his control.
The star of the movie is Skull Island, though it takes about an hour to get there. Jackson’s Skull Island makes Jurassic Park look like a petting zoo. Jackson melds his CGI mastery with his zombie-splatter flick beginnings to produce some of the most incredible – and gory – sequences of rampaging dinosaurs since, well, since the late Mesozoic era.
In particular, Kong’s battle with tyrannosaurus rex triplets sets a new benchmark for blockbusters.
Jackson out-Raimis Sam Raimi and out-Spielbergs Steven Spielberg.
Both modern technology and the talents of Andy Serkis – who breathed life into Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” – infuse Kong with more humanity than previously possible. The obligatory concluding sequence in which the great ape runs amok in New York City includes a brief and moving moment as Darrow and Kong playfully glide across a frozen pond. Though it has taken nearly three hours, the film finally encapsulates its themes of materialism in opposition to compassion, and man against nature.
Rated PG-13, the film does contain a few violent images and some emotionally distressing scenes. Even with its imperfections, “King Kong” is a masterpiece. Jackson demonstrated his potential with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; with “King Kong,” he establishes himself as both a master storyteller and an artist.