King Kong was the last epic release of 2005 from much vaunted Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, but was it worth making another version of this familiar story? It seems to be generally accepted that the 1933 version was the best, a film which was stunning for the time and Jackson certainly comes closest to recreating this success and washing away the nasty taste of the 70´s remake and countless other spin-offs. This is a special effects laden, mega-budget movie with a great cast which builds upon the original but despite the enormous promise it comes across as faintly disappointing.
The film is set in the lovingly re-created New York of 1933. Slippery movie producer Carl Denham coerces the cast of his proposed next picture to embark on a voyage aboard an old steamer bound for the mysterious and prophetically named Skull Island. Upon arriving they discover what appear to be the ruins of a primitive civilisation but it soon becomes apparent that they are not alone and the expedition falls into mortal danger. Leading lady Anne Darrow is captured by the indigenous tribe and offered to a giant ape presumably in an effort to keep him happy. The crew battle to rescue her and capture the ape before returning to show off their new found star in the big apple.
This new version adheres to the same exact story as the 1933 film but embellishes the tale and extends the action to a daunting 187 minutes. It takes a full hour for them to even reach the island and when they do the meandering pace snaps into full-on action mode, sprinting towards the inevitable ending in a high speed frenzy of special effects. The production values are clearly very high and the detail is quite painstaking. 30´s New York is beautifully reconstructed and the characters are allowed a well fleshed out background. Beyond the gentle and drawn out introduction things change dramatically. Once on the island it seems anything goes as the indigenous tribe are portrayed as extremely nasty savages and the sheer range of violent creatures intent on killing anything they meet is truly staggering.
Kong battles everything from multiple Tyrannosaurus Rex to giant vampire bats. The rescue party encounter stampeding herds of dinosaurs and giant insects and all of it is rendered with computer graphics. The use of CGI is something Jackson has done successfully in the past and while it is easy enough to make impressive creatures in this way it is another thing completely to make them look real alongside actual actors. Kong himself is excellent, his movement and behaviour are clearly closely based on silverback gorillas and the vocals by Andy Serkis are very convincing. The other creatures appear less realistic and some of the sequences such as the dinosaur stampede through the valley are just over the top, in an effort to be visually exciting the effects have been overdone and it is difficult to focus on the frenetic action. When the real actors appear on screen with them the sense of falseness is heightened and the effects fall down somewhat.
While the first hour added background it also dragged a bit but something Jackson did improve on significantly was attempting to make the development of the relationship between Kong and Anne believable. This had always been a problem for me, why would a giant ape fall in love with a tiny constantly screaming woman? In this version the development of their relationship is nicely handled and it goes both ways.
The cast in the film are excellent including the accomplished Naomi Watts as Anne Darrow, Adrien Brody as the writer Jack Driscoll and more contentiously Jack Black as Carl Denham. There was much talk about whether the comedic Jack Black would be able to deliver a convincing dramatic performance but he does well in the film and really suits the character he is portraying. The supporting cast are also high quality, except for Jamie Bell who struggles to be convincing in every film he does.
King Kong is one of the most famous characters ever created but the material is somewhat dated now and the story is undeniably silly and nonsensical. The film is overly long and feels more so because the material is so familiar. While it is nicely recreated that´s all it is, an expensive recreation. The effects are badly over used and the romance between Anne and Jack is horribly cheesy.
While this version of Kong will introduce a new generation of people to this classic character it is unlikely to have a lasting impact on the public psyche. This is a very well made film and it has exciting moments and beautiful sequences but it is also boring in places and feels very dated. Like the original horror characters Dracula and Frankenstein, Kong has aged and no longer holds the same appeal or ability to wow audiences as he once did. Instead of all this conservative remaking of old films it would be nice to see someone spend their obscene budget on something new, something which might strike a chord and capture the imagination of the current generation in the same way that the original King Kong did for people back in the 1930´s.