Reviewed by: Todd Patrick
|Featuring:||Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann|
|Producer:||Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Jan Blenkin|
|Distributor:||Universal Pictures Distribution|
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“The eighth wonder of the world.”
Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” is big-budget, blow-your-mind, blockbuster-style Hollywood entertainment at its best! No one makes movies that even approach his level of vision, style, and inventiveness. When Jackson announced, following his success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that he would begin work on a remake of “King Kong”, my first thought was “why”? Did we really need a third version of the 1930’s B-movie? Is there anything more that Jackson could possibly add to the weak storyline that would justify its 200-plus million dollar budget? I am happy to say that the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes”.
Jackson’s “King Kong” takes the main elements of the original movie and pumps them up on steroids. Everything is heightened, intensified, and expanded to over three hours of theater-time. It is a masterwork of pop cinematic culture. One of modern cinema’s greatest strengths, in this digital age, is its ability to create larger-than-life fantasy worlds that are almost indistinguishable from reality. Kong raises the bar for this style of filmmaking. It is everything that George Lucas’s second “Star Wars” trilogy should have been, but wasn’t.
Kong’s story is similar to its predecessor’s, but varies in many interesting ways, with plenty of nods and winks to fans of the original. It is, essentially, a three-act opera: the first act introduces us to the main characters and includes their sea voyage to the mysterious “Skull Island,” the second act introduces the island, its inhabitants, and Kong to the ship’s crew, and the third act involves Kong’s New York exhibition and subsequent rampage.
“King Kong” begins with Carl Denham (Jack Black), a visionary filmmaker, looking to finish shooting his latest movie overseas. His producers back out of funding him, and he makes a break for it—attempting to get his ship out of New York harbor by nightfall. He discovers Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a washed-up vaudeville performer who is starving from lack of work, and convinces her to join the cast of his movie. Once aboard the ship, Denham also tricks playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) into staying for the voyage by casting off without his knowledge.
Once the voyage begins, the crew soon finds out that “Skull Island” is their destination. The captain tries to turn the ship around, unfortunately making his decision too late, as they run into the rocky shoreline of the foreboding island. From that point on, the movie is a nonstop frenzy of action, suspense, and horror as the crew attempts to rescue Ann from the natives, then from Kong himself.
Jackson’s cast is nearly flawless. Jack Black is fantastic as the wild-eyed, barely-sane, obsessive director Denham. Naomi Watts is the perfect choice for Ann Darrow (she’s beautiful, with an innate intelligence and melancholy sadness that add depth to a character whose original function was to look pretty and scream). Adrien Brody plays the sharp, heroic playwright Driscoll quite well (he’s the “everyman” of the movie), and Kyle Chandler is also excellent as the vain, self-absorbed leading man Bruce Baxter. Jackson adds so much backstory and character development to the movie that Kong doesn’t even make his first appearance until the second hour of the movie! He lovingly adds that extra dimension to the characters that is often missing from big-budget bockbusters—the fleshing-out process that makes us actually care what happens to them.
Skull Island is a fantastic achievement of stunning cinematography combined with cutting-edge visual effects. Kong himself, whose movements are mapped off of the amazingly talented Andy Serkis (Gollum from “Lord of the Rings”), is incredibly lifelike and believable: his hair blows in the wind, every muscle of his face twitches with expression, and his body is lithe and muscular as he leaps through the forest, facing danger after danger, which includes fighting off three (!) Tyranasaurus Rexes and the crew of the ship, who come to rescue Ann.
The crew also has to deal with a stampede of Brontosauruses and a pit full of oversized, angry insects and wormlike creatures.
“Kong” is escapist entertainment. From the moment the ship lands on Skull Island, the movie is nonstop action and spectacle. I commented on this Web site a year ago that I hated Michael Bay’s The Island. That movie, in my opinion, was nothing but a giant advertisement with too much loud, over-the-top action that was filmed with a jittery camera, making it impossible to see everything that was going on (and making me motion-sick in the process). “Kong” is my idea of how to do action-adventure right. The action shots are wide and steady, allowing us to see every second of Kong’s fifteen minute battle with the three Tyranasaurs. There’s no shaky filmwork, either. Jackson is confident in his prowess as a director and in the amazing effects he is utilizing. He WANTS us to see how good they are. The effect is nothing less than amazing: I felt like a ten-year old kid again, seeing “Star Wars” for the first time. The final act re-creation of 1930’s New York, which Kong rampages through, destroying everthing in his path, is also incredibly well-done.
There’s plenty of violence, including more than a few deaths (by guns, spears, and being eaten by prehistoric beasts) and some grisly dinosaur jaw-snapping done by Kong. The oversized insects are disgusting, and the island natives could be very frightening to kids: they’re like cannibalistic zombies. The Lord’s name is also taken in vain a handful of times.
“Kong” is also a morality tale, as well. We see all the obsessive rantings of Denham as he attempts to make a worldwide name for himself, at the expense of everything and everyone else. His quest for notoriety and fame leads to the death of half of his crew on Skull Island and, eventually, to the death of “King Kong” himself, who is drugged, captured, and transported to New York to star in a Broadway stage show where he is the circus-freak attraction for thousands of spectators. Greed, vanity, and pride ultimately destroy this 20-foot ape, the last of his kind. Denham says at the end of the movie that it was “beauty who killed the beast,” but it was nothing more than his own lust for fame that killed Kong. (There are plenty of touching moments between Kong and Ann Darrow throughout the movie, showing the value of love, tenderness, and compassion.) Kong is a modern-day beauty and the beast fairytale—and a three-hour thrill-ride.
Is it a bit overindulgent? Yes, it is. It takes its time setting up and expanding on all its characters, then plunges us into two hours of nonstop action-adventure, reminiscent of the “Indiana Jones” trilogy or the first “Star Wars” trilogy. Jackson is, in my opinion, the undisputed king of the blockbuster, dethroning Spielberg and early Lucas, and kicking to the curb the shoddy work of Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, John Woo, and all the other modern-day blockbuster posers out there who are all flash and no depth. Jackson doesn’t miss a trick in his efforts to create a fantasy world worthy of his 200-million dollar budget. I can’t wait to hear the plans for his next film. Hopefully, it will be “The Hobbit”!
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
I wouldn’t take any kids to this movie, or adults for that matter. The intensity is just WAY too much. Too many beasts on Skull Island, not a moments rest. The island is basically a good picture of what hell would look like. Peril at every corner, and while I did find the heroic scenes of some of the characters of Skull Island encouraging, I basically walked away from the movie feeling anxious, frustrated, confused and mostly OVERWHELMED. I was very troubled in my spirit. I do not recommend this movie for Christians, or anyone for that matter.
Very Offensive / 4
—Chris, age 27