(A Movie Review)
Like my brother said, “It could have been a lot shorter.”
“King Kong” (directed by Peter Jackson) was a three-hour, eight-minute foray into one of the great legends of American cinema. I believe it was the advertisement for the 1976 remake that gave me nightmares as a child. I never saw that version. And it’s been years since I saw a badly recorded version of the 1933 original. So I won’t attempt to compare this one to those.
But everyone knows who King Kong is. Right?
The 2005 version, starring Jack Black, Adrian Brody, and Naomi Watts, strayed away from the changes introduced in 1976 and wavered back toward many of the original’s ideas. During the worst part of the Great Depression of the 1930s, movie director and part-time scoundrel Carl Denham picks up out-of-work vaudeville actress Ann Darrow to film a movie on the fly, trying to recoup losses he’s incurred.
As he escapes his creditors by leaving at night on the good ship Venture, Denham tricks writer Jack Driscoll into taking the ride with him, and the script is written as they steam the ocean. In the meantime, Denham (ably played by Black) secretly intends to shoot part of the love-story movie on a remote island that he’s only heard about.
Upon arrival, the Venture crash-lands on the island, and we know the rest…
The pretty girl — Darrow (Watts) — is captured by the giant gorilla that lives on the island. By the end, the men of the ship, prompted by Denham’s promise of great riches, have captured the gorilla and then they bring him to New York City, where they intend to exploit him for loads of cash, billed as “the eighth wonder of the world” (can anyone name the other seven wonders?)
Anyway, the 2005 version took quite a while developing each character — too long in places, such as in the case of Bruce Braxter, who is the typical leading man that Denham taps to play opposite Darrow. Several minutes are used up to tell us that this guy is full of himself.
It was a third of the way through the film before I finally saw Kong, and much longer before I learned that he shared his secret island with hundreds of dinosaurs, giant insects, and pterodactyl-like bats.
I’ll say this: the special effects were wonderful, and the layout and design of “Skull Island” was superb. Watts interaction with Kong was well-played, though not entirely believable. Let’s face it. Any human that gets jerked around like she was when Kong carried her at full speed through the jungle is going to break every bone in his/her body. But she was beautiful, and played the part like she was supposed to — a soft-hearted yet brave woman caught in an unbelievable situation.
The shots of 1930s New York City appeared authentic, though obviously computer generated, and Kong’s emotions were usually readable.
Even Jack Black showed us a side that is rare. He’s been in more movies than most people realize (69 since 1991!) but usually plays the bit part of a silly, paranoid, drugged up wash-out. At least that’s how I’ve perceived him. I doubt anyone will say that his King Kong performance topped what he did in School of Rock, but he was spot-on as the caricature of a greedy and innovative early movie director. Except at the end, when he hovers over Kong’s dead body and utters, “No, it was beauty that killed the beast.”
One thing that wasn’t explained in the film is how the islanders survived. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of dark-skinned natives on Skull Island, who apparently inhabit only the outer rim, and occasionally give sacrifices to the great Kong. There’s no hint of how they survive Kong’s rampages, or what they eat, or how they avoid the 20-foot sucking slugs, the four-foot crickets, six-inch mosquitoes, and so on. Also, the islanders cause quite a problem for the white explorers when the Venture first arrives, but don’t show up when Denham and the ship’s crew are leaving.
Overall, I liked it. Hey, I’m a movie fan. Get over it. It’s too long, and there are holes, but it’s worth a watch if you’ve got the time.