by John W. Herbert
It's a familiar story: boy meets girl, boys casts girl in movie, girl meets other boy, girl and other boy fall in love, girl meets giant ape on Skull Island, ape falls for girl, boy captures ape, ape becomes a star on Broadway, ape destroys Broadway.
Peter Jackson's loving remake of 1933's King Kong is not a perfect film, but it comes very close. And slightly over three hours, it runs a little long. 20 minutes could have very easily come out of the Skull Island sequence. But that's a minor quibble, and if I'm going to be forced to sit through an extra 20 minutes of a giant gorilla battling giant T-Rexes, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.
The film starts in New York as out of work actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) has a chance encounter with shady film-maker Carl Denham (Jack Black). Carl convinces Ann to join his crew and himself on a sea voyage to make a film on location on a south seas island. Denham also practically kidnaps his writer, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). What Denham hasn't revealed is that the island is uncharted, and an ancient heretofore unknown society on the island worships a large and dangerous being named Kong.
Jackson's remake follows the original's plot nearly note for note, but he manages to provide a few narrative deviations along the way. It's full of nods to the original, from Denham discovering that an actress named Fay is unavailable for his picture because she's shooting one for Merian Cooper at RKO (that would Fay Wray making the original Kong), to Peter Jackson's cameo as one of the pilots that kills Kong (original Kong directors Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack also did the same).
The film looks gorgeous. Just gorgeous. From a beautifully recreated depression-era New York to the lush jungles of Skull Island, the sets and production design are sumptuous and amazing.
The cast is mostly top notch, although occasional I thought that Jack Black seemed a little out of his depth, particularly his reading on the film's famous final line. But again, another minor quibble. Black holds his own for the most part.
And Kong himself is a wonder. With Andy Serkis (Gollum of Lords of the Ring fame) doing the motion capture work, there seems to be no limit to the range of emotion that can play across the big ape's face. And of course, it's Kong that propels this picture, from the battles with dinosaurs to his emotional attachment to Ann, his sorrow at losing her and being captured, and his all too brief joy at finding her again. If the audience cannot feel for Kong, this film is lost, but by the end we are firmly in Kong's camp, and our heart's break during the final battle atop the Empire State Building.
Grab your popcorn and a large pop, plan your bathroom breaks accordingly, and see this movie on a big screen. A larger than life movie legend deserves to be seen on a large screen.